For one night, Hunts Point becomes the dukedom of Illyria
Her hands over heart, a passionate young woman reflects on how deeply she has fallen in love. She can’t tell the man she loves him, because she’s in disguise as a boy to protect herself from unwanted advances, and he thinks they can be buddies.
Besides, the man she loves keeps declaring that he’s in love with another woman.
A telenova? Actually, it’s a Shakespeare play, and the woman disguised as a man, and the man she loves, are both 11-year-old actors. Marilyn Gonzalez and Brandon Diaz are among some 50 kids from Hunts Point and Longwood who performed Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on May 21 and 22.
The show was the realization of months of rehearsals, comprehension sessions and individual coaching for the young cast. It was the fourth time Hunts Point Alliance for Children had teamed with the Shakespeare Society to put on a full-length Shakespeare play.
This year, while the cast recited the original Shakespearean English, the scene was moved from the fictional land of Illyria in the 1600s to a steam punk setting in the 1920s. That gave the kids a chance to wear costumes like skinny jeans and brightly colored t-shirts, while reciting their lines, singing, dancing, and sword fighting in front of a factory-like backdrop of gears and wheels.
The Shakespeare Society chose Twelfth Night this year because it calls for a large cast, and has a storyline that fifth and sixth graders and their audience can relate to.
Brandon agrees. He said feels a connection with the story, especially the double identity of his romantic counterpart Viola. She finds it easy to pretend to be a boy because she has a twin brother, and Brandon is also a twin.
Performing in front of people, especially singing and dancing, was fun, he added.
Director Jordan Dann also gave the play a chorus—the first time the Hunts Point Shakespeare Ensemble has featured one—recruited from Hyde Leadership Charter School. The addition has allowed more students to be involved, and also adds a fun musical quality to the show, as kids sing and dance together, and Yasiera Gowdy, 10, who plays Feste the jester, sings, dances and cartwheels around the stage.
The cast, especially selected by their teachers at Hyde Leadership Charter School, St. Ignatius, PS 48 and MS 424, started rehearsing twice a week last September. For the past eight months the kids have been studying Shakespearean English, as well as the art of acting. They’ve learned posture and movement and how to cope with unfamiliar words by breaking them down into syllables and vowels.
In January, the pace increased. The group began meeting three times a week—once to study the story, language and new vocabulary, and twice to rehearse in the theater. At the end of each rehearsal, Dann leads the group in screaming, “All that is good and accomplished in the world takes work!”
Marilyn and Brandon agree that performing the original Shakespearean language is “difficult, because nobody uses ‘thou’ or ‘thy.’”
It’s true that “the words aren’t the ones you would normally use,” said Chris Castro, 11, which makes it harder to memorize lines. Still, he said he loves performing Shakespeare. He works extra hard because he wants to be an actor.
During rehearsals, Dann and assistant director Raphael Peacock encourage the kids’ intensity. “Be livelier!” they tell them, as they remind them to enter the stage from the correct side or to face the audience. The Alliance for Children’s Academic Coordinator Griselle Baret fed lines, and Kate Lieberman and Brenna Sage led the chorus and played keyboard.
The production also engaged students who didn’t perform on stage to take part. They made props while learning about the process of set design.
Gonzalez, playing Viola, the twin who pretends to be a boy, says she has wanted to be an actress since she was 2 years old. She calls Twelfth Night “one of my best experiences,” and says that since joining the Shakespeare Ensemble two years ago she has performed better in her English Language Arts class at St. Ignatius.
Yasiera, a first-year Ensemble member, who aspires to be a singer as well as an actress, says that performing the original Shakespeare is “fun because it’s proper English instead of using slang.” She has been speaking more properly since joining the Ensemble, she said.
After watching the performance, former Ensemble member Elizer Diaz, 13, said he was proud of his younger brother. The show draws an audience, he says, because, “People want to see the kids act. They want to see Hunts Point act.”