Pittsfield/North Adams Shakespeare in the Courts program plays on punishment


NORTH ADAMS -- Learning of King Duncan's murderous fate, Lady Macbeth faints.

One of the actresses portraying her in tonight's production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" is 12-year-old Jerecha Lampiasi. During a recent rehearsal, she looked toward Banquo, played by Omar Ochoa, 14.

"I've got you," Ochoa said to his cast mate, urging her to be more dramatic in her fall.

In the next take, she swept her hand to her forehead and fell into his arms.

Trust is just one of the tenets that has developed between the cast of teenagers and crew of adult staff involved with this spring's Shakespeare in the Courts program.

The program, now celebrating its 13th year, is a collaboration between the Berkshire Juvenile Court system and Shakespeare & Company in Lenox. Co-founded by now-retired Judge Paul Perachi and Shakespeare & Company director of education Kevin G. Coleman, it's designed to support troubled youths and juvenile offenders.

The Shakespeare in the Courts program now runs in both Pittsfield and North Adams with support from local, state and federal funding. This season's directing and teaching team includes Shakespeare & Company's Josh Aaron McCabe, Carmen-maria Mandley, Josie A. Wilson and Lezlie Lee, along with other technical crew and costuming staff.

"Shakespeare's take on being human is really fitting for adolescents. It allows them to fully speak their truths," said Mandley. "We all want to see these kids succeed."

The six-week program requires students' attendance, attention and dedication in order to put on a 50-minute production of a Shakespeare play, complete with costumes, lights, sets and sound.

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The North Adams Shakespeare in the Courts program, which involves eight youths between the ages of 12 and 17, will perform tonight in the Mill City Theatre for their families, friends, members of the court system and other invited guests. Ciara Lee, 17, said she hopes the audience will "be really wowed."

After all, the cast barely knew one another and most members didn't want to be there at the start of the program because they were forced to be there.

"But then you realize you're here, so you make the best of it," said Jose Alicea, 16, who's also working through his roles with an injured arm in a sling.

Each cast member has taken on multiple roles and worked through the frustrations of memorizing lines of Shakespearean language.

"It's hectic," said 16-year-old Cursty Morris. She said she typically has trouble learning words, but being in the production has helped her improve.

Cynthia Lampiasi, 14, credited the "positive place" created during rehearsals by the Shakespeare staff -- a space for sharing struggles, ideas and deli meat sandwiches in between scenes.

"We set a goal for the day, for the week, and work together. You see that they care about how we feel while at the same time trying to get a show on its feet," Lee said.

Other cast members like Emma Gardner, 13, have learned the confidence to deliver a monologue while standing alone on stage.

A 17-year-old, who asked just to be called Zach, has learned to carry himself through the roles he portrays, going from a murderer to a king.

After Monday night's three-hour rehearsal, the entire group of adults and students met in a circle and shared reinforcing thoughts on the day. In a humbled voice, director Josh Aaron McCabe looked at the eight young faces before him and said, "I reinforce you guys. You did lovely work today."


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