Kalista Whisenhunt started into the circle. Her task: Find a different way to sit on the chair than her classmates before her. But before she did, she stopped and turned around, ducking her head.
She only had three seconds.
“I can’t think of anything,” she told her classmates and the two Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors conducting a workshop at Lost River Junior-Senior High School.
“Let the chair speak to you,” actor Elizabeth Reese told her. “Try again.”
She did. And this time, undaunted, she found a way.
“Nailed it!” Reese proclaimed.
The chair transformation exercise was just one of several workshops Reese and Armando McClain, actors with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s School Visit Partnership Program conducted at Lost River and Chiloquin junior- senior high schools last week. The actors spent two days at each school, teaching hands-on-rhetoric and transformation techniques to the junior high and high school students.
After the chair exercise, Lost River students read scenes from Shakespeare’s play, “As You Like It.” Each time the scene was read, the students learned a different technique on how to portray emotion and feelings with the words.
McClain has worked at the festival for five years, and he said the school visits are a way to bring Shakespeare to students who may not otherwise experience theater.
“We come to them on their turf to say, ‘This is for you,’” he said. “It’s a hand-holding invitation: We want you to come experience this language. Theater is just as much for you as it is for us.”
The workshops were the first in a three-year partnership between the schools and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Lost River English teacher Laurie Ross and Chiloquin English teacher Cynthia Granberg applied for the program, which provides an annual two-day workshop for each school as well as workshops and training for teachers. Each school pays a small stipend to participate.
In the final piece of the program, each school is able to bring 50 students to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The schools are responsible for busing the students; OSF picks up the tab for the performances and overnight stays.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors visited Lost River last year and put on a performance, but this is the first year of the partnership, Ross said.
“Since we don’t have a theater program, for a lot of students this is the only time they get to see a live performance,” Ross said. “It gets Shakespeare into the schools, and teaches students how to use language, how not to be afraid of language that’s different.”
In Chiloquin, students spent the first day of the workshop working with words — often put on the spot to come up with a 10-syllable sentence or to answer a classmate using a rhyme. At one point, students were told the make up their own words. Their partner had to provide the definition.
Shakespeare, students were told by McClain and Reese, invented more than 17,000 words and phrases used today, including eyeball, dwindle, tongue-tied, in a pickle and green-eyed jealously.
During the exercise, Johnny Wallace came up with the new word “betwined.” His partner, Den Herrera quickly had to define it: “When your foot gets stuck in a trap,” he said.
Students warmed to the exercises as the workshop continued. Ninth-grader Modesto Campagna enjoyed the word play. “It’s basically emotional, figuring out how to speak while using emotions,” he said. “And also it’s just generally fun to come up with stuff.”
Both schools are located in rural areas which make it more difficult for students to access theater programs and performances such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
“They have such limited exposure to the arts,” Granberg said. “I think it is extremely important to discover other ways of thinking and being creative and playing with language.”