A Game Called Life: Aggeler Arts Education Program

by John Prosky, Company Member

Every day we play a game called life.
It’s a battle between Lucifer and Jesus
The messed up thing is we’re the pieces
And during war, there is no recess….

Antaean Kitty Swink coaches Aggeler student

Antaean Kitty Swink coaches Aggeler student

-Brandon, Aggeler Student

In their own words, the young men of Aggeler are from a place of “carrying a weapon to be safe,” yet they’re also from “video games and imagination.”  The same young man in a certain moment of the class will strike you as a boy and in the next moment strike you as a man.  In the span of two minutes one of these young men can go from making a remarkably insightful and intelligent observation about Shakespeare to fighting with another guy over a chair he claimed he was sitting in. They are not in a lockdown prison, yet by law they are considered “incarcerated.” In fact, almost everything about these young men is in a state of constant flux.  The only thing that is consistent about them…truly consistent… is their willingness to tell the truth about themselves (even though they are not always willing to tell the truth about why they are late or what happened to their notebook and I’m sure a bevy of other things).  That willingness to tell the truth about their addiction, their abuse, their crimes, or parental neglect is an act of searching.  Because the example of “character” in their lives is so inconsistent, it seems to me that must be what they are searching for.  By character, I do not mean the actor’s definition of the word, I mean “character” in the Dr. Martin Luther King definition of the word; as in “The content of…..”

Sample NotebookOur work and lesson plan with these young men has two focuses.  One focus is exposure to Shakespeare, and we do that with the best Antaeus has to offer – its actors. The Antaeus team picks a character’s subplot from one of Shakespeare’s plays – one that we think these young men can relate to – and then we come into the facility and two or three Antaeus actors perform that character’s soliloquies and scenes.  We then ask the young men to write in first person about what they just saw.  We do improvs and theater games based on the character’s experiences and struggles, and start a discussion about the moral lesson that Shakespeare was trying to explore with this given character.

Over the past four years of our program, subplots touched on include: the step brothers Edmund and Edgar from King Lear, Macbeth from Macbeth, and the character arc of Prince Hal from three of Shakespeare’s history plays: Henry 4 Part 1, Henry 4 Part 2 and Henry 5. Our Antaeus actors performed Prince Hal’s full character arc from party-boy drunk who hangs out with the wrong guys (the ones who convince Prince Hal to join them in a mugging) to the Hero-King who delivers the St. Crispin’s Day speech.   In the pure pedagogy of studying Shakespeare, these young men get something that all teenagers sitting in an English classes studying Shakespeare don’t get.  They get to study Shakespeare through the component of performance.

I guess if you tell a kid he’s nothing but useless
He’s gonna grow up abused and useless
In art – me and Edmund are alike
I’d be called a bastard if lived then right
I’ll admit I’m a barn accident
But I was born of nature a strong creator
And Shakespeare I feel my Edmund’s pain
The only thing I got from my father was his last name
And my stepbrother gets more love it’s insane.
And to think today you love all your kids the same
So Bill since you’re sitting in the corner
If Edmund don’t get a happy ending you’re a goner

-2009 Response to Edmund in King Lear

Ramón de Ocampo explains Shakespeare

Ramón de Ocampo explains Shakespeare

Our other focus is an exercise we call “event that changed my life.” All of us have those defining moments when something significant happens, or we make a decision that changes our life.  Those events define us.  These young men have a lot of those events, MANY more than other young men their age.  For this exercise, we ask the students to write that life-changing event down in class using two sensory memories from that event. Then we pair them up, and they share the events with the group – the idea is that each guy tells tell his partner’s life-changing event as if it were his own.  In other words, they tell their partner’s story to the group in the first person.  This exercise teaches what an actor does: he embodies someone else’s story. The more fully the actor does that, the better an actor he is.  There is also a therapeutic side to this exercise; in these populations of at-risk young men, it builds a sense of empathy.

20130524174906In the ten years I have led this exercise, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a young man discover something hugely significant.

