This weekend Tongva Park’s Family Saturdays will host a morning of youth-oriented Shakespearean performances presented by the Los Angeles Drama Club. The event, which is free and open to the public, will last from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the park and include workshops and games based on the works of Shakespeare.
“By decoding the language, improvising, and with role-play, The LA Drama Club makes the universal themes of Shakespeare accessible to all ages. The organization has successfully built an artistic community of youth who, through the creative process of ‘putting on a play’, have found passion, purpose, and a place to gain self-worth from their collective accomplishments,” reads a press release from Santa Monica Cultural Affairs.
Cultural Affairs supervisor Allison Ostrovsky said community groups, like the drama club, may apply to present events in the park through the City’s event permit process. She explained that “the Park’s unusual terrain and layout provide a unique backdrop for performances which invite exploration and discovery of the park,” very much like the Shakespeare event will this Saturday.
According to executive director of the LA Drama Club, Julia Walker Wyson, the day will begin with a very short performance by several of the club’s students. Then everyone will break into groups and do different activities, like theater games, so they can get a taste of what the club does.
Participants will switch between groups so everyone can try each of the five workshops. In between the switches there will be brief performances, like a one-minute monologue by a student.
Then there will be a final 40-minute performance done by the LA Drama Club students, during which the children who participated in the workshops will be invited to get up and join the student actors to contribute to the production in some way.
“For instance, when there is a crowd we can invite them up to be part of that crowd. Then we tell them if they are happy or they are celebrating and they can act with us,” Wyson said. “Those kids who get excited about being in the spotlight and on stage will have lots of opportunities to jump up and get in the mix.”
Though children of all ages are welcome to attend, Wyson said the “sweet spot” would be ages 8-12.
Wyson is excited to be bringing the club, made up of students ages 7-16, to perform in the park and exposing children to the works of Shakespeare.
“They don’t have any preconceived notions about it,” Wyson said. “They don’t know that it is supposed to be too hard for them and that they are not supposed to be able to understand it. And we use a lot of improve games. Try to introduce it to them in a way that is very alive and non-academic.”
In fact she thinks the first encounter children have with Shakespeare should not be in the classroom.
“A lot of kids are introduced to Shakespeare in 9th or 10th grade when someone is teaching ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and they are teaching it as an academic exercise and it’s all about the academics of it, and that turns a lot of people off. And that’s not an ideal way to introduce it.”
“You know all of his plays are so current and so relevant and when they are introduced to kids in a way where they say ‘Oh my god I totally understand Prince Hal’s dilemma! My dad doesn’t like any of my friends either and I get yelled at all the time for hanging out with my friends too! I get what’s going on with him.’ When they are introduced to it in such a way that they can get those connections, then it is a completely different experience to them.”
Wyson also believes that when children see kids their own age performing Shakespeare’s works, especially some of the lesser-known ones, they will become more interested in the plays.
Another reason Wyson is so happy to be part of the Family Saturday’s event in the park is so the club can spread the word about their “Shakespeare in the City” program, which offers free and low-cost classes and workshops to students in the West Adams/Mid-City area of LA. Many of the students performing on Saturday are part of the program.
“You know we feel like we’re doing something pretty unique and special and we want people to know about it. We would love kids to come and join our troupe, but it is also important to us that people know what we are doing and our mission and what we are accomplishing. And a lot of the kids who will be there on Saturday are from the Shakespeare in the City program, so we want people to know that we exist.”
Regarding this event, and others at Tongva park, Ostrovsky said the City’s aim is “to program events that aren’t happening elsewhere in Santa Monica, or maybe even in Los Angeles.”
For more information on the Tongva Park’s Family Saturdays event go to smgov.net/tongvapark/events.