Shakespearean play

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Hamlet was right.

"The play's the thing."

Groups of area youngsters discovered that first-hand last month when they participated in Acting Up with Shakespeare.

The week-long sessions, offered by the Walla Walla Parks and Recreation Department in partnership with Shakespeare Walla Walla, combined theater games, scene rehearsals and stage combat to introduce kids to acting within the realm of perhaps the most famous playwright of all time.

Judging from some kids' reactions, the program was a big hit.

"It's really fun," said Lilly Sabatier, 11, during a break in the Green Room of the Elizabethan-style Power House Theatre, a fitting setting for the classes to take place.

"You don't realize it, but the games you play include the acting in it," Lilly added. "I didn't think it would be this fun."

Instructor Patrick Lennon - an actor and educator from Seattle - on this particular Thursday (July 21) guided the students through games emphasizing basic stage concepts such as character development and conflict.

For instance, Lennon, 25, decided on a setting and what types of people the kids would portray, then two-by-two they acted out reasons to "get out of the room" while their partners tried to get them to stay.

In a different game, students encircled one of their classmates who recited Shakespearean lines while trying to break out. Later, they took turns portraying offbeat characters, which brought laughter and giggles from everyone in the room.

"It was great," a smiling Michael Jimenez, 12, said of the sessions as the week was nearing an end. "We did all these cool games and we also tried Shakespearean insults and stage fighting."

The combat was weaponless and hands-off, but a big hit with the kids. "They're learning how to beat each other up safely and make it look good for the audience," Lennon explained.

During the week, students also rehearsed one- or two-page scenes from Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and "The Comedy of Errors," which they would perform for family and friends on Friday, the last day of classes.

Vienna Mumm, 12, and Taya Lovejoy, who will turn 10 this month, stopped their rehearsal briefly to offer their reviews.

"I like ‘The Comedy of Errors' better than ‘Macbeth,'" Vienna said. "Because in ‘Macbeth,' everybody gets killed."

Taya added that she likes ‘Comedy' because it's "really confusing and funny."

In preparing their scenes, kids first read through their scripts, then with the help of Lennon decided how to stage the action.

Run-throughs were part of the curriculum as classmates critiqued each others' performances. But the students were mindful of one of Lennon's rules: Don't say anything unless something positive is included.

A common observation was the need for their fellow actors to speak louder. But what always followed was a supportive comment such as, "I think they did awesome!"

So does Lennon.

"They've been great," he said of his young pupils, admiring their openness and creativity at such a young age.

"They've been supportive of each other and willing to do these wacky things."

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