South Bend community takes the stage at Notre Dame's ShakeScenes

Author: South Bend Tribune

As seen originaly in the South Bend Tribune on July 10, 2016

By Amanda Gray, South Bend Tribune


For two days, Shakespeare goes “Star Wars,” step routine, “Hamilton” and beyond.

That’s what you get with ShakeScenes, a two-day festival Saturday and July 17 at the University of Notre Dame’s Washington Hall. The festival takes local companies — actors ages grade school to retirement — who tackle a scene from Shakespeare. Interpretations range from traditional to outlandish; for example, one local company, the Michiana Mechanicals, will take a scene from the “Star Wars”/Shakespeare hybrids that have appeared in bookstores in recent years.

That’s the beauty of Shakespeare’s work, ShakeScenes coordinating director Christy Burgess says. So many interpretations of his work, and all of them are valid ways to see those stories.

“The people in ShakeScenes come from all walks of life,” Burgess says while seated in the Robinson Community Learning Center, where she also heads the Robinson Shakespeare Company. “We have people that are doctors, or lawyers, or 5 years old.”

Whether it’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” set in Japan, a “Hamilton”/Shakespeare mashup or “Titus Andronicus” as a musical cooking show, ShakeScenes is a unique format that serves as a good introduction for people who might not have much experience with Shakespeare’s works. On the other hand, it might also give those with years of experience a new perspective on his works.

“ShakeScenes has opened up my mind to see how to push the limits of Shakespeare,” Burgess says. “There’s something very special about Shakespeare. If you’re watching an Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams play, it’s a view of the world from their eyes. With Shakespeare, it’s the world through your eyes. My kids here at Robinson can take Shakespeare and make it their own.”

That includes a step routine introduction to “Henry V,” which the Robinson Shakespeare Company staged in full on Saturday at Washington Hall and will perform parts of at ShakeScenes.

Christian Jackson, a sixth-grader from Jefferson Intermediate, tackles several roles in “Henry V.” He started coming to the Robinson Center as a second-grader and had to wait until the third grade to join the Shakespeare program, which doesn’t start until then. That year of waiting gave him the time to see just how much the children in the company enjoyed Shakespeare’s work.

“I just saw how everyone was having fun,” he says. “I wanted to do that.”

He enjoys participating in ShakeScenes, especially seeing the variety that all the participants bring to the stage. Robinson Shakespeare Company member Cameron Pierce, a ninth-grader at Adams High School, says that, with Shakespeare, “Some feelings are just universal and timeless.”

“Even if you see the same scenes, they’re going to be done differently,” she says. “You’re going to get different plays from different people in different ways.”

Grace Lazarz, an AmeriCorps volunteer at Robinson through July, will experience her first ShakeScenes this year. She’s from West Lafayette, Ind., and she applied specifically to the Robinson Shakespeare Company because of its focus on teaching theater to children. ShakeScenes is an extension of those goals, she says.

“It sounds like a cool show,” she says. “It’s great that it involves a lot of people who don’t have traditional Shakespeare experience.”

Isabela Nanni, another AmeriCorps volunteer who grew up locally, says performing in ShakeScenes and now helping groups carry on the tradition is a great experience.

“I love that so many people from different walks of life participate,” Nanni says. “In this area, the arts aren’t as prominent as activities like sports. This is one of the few opportunities to get experience.”

The atmosphere is one of creativity and diversity, with no room for judgment, she explains.

“Even though it’s kids, they are unbelievably impressive and professional,” Nanni says. “It’s a way to see Shakespeare in a way you’ve never imagined.”

Though it’s local groups comprised of children and adults with non-acting day jobs, the caliber of the performances you get is high. Watching a Robinson Shakespeare Company rehearsal, the intensity of their dedication is apparent, and the blend of African-American step routine with the history of an English monarch will drop your jaw to the floor.

Children can do this?

Yes. Yes they can.