by Madeleine Brown
In Curnock Hall in the Discovery Centre (the tall brick building opposite the Festival Theatre) a group of eager parents and relatives are crammed around a temporary thrust stage. Screams of excitement emanate from the company in the neighbouring room.
The highly anticipated performance is by The Queen’s Company of the Shakespeare School, a program run by the Education Department. The young thespians are only in their early teens and their training sessions are just eight days long – but they are one tough act to follow.
The lights dim, the students stride in, and their rendition of Henry V commences. In the first scene I’m transported to a dark dance club with a raging beat and flashing neon lights. A naïve Prince Hal leads his clan in a fast, fun dance routine. The party ends with the death of the king and the prospect of an invasion of France.
I’m jealous how easily the students adopt Shakespeare’s words as their own, and intrigued by how comfortably they navigate the thrust stage. The entire company is strong and works together as a true ensemble (although an endearing King of France, a rather manly Alice with a sweet Lady Katherine and the seven students who share role of Henry in particular win over my heart).
Each part rings clear and the timing is exact. The company executes the major battle scene with tight fight choreography and follow with a beautiful choral song. After a traditional Elizabethan dance, Henry snaps his fingers and the lights go out.
The audience erupts, and it’s clear the performers had an equally good time. High fives and hugs are shared all around.
I grew up attending drama camps and workshops and we never pulled off as impressive a piece as the Shakespeare School students did. We certainly never dared take on Shakespearean speech, Elizabethan dance and choral song. It’s clear from the students’ pride and enjoyment show that the Shakespeare School is an enriching experience overall.
Although registration is finished for the remaining summer sessions, there’s always next year!
If only they accepted applicants over 18 years old…
The Shakespeare School offers one-, two-, and three- week day and residential camps for Shakespeare and musical theatre enthusiasts every year from July to August. The program is open to students in Grades 5 to 12. There is also a March Break Camp for 10- to 12-year-olds. Visit the Festival’s website for registration details and application deadlines.