Program cover for the final culmination, drawn by an Aggeler student

Program cover for the final culmination, drawn by an Aggeler student

They talk about a sudden recognition of the consequences of their actions, they comfort each other if one of them breaks down, and most importantly they realize that the guy who they previously considered the “other”(different race, rival gang member, just someone they hate, etc.) is someone who has the same problems, issues, dreams, and heartbreak as they have.

If part of the “content of character” for a young man includes the knowledge of self and empathy for others, then Shakespeare and the theater is a good tool for these brave young men to start their search.

Presume not,
that who I was is me,

‘Cause I can be, whatever it is,
I want to be.

-Chorus Hook for Culmination Performance

Prosky_JohnAntaeus Company Member John Prosky heads up our Arts Education programming at William Tell Aggeler Opportunity High School, an ongoing class that uses Shakespeare to reach at-risk youths. 

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A message from our Summer Intern

This summer, college freshman Sydney Berk came to work with Antaeus.

She was a tremendous asset to our organization, from managing our Box Office and Assistant Directing some of the ClassicsFest workshops, to just being an all around life-saver.

Here are her words about her summer experience:

Dear Jeanie Hackett,

I hope all is well at Antaeus and with you. The summer was such a great success and I’m happy I got to witness it all unfold. I want to say thank you for the wonderful opportunities you gave me this summer. I feel incredibly lucky and so appreciative for all I learned and the experience I gained. I could not have found a better company to work with. Antaeus is truly one of a kind. Every moment I was there I could see how invested every company member and friend was in the success of the mission. There is always a feeling of support; people help each other, listen to each other and grow with one another. Antaeus showed me what it means to be in a company and gave me a model of the kind of company member I want to be in the future. This summer, I learned boundless amounts about acting, directing and managing a theater. Watching the actors prepare, work and perform was a blessing. Observing the way the different directors interacted with their casts was so beneficial. It was one of my first professional theater experiences and I feel that I could not have been luckier.

I also want to personally thank you because I learned so very much about running a theater from watching you. The way you make decisions, the way you take every opportunity and the way you are always efficient. Thank you for constantly communicating with me, for showing me how to properly run a theater but also for explaining to me why each step you took was important. I really appreciate it.

I miss Antaeus already and am really forward to seeing Autumn Garden later this fall. It was a truly inspiring place to work. The actors, directors and crew all welcomed me so lovingly. The way so many made a point to say hello to me daily meant a lot. It is such a wonderful place to work. I feel so grateful that I got to witness and be a part of the success. I hope I will be back in the future. It is definitely something I would love.

Sincerely,
Sydney

Dakin Matthews Responds

Antaeus’ Founding Artistic Director, Dakin Matthews, wrote a satirical response to Sunday, August 8th’s LA TIMES article, “Dialogue: Critics Charles McNulty and Steven Leigh Morris discuss the state of L.A.’s small theaters.”

Over a tube of Pringles recently, actor-martyr Genisio Santo and director Meiningen Sachs began a dialogue on the state of theatre reviewing in L.A.; and this give-and-take, subsequently pursued over a second tube of Pringles, seemed worthy of a larger forum.

MS: I think it’s a shame the way not just the major critics like Nutty McCharles tend to be marginalized, but even the—shall I call them minor?—critics like Maury Lee Stevens.

GS: For the record, we don’t tend to think of the latter as “minor”—we prefer “waiver journalists.”  But be that as it may, how do you mean “marginalized,” Meiny?

MS: Well, literally.  I mean, they have to write in columns, they have to stay inside the margins. It’s sad, really; they’re treated like three-year-olds forced to stay inside the lines in coloring books.  I’d love to see their stuff spilling all over the page.  Wacky fonts!  Occasional gibberish!  I mean, what about their creativity?

GS: I hadn’t looked at it that way.

MS: I blame the marketplace.  They’re required by their public to write syntactically and coherently—

GS: Well, I’m not sure that’s true. . . .

