Billy Shakes Project to Perform Bite-Sized Shakespeare
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
The Kenyon drama department lost Assistant Professor of Drama Kevin Rich to Illinois State University last semester, but his spirit and passion for teaching left a permanent mark on his students. Inspired by Rich’s Verse Acting class, Kenny Fedorko ’13, Verity Allen ’13 and Will Quam ’14 decided to carry on his goal of spreading Shakespeare’s language by creating the Billy Shakes Project.
The Billy Shakes Project is a troupe of six actors that will perform 30-minute abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays throughout the Mount Vernon and Gambier area. Their target audiences are elementary school students, but they said they hope to reach out to older students and retirement facilities.
“We’re going to be doing Macbeth, As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet,” Fedorko said. “We will be performing for elementary schools, high schools, maybe at the public library … just to expose the community to a new sexy kind of feel for Shakespeare.”
“I like to think of it as a fun, youthful, reenergized version of Shakespeare,” Allen said. “Many times in high school, [students’] first exposure to Shakespeare is that of sitting in a classroom reading from a book, which is not how it was ever supposed to be experienced.”
They intend to inspire a new love for Shakespeare. Out of all the students who auditioned for the group, only three made the cut to join the founders.
Elliot Cromer ’15, one of those three, said the group’s approach to Shakespeare was what drew him to the auditions.
“They emphasized that they are [performing the plays] in 30 minutes and just really trying to tell a story, and that’s really what good acting is … just telling a story to the audience,” Cromer said.
Rich planted the seed for this project in his Verse Acting class last fall. The class was split into three groups of six and worked with three abridged Shakespeare texts that Rich had cut himself — Macbeth, As You Like It and Measure for Measure. According to Allen, Rich took these traditional works and brought them alive for his students.
“The actual work that was done in the class was so much about using this incredible poetry of language to express and unlock the most powerful emotions that humans can feel,” Allen said.
Rich did not stop there. After his students rehearsed their plays, he took Macbeth and As You Like It to the students of Mount Vernon, a venture that was a major success.
“We took Macbeth to a bunch of sixth graders, and As You Like It went to the entire third grade class at Dan Emmett Elementary School,” said Quam.
“It was such a worthwhile experience because we had kids from Mount Vernon watching As You Like It, saying things like, ‘Oh my God, that was like TV, but for real!’ So we were all really fired up about it,” Allen said.
Allen, Fedorko and Quam knew Rich’s work was not over. From there, the Billy Shakes Project was born.
“We were inspired by what [Rich] did, and we want to pass on that nugget to anybody else, whether it be a Kenyon student or someone in the Mount Vernon community,” Allen said.
All three co-founders will draw from their performing backgrounds to inform the project, but Quam will bring a love for theatre education as well.
This passion is one of his main reasons for pursuing the Billy Shakes Project, and it allowed him to notice an interesting problem while performing for students.
“With the sixth graders, they definitely enjoyed it, but when we asked them what they thought, they [were] very reserved,” Quam said. “But the third graders, it ended and they were all like ‘bam’ — and wanted to talk about everything.”
Quam noticed that somewhere between third and sixth grade, something shifts, and audiences become less responsive. One of Quam’s main goals for the project is to find an answer to this issue.
“I think it’s important for us to take these plays to them, and engage with them, to show them that theatre is awesome,” said Quam.
Quam’s desire reflects the Billy Shakes Project’s core value: inspiration. Each of the co-founders were inspired by theatre at some point in their lives, and their hope is that they can successfully pass that feeling on to their audiences.
“If we can inspire one kid to go out and pursue acting … for me that would be enough,” Fedorko said.
Allen said, “We are all here because at some point in our lives as children, something was awakened in us, something was ignited, and whatever that event may be, if we can help another person feel that, it would be very worthwhile.”