The San Diego Shakespeare Society presented their 4th Annual San Diego Student Shakespeare Festival in Balboa Park, which houses the prestigious Old Globe Theatre. The opening began on the ornate outdoor stage—Spreckels Organ Pavilion—with “Queen Elizabeth” in full dress. A parade led by brightly colored ten foot foam figures wiggled in the wind on the backs of teenagers as all the actors, musicians, supportive family members and onlookers followed through the park’s gardens and museums all the way to The Prado, as a wedding and a quinceñera took place on a warm day with a cool breeze.
The Helix High School Pipe Band played the bagpipes as the actors readied themselves to take The Crown Stage, which was set for the elementary and middle school children. United Learner Academy Elementary, a home school group, enthusiastically performed an act from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The children, ages seven through nine, had all their lines memorized—the girls in fairy costumes with layers of pastel colored toile and matching makeup highlighting their curly blonde locks. It’s unclear why it was difficult to hear the children—either they needed to stand closer to the microphones or they needed to hold their mics—but it didn’t faze the children for a moment. They were prepared and did well as the sound was worked on and as parents and grandparents clapped in support.
Vanessa Dinning, Artistic Director for The San Diego Shakespeare Society, introduced scenes at The Crown Stage, and in between school performances she entertained and educated with her British accent. Dinning talked about the times of Shakespeare, for instance how a person didn’t take a bath as often as we now do. She asked the audience, “How do you think people brushed their teeth in those days?” In the spirit of great fun, the audience answered, “A stick!” or “Your finger!” Dinning replied that often people would eat a raw onion like we eat an apple. Personally, I’ll opt for the apple.
The United Learner Academy Middle School children performed a scene from Much Ado About Nothing with ease and confidence, mesmerizing the children in the audience. It’s one thing to see a reflection of yourself in others, but for children to see other children just like them doing something great is an awe-inspiring experience.
Vanessa Dinning also pointed out that the plays are performed in the open air just like in Shakespeare’s time, and that the peasants (or groundlings) would stand just like the audience. The outdoor setting for the five simple black clothed stages was sprawled throughout The Prado from The San Diego Museum of Art to the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center where sits a large Spanish-influenced fountain. The water spouts as high up as a two-story building where people enjoy making wishes and taking photos. Anybody taking in the museums for the day or walking their dog had to walk through the festival, offering the actors a chance to perform to a mixed audience and an ongoing crowd.
At the Rose Stage, in front of the famous reflecting pool, Carlsbad High School performed a comedy collage. The girls swayed like trees with their backs to each other, ropes entwining their arms, and their floor length dresses with fitted bodices were in Lancer colors: purple and gold. CHS also performed The Merry Wives of Windsor, a scene with two of the five girls trying to trick Sir John Falstaff. Also on the Rose, Castle Park High School performed an age-appropriate scene from Taming of the Shrew with Petruchio tossing Katharina over his shoulders and swinging her around to the audience’s delight.
The Master of Ceremonies Richard Lederer, who has authored over thirty books on language, history, and humor, and whose linguistic prowess earned him the title of “International Punster of the Year,” rattled off joke after joke, as well as anagrams such as, “Hear me as I will speak.” Lederer is a plethora of information, telling the audience, for instance, that 3000 books a year are published on William Shakespeare, and he highly recommends Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World on Stage.
Most impressive was Rancho Buena Vista High School’s performance of Macbeth on The Blackfriars Stage. The actors were in character before they approached the stage. As the witches, in black capes and skull-painted faces, walked through the festival, they welcomed “Oohs” and stares from the audience. The witches were in unity onstage, and the young man who played Macbeth was remarkably believable.
The teenagers were perhaps the most inspirational to watch, perhaps because they are so passionate about their dreams—dreams just beginning to take shape—and so hopeful for the future. This well-organized festival added to the overall ambiance of Balboa Park. The festival showcases acting, but it also featured such entertainment as the Vox Nobili Madrigal Singers who perform and appear in tune with the English Renaissance. The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet graced the grounds with Shakespearean dance. With this and all, Balboa Park is transformed into the ultimate Shakespearience—hearkening back to centuries past, yet filled with the passion and power of this forward looking, youth-oriented celebration.
To find out more about the San Diego Shakespeare Society and their activities, visit www.sandiegoshakespearesociety.org.