When school’s out, not everyone leaves.
While most of their peers are enjoying the summer sun or working a job, a group of students at Appleton North High School are engaged in learning about, dissecting and performing the work of William Shakespeare.
Summer Shakespeare Theatre is in its 28th consecutive year. A program of the Fox Valley Summer School Consortium, students from area high schools are able to come together for 6 weeks to learn about and perform the work of William Shakespeare. Ron Parker, director of the award-winning theater program at Appleton North, brought Summer Shakespeare with him from Kenosha where he founded it 16 years ago.
Ian Parker, Ron’s son and one of two assistant directors, says, “This program is great for showing that there’s something in Shakespeare for everybody. Nobody is too stupid to understand Shakespeare. It’s not uncommon to come into Summer Shakespeare expecting to hate it and at the end walk out with a deep love and appreciation for something they didn’t know they would like.”
This year, they will be performing “The Tempest.”
The students spend the first week learning about Shakespeare’s life and works and then dive into the play they will perform. Next, everyone auditions.
Parker says this is one of the unique parts of the program.
“If you come in and you want to act, you’re guaranteed a role and the chance to speak the language. If you want to run tech, you learn the tech side of theater and are given a position of responsibility. We don’t discriminate.”
Summer Shakespeare is set apart from other programs for a few other reasons as well.
Ella Janson, a 2015 graduate of Appleton North, says the program is a lot more student driven than other productions at the high school.
“We’re able to dictate a lot about the characters and we can take our own approach to a character,” she says.
Janson, who will play the spirit Ariel, also says “the community is great.”
“Anyone from the district can do this program, we get to collaborate,” she adds.
Another unique aspect of Summer Shakespeare is the stage. The program utilizes a black box theater, which means the audience is onstage with the actors. This allows for interaction between the cast and audience members, and gives the performance a more intimate feel.
Janson thinks the setting helps the audience understand the play better because they are able to catch nuances in the acting.
Shakespeare can be difficult for many high school students, but Janson says the program helped her understand the famous playwright’s work.
“This will be my third year (involved in Summer Shakespeare). I really struggled with reading Shakespeare freshman year and it really turned me off of that whole idea of performing in a play, but my friend pressured me to take a Shakespeare class at Renaissance (School for the Arts) that was taught by (Ron) Parker and he totally hooked me. You just want to learn more.”
And that “hooked” attitude seems to be a prevailing theme.
“The teaching methods of Parker invoke enthusiasm. They are hard at work constantly. They put in long hours and put in professional level character work and work to understand the language,” says Ian, of the students who participate.
Ron himself explains, “I think it has to do with empowering kids to do work that’s beyond what’s expected of them. What I always try to do is tell them, ‘here is the greatest writer that’s ever written for the stage and you have the opportunity to add our voice to the chorus of voices that has existed for the past 400 years.’ The faith in their abilities to do this great man’s work is the thing that brings people back. They really know that they’re doing something exceptional.”
Performances of “The Tempest” will run at 7 p.m. July 23, 24 and 25 and 1 p.m. on July 25 and 26. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased at the door one hour before each performance. Seating is limited to 120 attendees per performance and all seats are general admission.