Campers encounter Shakespeare Performers: Thirty-five youngsters are spending their summer learning Elizabethan English. They are attending the Shakespeare Summer Camp.

July 10, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

This is a summer camp where acting out is applauded.

Reciting lines in Elizabethan English onstage in a darkened theater at Morgan State University, 35 Baltimore youngsters are going to Shakespeare Summer Camp.

The mix of ages, sizes and ethnicities is a testament to the universality of Shakespeare's plays: how they cut across time and distance to speak through the tongues of these actors, ages 8 to 16.

"This was my bright idea," said Maureen O'Neill, the 29-year-old camp director who enthusiastically exhorts the players through their lines as they rehearse a condensed "G-rated" "MacBeth" they will perform July 24 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

"The actors' egos, even at 9, are tender," she says.

Why "MacBeth," a royal tragedy set in Scotland, where "fair is foul and foul is fair"? Wouldn't "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream" be a little lighter and more seasonal?

"It has swords, blood and witches," O'Neill explains. "What more could they want?"

To enhance the tribal aspect of the play, drums are played throughout. Ten witches -- called "weird sisters" -- appear to be swimming through the air as they chant and cast their spell on the doomed MacBeth in the beginning.

"Send your evil out," O'Neill calls out. "Do it without the smile."

MacBeth, played by 13-year-old Andre Tarrell Collins, gives into "peer pressure" from the witches and his wife, Lady MacBeth, says Andre. When he reaches the point of killing King Duncan, "I can't turn back," he says.

Andre, like most of the summer campers, was recommended by teachers and attends the camp free, a privilege given to Baltimore public school students. He and his friend, Brett Jordan Diggs, 13, attend Chinquapin Middle School in Northeast

Baltimore.

Both say the 17th century language is not too hard to pronounce: "It's all right if you get the hang of it," says Brett, who plays the unfortunate Duncan. While the play is cut to fit an hour, the lyrical language is not changed, since part of the point is to teach children that Shakespeare is accessible to them.

This is the first summer of the camp. O'Neill, coordinator of the Shakespeare Partnership -- a nonprofit collaboration between the school system, Center Stage and Morgan State partly financed by a grant from the Abell Foundation -- says it replays a scene from her Youngstown, Ohio childhood.

"My sister says I used to round up the kids on the block and make them go to my own summer camp," she says. Years later, she exudes exuberance armed with expertise: She received a master's degree in educational theater from New York University last year.

In her field, she says, "the process is as important as the end." In other words, ideally rehearsals should enrich and enlighten the students as they learn scene by scene.

But yesterday was a "bad sword day," meaning that some got carried away with the medieval motions of dueling and came too close to the cutting edge.

"The swords have to be a safe extension of your arms," instructs another teacher, David Taylor Nielson.

Moving through the play, O'Neill tells her actors, "It's party time! You've got a new king," and to act accordingly.

But it is not long before Banquo ("Say it is not so") also meets his end, because he suspects and accuses MacBeth of his crime. "I objected to [MacBeth], I protested against him," says Paul Mox, 9, who attends Morrell Park Elementary School.

And so there is only one character left to avenge MacBeth's evil deed: the good MacDuff, played by Polytechnic Institute student Daryl Rogers, at 16 the oldest actor in the group. But there is a huge price to pay: the loss of "all my pretty ones," he says in anguish.

MacDuff's family members are among the dead in the trail of blood MacBeth leaves behind. The character of Ross, played by Kevin Tolson, 10, of Hamilton Elementary School, is "kind of like a psychic" messenger, says Kevin, who foretells what is to come.

In the end, the boys and girls agree they prefer Shakespeare's tragedies to his comedies -- because, says Deon Jackson, 13, "his comedies aren't that funny."

Does MacBeth end well? That is a question they briefly ponder. MacDuff got revenge, but in the words of 11-year-old Teresa Byrd, "You can't replace people that you love."

For ticket information, call 410-558-4502.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

pTC

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