|East Bay kids get hip to Shakespeare
Summer of their content
By Sean Maher, Oakland Tribune
It was brother against brother Wednesday morning as Robbie Tiemstra,
13, appeared to choke his twin brother Matt and then punch him
out in a Piedmont chapel.
The drama suited the occasion, as both boys were demonstrating
stage combat they'd learned in a class full of children at Bay
Area Shakespeare Camp.
The camps are put on by the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival,
and run two weeks apiece in the summer and across the Bay Area.
Programs are aimed at children ages 7 to 13, though other camps
are available for younger children and teens.
"My dad used to always quote Shakespeare, and I was like,
'What is he talking about?'" said camper Jacob Epstein, 12.
"So then I found out and got attached, which is maybe a good
thing and maybe a bad thing. But I'm attached and I still love
About 11 children enrolled
in the Piedmont camp that started Monday will spend their mornings
in classes about Shakespeare's language and history, making costumes
and designing sets, or performing acting exercises such as vocal
work or stage-combat training.
In the afternoons, they will rehearse for a performance
of Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night." Jacob was cast
as Orsino, an effusive nobleman pining for the haughty countess
who refuses his love.
Maribel Connor, 7, front, participates with 11 other children
in the Bay Area Shakespeare Camp hosted by the San Francisco Shakespeare
Festival, in Piedmont Community Church in Piedmont, Calif., on
Tuesday, July 8, 2008. (Alison D. Yin/The Oakland Tribune) "He
really is like the guy you could never get rid of," Jacob
said. "He's awesome, I think. I can go all out on this character,
make him almost insane."
Téana David, a teacher for the program, said the young
actor came to the first day of camp in a hoodie sweatshirt, suggesting
he'd be withdrawn or shy; but within hours, she said, his excitement
for the material came out in force, a transformation she said
is common to the summer camps.
"Shakespeare is really human, and I think the fact you can
see a group with this much diversity all different ages,
racially, from different backgrounds that so many of them
get so excited shows how human he really is," David said.
density of Shakespearean language may seem a daunting challenge
to children so young, but teachers in the program said it's not
David said that with children as young as 6, she can explain
iambic pentameter the rhythmic pattern with which Shakespeare
wrote huge chunks of his dialogue and when children can
relate the rhythm to their own heartbeat, the language becomes
visceral and accessible.
Rebecca Ennals, director of the program, said the denseness of
Shakespeare's plays is a big part of why modern theater still
embraces them, and actually contributes to the enjoyment children
cull from exploring them.
"It's like being a detective, digging through Shakespeare,"
she said. "When you have your 'Ah ha!' moment, it's a great
one, because "... there are so many ideas in each play."
Ennals said she discovered the famed playwright when she was
5, and realized that it "wasn't as hard as everyone was making
it out to be.
"I see kids have that experience all the time," she
said. "It's not until junior year they start reading Shakespeare
in school, and by then he's a friend, they're already completely
comfortable. But kids who haven't been exposed, a lot of them
have closed off to it, it's already too hard."
The next round of camps begins July 21, and costs $420 to enroll,
said Kristin Clippard, education associate for the festival. She
added that the program has "never turned anyone away. We
have always given out scholarships to anyone who's asked for one."
For details about the program
and registration, visit www.sfshakes.org/camp.