Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors brought the words of the famous Bard of Avon to life for Seaside High School students through interactive workshops and theatrical performances as part of a four-year educational partnership.
Kristin Hammargren and David Huynh, Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors and teaching artists, visited the school earlier this month.
The duo put on a literature program for the entire student body the first morning, including performances of scenes from “The Servant of Two Masters” by Carlo Goldoni, “Upstairs Downstairs”, the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, and “Trying to Find Chinatown” by David Henry Hwang.
The next day, the actors performed a condensed version of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” twice, using simple props and playing numerous roles. There were other workshops, primarily attended by students from the English department.
Along with a recent student trip to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Hammargren and Huynh’s visit served as the finale of the Seaside High School and festival’s School Visit Partnership Program.
“This is an invaluable partnership,” Seaside English teacher Susan Baertlein said. Without it, students and teachers alike would not have had access to the caliber of expensive training and instruction offered by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and its actors.
The Ashland festival began the School Visit Program in 1971, and teams of actors have traveled to many schools in 12 western states to help students and teachers engage in the Shakespeare canon and other classical and contemporary literature. The organization partners with 12 Oregon schools for three-year periods that link to two- to five-day actor residency programs at the schools.
Baertlein was introduced to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival during her time as a teacher at Douglas McKay High School in Salem. When she came to Seaside, she applied to become a partner school. Schools that meet certain criteria — such as racial diversity, accessibility to the arts and a percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch — are accepted for new openings. Teachers who write passionate essays requesting the program at their school “are a key piece,” because teachers need to organize each aspect of the partnership, said Katherine Gosnell, outreach programs manager for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The partnership has four parts, Baertlein said. In 2013, two Seaside teachers were invited to Ashland for a week of Shakespeare in the Classroom training. Each year, English and language arts teachers also attended workshops with the Shakespeare fest’s education staff.
Each year, a different team of actors came to Seaside High School for two days, with the school paying about 10 percent of the cost of the program. The workshops and performances changed each year. During the actors’ most recent visit, Baertlein estimated about 150 students saw both performances, with more attending at least one workshop.
Although drama plays a part in the School Visit Partnership Program curriculum, the program is centered on using kinesthetic learning to explore and understand text and comprehend language, literary devices and themes, Gosnell said.
“If you take some time to talk out loud and do physical activity it’s like, ‘Oh! I get this speech now!’” she said.
Baertlein agreed, describing the learning process as “looking at the plays with close readings from a theater perspective.”
In October, about 30 students and six chaperones made a trip to Ashland. They watched performances of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” by Shakespeare, and “Guys and Dolls.”
Because the theater where Pericles was performed is smaller and more intimate, junior Nolan Milliren and senior Chloe Kincaid said they liked viewing that play better.
“It was more enjoyable and more fun to watch,” Kincaid said. “You could feel the emotion radiating off the actors in ‘Pericles.’”
For a lot of students, the trip was an experience they might not have otherwise, or not until later in life, Baertlein said.
Milliren agreed to trip was a special opportunity for him.
“Personally, that’s farthest I’ve ever been from Seaside,” he said.
Now that Seaside High School has finished its partnership program, it has access to a reduced rate to bring back a team of actors to the school next year. Baertlein said she’s “optimistic we should be able to do it next year,” but she is unsure how long it will be financially feasible.
“We are hoping to maintain our connection with Seaside High School,” Gosnell said.