MS: And to pander to that 99.5% of their readers who actually read, by having to conform to the stifling, old, traditional spelling and punctuation rules.

GS: Yes, what about that other half a percent who can’t read?  They’re the real cutting edge.  They’re the future.

MS: Yes, print reviewers these days can’t really write what they want; they’re so font- and format-whipped by their editors.  I look forward to the day when they can really cut loose, you know, dump those style sheets in the wastebaskets and write something I could honestly call a McCharles review or a Stephens review instead of that conformist boilerplate stuff that passes for reviews these days.

GS: I agree.  I mean, come on, who needs paragraphs?  What’s in a paragraph?  A screed by any other name, , , ,  But now, Meiny, let’s think even further outside the box.  I’m thinking interdisciplinary reviewing.

MS: Hmmm. How would that work, Genisio old chap?

GS: Well, all the big papers have websites—why shouldn’t Nutty or Maury sing their reviews in streaming video?  Or better yet, write them and then have somebody else deconstruct them, you know, pick out a line here, a line there, reassemble them into a collage, and then stage them as puppet shows?

MS: Yes, Travesty Presson might be just the person to do that!

GS: Whoa, wait—here, let me open that second tube of Pringles, Meiny old boy, I’m a trained actor.  What if we throw away the box entirely, and let the reviewer go to one play and review another one entirely?

MS: But don’t they do that already?  I mean, I often get the impression that they tend to review the play they wanted to see or thought they should have seen—or the one they would have produced (if they actually were in the producing business)–instead of the one they actually saw.

GS: Okay, then how about this—they don’t even see plays.  They just write reviews.

MS: Now you’re talking.  I’ve always thought the ideal situation would be for a reviewer to call me when a production was announced and I could explain to him my concept and what I wanted to do, and he could just review that, without have to deal with all those pesky playwrights and actors.  (Beat.)  No offense, Gen.

GS: None taken.   I mean, who do we think we are?

MS: Or, back to the interdisciplinary idea, how’s this for a picture? All the reviewers in spandex tights with lots of artificial fog, posturing their reviews to pretentious music—Critique de Soleil!

GS: Or–wait a minute—how about a mime review–live and in streaming video; and you could print it in the paper as well.

MS: Yes, fabulous!  And then—no, wait a minute—a mime review in the paper?  Then it’d just be a blank column.

GS: Exactly.

Peter van Norden on ‘King Lear’

One of the benefits of an ensemble company is the wisdom and insights of those offstage as well as the talents of those appearing in a particular production. Throughout the run of our production of King Lear and ClassicsFest 2010, we’ll be sharing thoughts from Antaeus company members about their experiences of the shows they see.

Peter Van Norden on King Lear
Okay. Lear. I’ve done the play twice and seen it countless times, so it’s the small, interesting choices that I’m drawn to – that fascinate me. So, here’s two moments that I found quite striking…one an image and one a “surprise” that I found quite affecting.

‘Lear’ before the hovel, at the end of the storm, III, iv.
It’s a famous speech, of course, ‘Lear’ praying in the tempest – “Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are…” — but both Dakin and Harry have found a fully realized moment with “O, I have ta’en too little care of this.” It becomes a sudden, surprising revelation to both Kings — and it humanizes ‘Lear’ in a visceral, beautifully moving way. In both performances, this sudden self-realization quite literally took my breath away. I’ve never seen the moment presented as clearly or as movingly.

Another “surprising image” that startlingly brings the depth of the play into a shattering focus is provided by both our ‘Edgars’ and ‘Edmunds’ — at the very end of their fight. When ‘Edgar’ finally has the upper hand in the battle…he suddenly and viciously goes for ‘Edmund’s’ eyes, as if to pluck them out. For me, this horrifying image brought an extra level to their struggle – a level that I found quite affecting and that reflects on all that’s gone before it. Not only is this a political battle (for power), and not only is it ‘Edgar’s’ personal revenge for what’s been done to him…but it’s ‘Edgar’s’ uncontrollable response to what has been so unjustly done to their father (‘Gloucester’). It solidifies the ‘Gloucester/Edgar’ relationship in one startling, almost unbearable moment. Kudos to Bart and Ramon/John/Seamus/Daniel for coming up with this idea. Great moment….

