Members of the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) and New Swan Shakespeare Festival communities came together last week in honor and memory of OCSA alumnus Blaze Bernstein. New Swan board member Susan Spiritus attended the memorial for Blaze and was inspired to “Blaze it Forward” with an act of kindness for the OCSA community.
Thanks to her vision and generosity, more than 100 sophomores, juniors and seniors in OCSA’s Acting Conservatory were given a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity, where they received insider acting tips in a series of workshops and a free performance of the festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
OCSA students were familiar with Shakespeare’s comedy, since the Acting Conservatory performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” last spring at the Callero Family Foundation Plaza.
The New Swan field trip was a rousing kick-off to the new school year. On the second day of conservatory, students took a bus to UC Irvine to participate in three acting workshops on a variety of techniques and topics. These workshops were led by New Swan’s Artistic Director Eli Simon and actors from the play.
“Our students were inspired and delighted by the workshops and discussions. They were an informed, inspired and highly participatory group,” Conservatory Director John Walcutt said.
A workshop driven by two New Swan actresses, who put their own unique spin on Lysander and Titania in the production, focused on using one’s own identity to breathe life into a character. They spoke about gender-bending in the New Swan production and dove into why they decided to portray Hermia and Lysandra (gender-bended from Lysander) as a queer romantic relationship.
The actors who played “the mechanicals” in the production did a hands-on presentation, in which they discussed the premise of the mechanicals (day laborers in ancient Athens, charged with performing for the King) preparing Pyramus and Thisbe for a court performance. Students then broke into groups and gave their own imaginative presentations of Pyramus and Thisbe before “the Court.”
A seminar-style workshop led by Simon, chair of UC Irvine’s drama department, and UC Irvine English Professor and Shakespearean scholar Julia Lupton, featured a discussion of the elements Shakespeare introduced in the play. They also highlighted the play’s background and history, and how New Swan made changes in setting, text and interpretation—setting the play in the 1950s.
Following the workshops, students were treated to dinner on campus, a tour of the miniature Elizabethan theater, and the performance. Actor interaction with the audience and the seating-style of this venue made for an intimate, immersive experience for the students.
“It was a riotous, interactive, and thrilling evening,” Walcutt said. “After a brief talkback with the actors, who were extremely generous and made it clear they’d had as fun a time as we had, we hopped on our buses back to OCSA, with the students singing and chanting all the way home. It was the perfect experience.”