Montana Shakespeare in the Schools, a theatrical troupe from Montana State University, performed “Twelfth Night” for Corvallis High School on Dec. 11.
Students in grades 9 through 12 welcomed the players with enthusiasm, then sat enthralled at the production. Corvallis was one of the final stops of the fall tour that entertained 12,000 students in Montana and Wyoming for the 25th season.
Florence-Carlton High School hosted the troupe Dec. 1.
Kevin Asselin, executive artistic director of Montana Shakespeare in the Schools, said the goal of the troupe is to bring live, professional performances of Shakespeare’s plays to middle and high schools emphasizing rural and underserved areas.
“Shakespeare in the Schools is one of the only programs in the country to reach as extensively into rural areas, bringing Shakespeare the way it was meant to be experienced, in a live performance,” Asselin said.
Montana Shakespeare in the Schools began in 1993 with two actors. Last month, the 80-minute comedy had originally designed costumes, elaborate scenery, and an eight-member cast.
“Twelfth Night” is a comedy about twins whose ship was destroyed in a storm at sea. The sister survives and dresses as a man on the island, the brother also survives and shows up later in the play. Misunderstandings, love triangles, and trickery results in confusion and humor.
Corvallis English teacher Suzy Pliley praised the school district for funding the performance.
“Our students and faculty are given the opportunity to experience a Shakespearean play performed by professional actors,” Pliley said. “The actors are talented not only in their acting abilities, but also in engaging hundreds of high school students, which is not an easy task. It’s amazing to see the most reluctant student be drawn into a performance, fixated on the plot, and laughing hysterically at the characters’ antics and at Shakespearean puns.”
CHS students said they enjoyedthe performance.
“Twelfth Night is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and it was amazing to see it done so wonderfully,” Colton Mason said.
Kaylee Evans added that “the play was amazing and I wish I could see more like it.”
After the performance, the players held a talkback session, conducted workshops on acting techniques, improvisation, movement, imagination, creating characters, and Shakespearean language. The players conducted simultaneous workshops with two different groups, each one tailored to the students taking the workshops.
“After the performance, the actors taught the students about interpreting Shakespeare’s language and how that transforms into emotion and performance,” Pliley said.
During the talkback the players gave advice to students who want to pursue acting as a career. Ben Barker, who played Sebastian and the Sea Captain, said students should be informed.
“Try your best to understand the people and world around you,” he said. “Acting is the art of figuring out what it would be like to live as someone else, so practicing empathy in your day-to-day life and constantly learning are key.”
Marcus Cunningham, who played Antonio and Curio, told students Shakespeare is important.
“To me Shakespeare is the height of literature and the English language,” Cunningham said. “He seems to write beautiful poetry about the human condition, making it reliable even 400 years after his death. Shakespeare is timeless.”
Christian Reed said the workshop was excellent.
“It was fantastic interacting with other students and the actors to step outside your comfort zone,” Reed said.
Nathaniel Heckeroth, Hamilton Player and member of the CHS Speech and Drama team said, he thoroughly enjoyed the entire production and" the workshop was a blast.”
Montana Shakespeare in the Schools is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts: Shakespeare in American Communities. Additional support comes from the Montana Arts Council: Artists in Schools and Communities and Montana Cultural Trust; the Homer A. and Mildred S. Scott Foundation; the Sidney E. Frank Foundation; the First Interstate Bank Foundation; the First Security Bank Foundation; and the Applied Materials Foundation, along with generous individual donors.
Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is an outreach program of The MSU College of Arts and Architecture.
For more information about Shakespeare in the Schools, visit the website at shakespeareintheparks.org or call 406-994-3303.