‘King Lear’ Announces Cast – Official Press Release

NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Lucy Pollak (for media only)
(818) 887-1499 lucy@lucypr.com

Antaeus Company opens ClassicsFest 2010 with Shakespeare’s tale of madness, tyranny, loyalty and love:
Bart DeLorenzo directs  KING LEAR.
Harry Groener and Dakin Matthews are double cast in the title role.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA – May 18, 2010 – “Blow, winds, crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!” The Antaeus Company, L.A.’s classical theater ensemble, opens ClassicsFest 2010 with its first full production of a Shakespeare play. Bart DeLorenzo directs King Lear with renowned scholar, actor and Antaeus founding artistic director Dakin Matthews and Broadway veteran/three-time Tony nominee Harry Groener heading two fully double-cast ensembles. Two gala openings, one with each cast, take place on Saturday, June 26 at 8 pm and Sunday, June 27 at 4 pm, with performances continuing through August 8 at Antaeus’ interim home, Deaf West Theatre in the NoHo Arts District. Low-priced previews begin June 12.

King Lear is the politically resonant, timeless and searing story of an aging monarch, a kingdom divided and a family in turmoil. Lear’s decision to divide his kingdom among his three daughters ignites a firestorm of greed and betrayal. Displaced as king and cast out as patriarch, Lear discovers the fragility of familial bonds as he descends into madness. Shakespeare’s sublime poetry infuses this towering tragedy, a tale of family, duty, politics and mortality.

King Lear marks the first full production of a Shakespeare play in The Antaeus Company’s 19-year history.

“We chose Lear because it’s a fantastic ensemble piece, and because we wanted to feature our founding artistic director, Dakin Matthews,” explains artistic director Jeanie Hackett. “Dakin is one of the country’s foremost interpreters of the Bard, and this is an opportunity to explore a Shakespearean play with the master. We double-cast all our productions, a technique that strengthens the way we collaborate and work together as an ensemble, so we’re incredibly fortunate to have the equally superlative actor Harry Groener to share the title role.”

Widely regarded as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy and arguably one of the greatest English-language plays ever written, King Lear explores domestic, spiritual and political themes in a primal world and an ambiguous time that could just as easily be hundreds of years ago or hundreds of years from now. Harold Bloom, writing in “The Invention of the Human,” calls King Lear a play that shows “an apparent infinitude that perhaps transcends the limits of literature.”

“Many productions are opening in the U.S. and around the world this year, and that’s not a coincidence” notes DeLorenzo. “Everything is in flux: the economy, health care, the political power structure. When the world is changing, theaters do Lear.”

In addition to Matthews and Groener, the ensemble features Allegra Fulton and Kirsten Potter as Goneril; Francia DiMase and Jen Dede as Regan; Rebecca Mozo and Tessa Thompson as Cordelia; Ramon De Ocampo and John Sloan as Edgar; Daniel Bess and Seamus Dever as Edmund; JD Cullum and Stephen Caffrey as the Fool; Robert Pine and Norman Snow as Gloucester; Morlan Higgins and Gregory Itzin as Kent; Kevin Daniels and Adrian Latourelle as Cornwall; and John DeMita and Thomas Vincent Kelly as Albany. Rounding out the cast are Adam Meyer, Brett Colbeth, Gabriel Diani, Jeff Doba, Drew Doyle, Jeff Gardner, Bruce Green, Jason Henning, John Francis O’Brien, Renata Plecha, Jeremy Shouldis and Paige Wilson.

A multiple award-winning director, DeLorenzo is working with Antaeus for the first time. “This is an opportunity to explore one of the world’s great plays with a company of actors who can do the work justice,” he says.

