Kids take on acting -- with the Bard's help

Summer camp teaches theater to kids through Shakespeare


Marianne Angelella walked into the center of a circle formed by about 16 youngsters, scrunched her gray sweater into a bundle and placed it across her arm.

Then she gently began to rock it. The sweater was a baby.

The improvisation game was a warm-up that Angelella led before auditions on a recent morning for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that she is directing for the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival. Using a program she taught to Baltimore County middle school students as a foundation, the 49-year-old Anneslie resident is bringing the joys and challenges of Shakespeare to children as part of a summer day camp.

"She is so excited and so into it," said Laura Hackman, the education director for the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival. "She opens a whole new world for kids that are just discovering theater."

The two-week camp culminates in a performance of the play, scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Shakespeare Festival's home at 3900 Roland Ave. in Hampden.

The idea for the camp came from "Shakespeare in a Trunk," a program Angelella taught as an artist in residence at Sudbrook Middle School in Baltimore County and at a long list of city schools.

"The kids at the middle schools were so enthusiastic and receptive to Shakespeare," said Angelella, who received a degree in elementary education from Goucher College in 1979. "They really seemed to get into it."

From that, Angelella fine-tuned a curriculum for A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"Most of the kids attending this camp are excited about Shakespeare," Hackman said.

Although all the children arrived with a desire to perform Shakespeare, many didn't believe they could. Angelella quickly changed their minds.

"When they realize they can, it's an amazing confidence-builder," she said.

Angelella said the kids are soaking in the language and the chance to perform the Bard's work. To acclimate them to the language, Angelella had them play a game she created and dubbed "Making a Scene, Elizabethan-Style."

The premise of the game is to pass out a card to each actor with an insult or a compliment from a Shakespearean play written on it. Then the actors form two lines and face one another. Each pair then walks to the center of the stage while making eye contact. One actor says his line, and the other responds.

The insults include such lines as "you minimus of hindering knot-grass," "you canker-blossom," and "out of my door, you witch, you rag, you baggage, you polecat, you ronyon!"

It's a great game for teaching Shakespeare's language because the children have fun doing it, Angelella said.

"And they aren't going to get in trouble for calling someone a canker-blossom," she said.

It brings Shakespeare's language to life and helps the budding actors see the words for what they are, she said.

"Shakespeare's words can be difficult," said Angelella. "But it isn't foreign. It's an expressive, beautiful way to tell a story."

Thomas Bowers, 13, began performing Shakespeare at age 9 after his father took him to a performance of Julius Caesar. Since then, the Baltimore resident has portrayed Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Brutus in Julius Caesar, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Laertes in Hamlet.

Thomas said he enjoys the way the plots can go in unseen directions and the predicaments the characters get themselves into.

"Shakespeare is a genius," he said. "But more than that, he wrote plays that allow you to portray someone else in a world that is different than your own."

Rebecca Etzine, who has performed in professional theater productions, agreed.

"I love Shakespeare's plays, stories and characters," the 16-year-old Reisterstown resident said. "It's silly, bawdy, bloody and passionate."

By the end of the first week, Angelella noticed a marked increase in the youngsters' willingness to share their ideas for their production.

"Even the kids who knew nothing about Shakespeare are now gushing with ideas," said Angelella. "I don't know how I'll implement them all into the play."

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