Fall Festival of Shakespeare: Something wicked (awesome) this way comes

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LENOX — The first common class for the Fall Festival of Shakespeare began with teens taking leaps of faith into the arms of one another, and ended with them charging from opposite sides of a auditorium to engage in an hand-to-hand "air broadsword" battle.

"When I walked into the gym it was almost like I had walked into a rock concert," said Mt. Everett Regional School eighth-grader Ben Shannon. "It was so loud and so energetic in there, I could not not enjoy myself."

That's just a snippet of what's to come as 10 area high schools prepare over the coming weeks to take part in the 29th season of this signature Shakespearean showcase.

Each school will, between now and November, study and rehearse a play from The Bard's repertoire to perform both at their respective school and in front of audiences at Shakespeare & Company's Tina Packer Playhouse. In between rehearsals on their home stages, students from the Berkshires, Pioneer Valley and eastern New York state get to come together by the dozens to take part in common classes to develop techniques in stage combat, dance and movement, technical theater and performance preparation.

Shannon and some of his classmates from the Mt. Everett production of "Romeo and Juliet" caught up with The Eagle about their Fall Festival of Shakespeare experiences and talked about the common classes being a hallmark opportunity for kids across the county and the region to connect with each other and learn new things together in an incomparable way.

"To go off of what Ben said, you are walking into a huge, loud room, which [can be] very, very overwhelming if you're anxious like me, but it's not overwhelming," said Mt. Everett senior Lily Duval, who's taking part in her fourth Fall Festival. "It's a safe space."

Duval said of the stage combat common class, "You don't go in there afraid you're going to get judged, you go there to have a good time, to make friends, and learn how to fight in the best way possible. I've talked to kids who during their first year are terrified, but we've talked after class and all they keep saying is "that was amazing.""

Shakespeare & Company Director of Education Kevin G. Coleman describes students coming together in common classes as "a celebration of each others' work" where "the cooperation and support, the courage and risk taking are palpable.

"The classes are the heartbeat of the festival," he said.

Caitlin Kraft, who is co-directing the Mt. Everett production with Madeleine Maggio, said that watching the stage combat class especially, where students interact with one another one on one, in small groups and as a unified ensemble, is an exemplary event. If someone trips or falls, a young person is surrounded by peers who are ready and eager to lift them back up.

"There are close to 200 students involved," said Kraft. "I think my favorite part is getting to see the huge air broadsword battle at the end. Kevin Coleman feeds them lines from Macbeth, conjuring an imaginary army, and these kids charge across the stage at each other to find their fight partner. I kind of tear up to see hundreds of kids so passionate about the thing that they're interested in here."

The ten schools participating in the 2017 Fall Festival of Shakespeare include: Berkshire Waldorf High School, Chatham (N.Y.) High School, Lee High School, Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, Monument Mountain Regional High School, Mt. Everett Regional High School, Mount Greylock Regional High School, Springfield Central High School, Taconic High School, and Taconic Hills (N.Y.) High School. The schools will gather together to watch and perform their plays for the public in a four-day festival at the Tina Packer Playhouse from Thursday, Nov. 16 through Sunday, Nov. 19.

Mount Everett senior Carl Furcht, who is taking part in his sixth Fall Festival of Shakespeare said, "It's so fun, it's sad to think about this as my last year."

During shows, he said, the teens boo and hiss at the bad guys, cheer for the good guys and give each cast a hearty ovation at the end.

"It's a giant support group," said Furcht. He said each rehearsal starts with a "check-in" so everyone's aware of and in tune with each other on good days and challenging ones.

And when the latter comes up, "There are people with you, they won't say anything but they'll just hug you. It's the most amazing feeling," said Furcht. "Fall Festival is a great way to make some awesome connections, even in other schools. ... These are immense friendships that can last even past high school."


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