Adds Hackett, “Antaeus is unique because we do weeks, months, sometimes years of exploratory work on a single play before even beginning to rehearse. It’s a very intensive and in-depth process, and perhaps one of the reasons that many of our productions are so successful.”

Set Design for King Lear is by Tom Buderwitz; Lighting Design is by Lap Chi Chu; Costume Design is by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg; Sound Design is by John Zalewski; Prop Design is by Jen Prince; Production Stage Manager is Deirdre Murphy; and Young Ji produces.

Bart DeLorenzo is founding Artistic Director of the Evidence Room in Los Angeles where he has directed many plays over the last 15 years including local and world premieres by Charles Mee, David Greenspan, Kelly Stuart, Philip K. Dick, Gordon Dahlquist, Martin Crimp, David Edgar, Naomi Wallace, and Edward Bond, as well as his own adaptation of Dickens’ Hard Times, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, and Schiller’s Don Carlos, among many others. His recent freelance work includes the world premieres of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Doctor Cerberus and Donald Margulies’ Shipwrecked! An Entertainment at South Coast Repertory (later revived at the Geffen Playhouse); the world premiere of Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress at the Geffen; Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone at South Coast Rep; Racine’s Britannicus at Cal Rep; and Around the World in 80 Days at the Cleveland Playhouse. Most recently, he directed Charles Mee’s bobrauschenbergamerica for TheSpyAnts at Inside the Ford, Adam Bock’s The Receptionist and Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Odyssey, and the world premieres of Justin Tanner’s Voice Lessons at the Zephyr, and Michael Sargent’s The Projectionist at the Kirk Douglas. For his work, he has received five LA Weekly awards and three Back Stage Garlands.

The Antaeus Company, L.A.’s classical theater ensemble, has a 19-year history of providing quality classical theater in Los Angeles. Through productions, readings and workshops; through educational outreach to the community; and through acting training programs for young professionals, the Antaeus mission remains steadfast and simple: to keep classical theater vibrantly alive in ourselves and in our community. Members of the company and its board span a wide range of age, ethnicity and experience; they have performed on Broadway, at major regional theaters across the country, in film and television, and on local stages, and are the recipients of multiple accolades including Tony, Los Angeles and New York Drama Critics Circle, Ovation, LA Weekly, and Back Stage Garland nominations and awards.

King Lear is the centerpiece of The Antaeus Company’s 5th biennial ClassicsFest. Beginning July 6 and continuing for six weeks through August 15, ClassicsFest offers an invigorating “summer splash” of actor-initiated workshops, readings, and special events on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons, including Peace In Our Time by Noël Coward; Les Femmes Savantes by Molière; Puntila and Matti by Bertolt Brecht; The Helen Fragments by Euripides and others; Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry; Arcadia by Tom Stoppard; The Malcontent by John Marston; Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey; The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare; Faith Healer by Brian Friel; and The Capulets and Montagues by Lope de Vega.  The Festival features over 100 actors, and all readings and workshops have a very accessible $10 ticket price.

King Lear has two openings, each with a different cast, on Saturday, June 26 at 8 pm and Sunday, June 27 at 4 pm. Performances continue through August 8 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm. There will be one Thursday performance on July 1 at 8 pm, and no 7:30 pm performance on Sunday, July 4. Previews take place Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 pm, June 12 through June 25. Tickets range from $30.00 – $34.00 except Opening Nights which are $75.00 and previews which are $20.00. The Antaeus Company’s interim home is located in Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601 (in the NoHo Arts District). For reservations and information, call (818) 506-1983 or visit online at http://www.Antaeus.org.

