East End students to perform in first-ever Spring Festival of Shakespeare


A popular Shakespeare festival from Massachusetts is making its way to the North Fork this spring. 

Thanks to the efforts of A.D. Newcomer and John Tramontana, Greenport and Southold high school students will have the chance to participate in a Shakespeare play as part of the first-ever Spring Festival of Shakespeare.

The festival, tentatively scheduled for June 4, is designed to bring the famed writer’s work alive for the students, Ms. Newcomer said.

“That’s our goal, to bring the material to kids and have them actually understand how connected they are to it,” she said. “Shakespeare characters live like high school students. The stakes are high, emotions are huge, everything is big and everything’s a big deal.”

Each year, a festival held annually by Shakespeare and Company of Lenox, Mass., chooses 10 high schools across that state to mount Shakespeare plays and brings them together in November to perform for each other in Lenox. Now, the organization wants to expand its program through springtime festivals involving schools in other states.

“It’s like a rock concert when the kids come to perform for each other,” said Ms. Newcomer, who trained at Shakespeare and Company and is the artist in residence for the local project. “The goal is to make it alive, not to get it so right that it’s just a boring piece written by a dead guy.”

Eventually, she hopes to expand the North Fork festival to involve schools from all across Long Island.

For now, Ms. Newcomer and Mr. Tramontana, a math teacher at Greenport High School, are keeping the focus a little smaller. Students will perform the main production — an abbreviated Shakespeare play that will be chosen after the audition process — at each high school and again during the June 4 festival in the Southold Amphitheatre.

Auditions for the 90-minute production will be active, involving games and workshops rather than reciting of lines, said Mr. Tramontana, who also runs an after-school Shakespeare Club at Greenport. After the auditions, Mr. Tramontana and Ms. Newcomer will select a play that suits the students’ interests, talents and energy level.

All students who audition will get to participate in the performance, whether it be in an on-stage role or through work in costume design, set design, lighting and more, Mr. Tramontana said.

Festival presentations in June will also include monologues performed by students from neighboring districts who participate in common classes that will be offered in mid-April. In those classes, which do not require tryouts, students will learn about stage combat, performance, technology and dance movement, said Cate Clifford, a volunteer instructor.

“I’m looking forward to bringing the accessibility and the magic and the aliveness of Shakespeare to these kids,” Ms. Clifford said. “I have seen that this particular approach to Shakespeare — the focus on celebration, the focus on play, the focus on collaborating, the idea that it takes a class to do a monologue, it’s not just a one-person show and everyone is needed. That approach, and that level of fun and that level of respect for every student, can change lives.”

David Gamberg, superintendent of both Southold and Greenport districts, said he sees the festival as a way to enhance the shared programs between the schools, as well as a way to implement “quality learning.”

The idea was originally brought to Mr. Gamberg’s attention by Mr. Tramontana, who used research by Harvard Project Zero about Shakespeare and Company’s education program to demonstrate that the interactive learning of Shakespeare material is more beneficial for students than just reading the scripts in class.

“It’s interdisciplinary,” Mr. Gamberg said of the festival. “It’s music, art and English coming together. When we create opportunities to give students the chance to experience learning this way it’s more impactful.”

Auditions for the main production, called “The Play at Will,” will be held Monday, March 21, at Greenport High School and Tuesday and Wednesday, March 22 and 23, at Southold High School from 2:45 to 5:30 p.m. There is no cost to participate and each audition date will consist of different activities.

“You have to come to one [audition] to get a position,” Ms. Newcomer said, “but we encourage students to come to all three because that’s how we get to know them and see where they’re going to shine.”

Photo Caption: Greenport High School student Gary Primm, 15, gets advice from math teacher John Tramontana during Shakespeare Club while working on a scene from MacBeth. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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