On the 300th anniversary of his death, Shakespeare still managed to bring crowds to their feet and school children to an uproar at the historic Winyah Auditorium with help from the American Shakespeare Center. More than 700 people participated in the second annual Shakespeare Festival, which our school organizes to bring high quality professional theater and scholarly talks to local students and the community. “Shakespeare is timeless,” said Dr.Gates, who had in the past taken students to see the American Shakespeare Center company perform in Staunton, Virginia. “It was such an amazing experience,” he said. “I and the rest of the faculty decided it was time to bring the ASC here.” So, with close cooperation from the Winyah Auditorium and our Board, the school launched the Georgetown Shakespeare Festival in 2015.
The centerpieces of this year’s Festival were two performances by the ASC: an evening performance of Henry V for the general public and a sold-out matinee of Julius Caesar for area students. This company performs Shakespeare’s plays in the original stage conditions of his day, which include universal lighting (stage and seating area are both lit), doubling (one actor playing multiple roles), interaction with spectators (including seating spectators on the stage) and cross-gender casting. The ASC’s eleven-member traveling troupe is on a 25-state tour this year and Georgetown was their only stop in South Carolina.
On February 8, about 270 students and teachers from Waccamaw Middle School, Myrtle Beach Middle School and Coastal Montessori Charter School joined TGS students and faculty for the performance of Julius Caesar. Most of these area students had studied that play in class, and now were taking advantage of a rare opportunity to see it brought to life by professional actors.
The crowd of young people in the Winyah Auditorium on Monday appeared excited to be part of Julius Caesar. As the different groups arrived and found their seats, actors were already on stage for a preshow, playing acoustic instruments and singing songs the kids knew. When the play began, ten lucky students were seated on stage. The ASC actors managed to involve every spectator in the drama. For example, they made the whole audience part of the noisy crowd of Romans at Caesar’s funeral. The students played along perfectly, first murmuring and shouting with the actors, then falling silent right on cue when Marc Antony cried, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” The packed house was amazed at the hand-held sound effects used by the ASC: thunder from shaking sheet metal, rain from drums and eerie music for Caesar’s ghost from an instrument called the “water-phone.”
The ASC’s evening performance of Henry V on February 6 drew theater-lovers from as far away as Charleston and Winston-Salem. The English King Harry’s ambition played out against a simple backdrop of red and blue, featuring the French fleur-de-lys and the English lion. This huge play calls for more than 50 characters, all of whom were played by the 11 members of the troupe. The audience was visibly impressed by their lightning-quick costume and character changes. Henry V ends on a comic note with the Harry wooing the French princess in broken French. Laughter filled the air at the Winyah Auditorium for the final scene as the two murdered each other’s language, then the audience jumped to their feet for a standing ovation.
The actors of the ASC also offered four hour-long workshops on costuming, special effects, stage movement and voice registers. Participants got a first-hand, back-stage look at the different techniques professional actors use in their craft and at how to think like an actor/director. “This was the best day ever!” said Margaret who saw Julius Caesar and attended the workshop on stage movement. Margaret and the other 8th graders are learning scenes from Romeo and Juliet for Drama and English.
The Festival opened and closed with lectures by two Shakespeare scholars for the general public and the students of TGS. Dr. Scott Lucas of The Citadel spoke on Shakespeare’s innovative adaptation of historical sources for Henry V and other plays. Laura Rose of Holy City Shakespeare addressed Shakespeare’s use of rhetoric in Julius Caesar.
The Georgetown Shakespeare Festival is made possible in part by the generosity of local patrons. “We at TGS and all the area students who got to participate this year are very grateful to these generous and loyal sponsors,” said Dr. Gates, “Next year should be even better.”