DETAILS FOR CALENDAR LISTINGS
KING LEAR

WHAT:
King Lear – The Antaeus Company, L.A.’s classical theater ensemble, presents its first full production of a Shakespeare play, the second offering of the troupe’s inaugural subscription season and the opening of ClassicsFest 2010. This timeless masterpiece of domestic tragedy is a tale of fathers and their unloved sons and daughters, of catastrophic change, and of the individual at the mercy of a hostile world. Bart DeLorenzo directs renowned scholar, actor and Antaeus founding artistic director Dakin Matthews and Broadway veteran/three-time Tony nominee Harry Groener, who are double cast in the title role.

WHO:
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Bart DeLorenzo
Ensemble: Daniel Bess, Stephen Caffrey, JD Cullum, Kevin Daniels, Ramon DeOcampo, Jen Dede, John DeMita, Francia DiMase, Allegra Fulton, Harry Groener, Morlan Higgins, Gregory Itzin, Thomas Vincent Kelly, Adrian Latourelle, Dakin Matthews, Rebecca Mozo, Robert Pine, Kirsten Potter, John Sloan, Norman Snow, Tessa Thompson
Also featuring: Adam Meyer, Brett Colbeth, Gabriel Diani, Jeff Doba, Drew Doyle, Jeff Gardner, Bruce Green, Jason Henning, John Francis O’Brien, Renata Plecha, Jeremy Shouldis Paige Wilson

WHEN:
Previews: June 12 – June 25
Performances: June 26 – August 8
Tuesdays at 8 pm: June 15, 22 (previews)
Wednesdays at 8 pm: June 16, 23 (previews)
Thursdays at 8 pm: June 17, 24 (previews); July 1
Fridays at 8 pm: June 18, 25 (previews); July 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; August 6
Saturdays at 8 pm: June 12, 19 (previews); June 26 (Opening); July 3, 10, 17, 24, 31; August 7
Sundays at 4 pm: June 13, 20 (previews); 27 (Opening)
Sundays at 2:30 pm: July 4, 11, 18, 25; August 1, 8
Sundays at 7:30 pm: July 11, 18, 25; August 1, 8 (dark July 4)

WHERE:
THE ANTAEUS COMPANY
Deaf West Theatre
5112 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood CA 91601
(one block south of Magnolia – ample street parking)

HOW:
(818) 506-1983 or http://www.Antaeus.org

TICKETS:
Opening Nights* (June 26 & 27): $75
Thursday, Friday and Sunday night: $30
Saturday night and Sunday matinee: $34
Previews: $20
ClassicsFest Workshops and Readings: $10

*Antaeus has two opening nights, as all productions are fully double-cast.

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Name That Lear

Giants of the theater have tackled the role of Lear.  While we await the announcement of The Antaeus Company’s cast of KING LEAR, we offer you:

Name That Lear!

Huge Strides for ShakesAlive!

Arts Education and Outreach programs bring our ensemble members into the classroom to make Shakespearean text accessible, fun and relevant to students’ lives. Through ShakesAlive!, we work with educators to develop culturally specific programs that move from Euro-centric to multi-centric and we give Los Angeles area students the opportunity to revel in both familiar and undiscovered classic gems of all cultures.
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Returning to William Tell Aggeler Opportunity School this Winter for Project 29: partnering at-risk youth with Shakespeare’s at-risk characters.  Also returning to Cleveland HS in the spring!

Antaeus was recently granted a new way for schools to find us — a listing on the LA County Arts For All Website – these listings were VERY competitive and we are now part of Los Angeles County’s first interactive website that supports the arts education needs of educators, community stakeholders and policy makers by providing centralized access to the tools and information necessary to achieve sequential K-12 arts education.
Our Arts Ed Department also now partners with Center Theatre Group on their Annenberg Middle School Program. This is a new pilot, a 3-year action research program that will lead students through a playwriting residency with professional readings by actors from local theatre companies, mirroring the actual playwriting process. The goal is to improve and inspire students’ language and creative thinking skills, leading to student achievement in Language Arts.
As part of our planned expansion in 2010, we held the first of a series of Teaching Artist Training Workshops last October. See a snippet here!
Stay tuned ~ our Shakespeare Monologue Competition also returns in 2010!
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