Archer Turns Shakespearean

Capucine Berney April 18, 2013 1
Archer Turns Shakespearean
Performers take the stage for Shakespeare on the Green.

Over the past eight years, The Archer School for Girls and the Independent Shakespeare Company (ISC) have established a relationship that pairs education with playtime: learning with the occasional burst of fairy dust.

This year’s Shakespeare on the Green is coming up fast: the ISC will be performing “Macbeth” in Archer’s courtyard on May 15, 2013. Everyone must arrive early to reserve a great spot for their blankets—the performance begins promptly at 6:30. But what is Shakespeare on the Green, and how did this collaboration between Archer and a professional company like ISC begin?

The ISC was co-founded by Melissa Chalsma (Artistic Director) and David Melville (Managing Director) in 1998. The company began performing in New York, but in 2001 they relocated to Los Angeles. Their popular performances in Griffith Park gather thousands of avid Shakespeare goers each summer.

The ISC strives to spread the knowledge and joy of Shakespeare. Chalsma states, “A really crucial part of our mission is that the great works of classical drama belong to all of us, whether we are children or adults, theater-goers, or people who have never set foot in a theater space. Because of this, we feel going to any school helps  us promote a deeper understanding of the plays, and the role of theater in the community.”

The ISC first got involved with Archer because Chalsma’s sister, Jennifer Chalsma, used to teach science

BRAVO: Melissa Chalsma directs middle school students in a scene study.
Photo Credit: Jenna Wilen ’13

here. When Chalsma speaks of the ISC’s relationship with Archer now, she describes how the “company, look[s] forward to the Shakespeare on the Green performance as the first public, outdoor production we do each year.”

Once a year, picnic baskets are assembled, pillows and blankets are laid out, and the community comes together to watch Shakespeare’s influential works.  The campus transforms: goblins, fairies, magicians, nymphs, lovers, drunkards and angry fathers trickle in as the Archer community gathers in the courtyard for Shakespeare on the Green.

The audience is immediately lured in by the actors’ convincing gestures: the crescendo of emotional intonations and exaggerated movements. Even those who are not familiar with Shakespeare find themselves leaning forward.

A man turns into a donkey, a girl chases after her lost love, and a servant shakes her head at her mistress’s foibles. As the sky begins to darken, the heart of the courtyard glows, for the warmth of the audience and the energy from the stage conflate under the crepuscular sky.

There is a moment during every play when the audience realizes that they are no longer simply observers. According to Chalsma, the ISC aims for just this feeling: “We work towards creating a unique relationship with our audiences…that is very informal, and gives a sense that the audience is a critical part of our productions.”

She adds, “We look for many opportunities for audience involvement, we speak directly to the audience when we have asides or soliloquies, and we move through the audience whenever we can. Sometimes we even make an audience member part of the play by pulling them up onstage, or hiding under their program.”

Shakespeare on the Green is perhaps the pinnacle of communal gatherings at Archer. Students sit with their friends and family, happily engaging in free, communal Shakespearean theatre. For days afterwards, lunchtime and classroom conversations center on the show.

For the past six years, the ISC has also offered workshops for Archer students. Chalsma says, “We’ve also been so fortunate to engage with so many students through workshops. We are always inspired and amazed by the level of enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity Archer girls exhibit!”

By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, Chalsma and her colleagues will have staged workshops for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (seventh grade), “Romeo and Juliet” (eighth grade), “Macbeth” (ninth grade), and “Hamlet” (twelfth grade). Next year, department chair Kristin Taylor says, they hope to add a “Othello” workshop for sophomores.

Mary Guilliams and David Melville perform a scene from Hamlet for the senior AP Lit students.
Photo Credit: Daniel In

Students across the grades rave about the hands-on opportunity to work with professional actors who truly love Shakespeare. The workshops help them to understand and get excited about the play they are reading in class. The stories and characters come to life through the actors.

India Halsted, a student who participated in the Midsummer workshop in 2012, praised it by saying it was “truly a memorable and unique experience,” She continued, “I almost felt like a director mixed [with a] choreographer.”

Chalsma is thrilled about the ISC’s evolving partnership with Archer: “Thank you for inviting us to be an unofficial member of the Archer Community! We value the relationship deeply.”

If you are interested in experiencing more of the ISC’s fantastic shows, be sure to check their website, as they will be performing in Griffith Park all summer. This summer’s plays include “Macbeth,” “As You Like It” and one non-Shakespearean offering: Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy “She Stoops to Conquer.”

Chalsma encourages all Archer girls to come up after the show and introduce themselves.

Featured Image: The Independent Shakespeare Company performs at Shakespeare on the Green. Photographer: Archer Communications

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an article original written in May 2012.

One Comment »

  1. Kristin Taylor April 30, 2013 at 11:15 AM -

    We are looking forward to continuing our relationship with them next year! So excited about Macbeth on May 15th…