I remember the afternoon my youngest child, Abby, told me she wanted to put on a production of Hamlet. We were in the kitchen on a beautiful spring day, and Abby, who was 13 at the time, said, “I think I’m going to do Hamlet in the backyard this summer.”
The declaration seemed to come out of nowhere, but of course it didn’t, which is one of the beauties of unschooling. All that unimpeded percolating, simmering with no interference and often no outside awareness, then one day, poof!
I wasn’t sure the venture would actually happen. It seemed like an ambitious idea, but I just said, “Okay,” and went on with my business. Several weeks later, after many ups and downs, audiences were piling into our backyard for three weekend shows, and loving it.
One neighbor told me that for several days after he saw the performance, his five-year-old son kept asking him, “Are we going to see some Shakespeare today?”
Abby was on fire after that first production, and while I was more than ready for a breather from the intensity playmaking infused into the household, she was going full steam ahead. By September she had rented a local theater and started rehearsals for The Tempest.
Five years and more than a dozen Youthquake Theater productions later, and Abby is as smitten with the bard as she was the first time she saw a Shakespeare play (she was seven, and the play was, of course, Hamlet).
As a mom, it’s been a privilege to watch the shows unfold. Rehearsals happen in my living room or backyard, and every so often I’ll catch a snippet of discussion about blocking or character motivation, expressions of support and encouragement, and bursts of full-throated laughter. Youthquake, without a doubt, brought more joy into our home.
It also brought joy to audiences. My favorite Youthquake photo shows Abby portraying Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Abby decided to deliver the monologue in which Benedick begins to imagine that Beatrice might love him to a random audience member she pulled from the crowd. It was an ingenious device, and resulted in much hilarity. I love this picture so much because it captures the fully engaged audience and their delight.
Watching Abby and so many young actors develop and grow from production to production, become comfortable and facile with Shakespeare’s language, and delve into the significance of the plot lines and the characters has been a huge gift for me, but the rehearsal process for that first production was anything but smooth. It was summer, people were vacationing, and attendance at rehearsals was spotty. Actors kept dropping out and Ophelia wasn’t reliably cast until a couple of weeks before performance weekend. A couple of parents expressed worry that the whole thing might be a big flop. “Whatever,” I shrugged. “It’ll be what it’ll be. No one’s expecting the Royal Shakespeare Company.”
In the end, the kids astonished everyone. Kids will do that, if you let them. Here’s Abby giving a TEDx talk about Youthquake.
Here’s a great blog post by Patrick Farenga about Youthquake and youth theater companies.
Youthquake’s next production, As You Like It, is right around the corner, June 16-18 at the Somerville Community Growing Center. Hope to see you there.