Testimonial #47: Katherine Elliot, Actor/Producer The Tempest Ladies

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

Being artistic is just sort of in my blood, so I guess I was born with a broken mold. I was very lucky to have had some excellent and encouraging teachers when I was in school. I think the first one was the French teacher that I had from 6th to 8th grade who everyone called, Madame. She was fantastic. Every class was like watching a performance, and she could make us laugh while she was speaking a language that we didn’t know yet. Needless to say, her humor made me, and I’m sure most of the rest of the class, really want to understand what was going on. It made me want to learn French. Every day before class, we got to pick out what we wanted to wear. There were boas, berets, sparkly dresses, old suit jackets, flowers…all sorts of things. We were called by the French names we chose, and it was a blast. She knew that I liked art, and she was always encouraging me to utilize it.

A couple of years ago, I was taking an intensive at The Second City in Chicago, and I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw her sitting in my class. I also couldn’t believe that she actually remembered me after all of these years. It was a fun reunion, and we ended up carpooling to every class. She doesn’t teach anymore, but it made me really happy to know that she is still putting on performances.

Another standout for me is a professor that I had in graduate school (for English Literature; it wasn’t an art program) who came into my life at a time when I was on the verge of making some very big decisions. Allowing me to incorporate my artistic interests into the class may have tipped the scale that sent me rolling off to New York. There were many reasons that I chose to pursue the arts instead of getting a “real” job, but this professor really made it hit home how important the arts always have been throughout history, and still are to this day.

He would show us paintings that were painted at the same time that the books we were reading were written, which is typical to do from time to time in most literature classes, but this professor made it a focus. We would analyze paintings in the same way that we analyzed writing. We would find ways in which the author was likely influenced by the painting, which really made the connection between the arts, literature and society hit home for me. Everything is interconnected, and to this day, this is still a pattern, if not more because of the internet and our ability to easily mass communicate. He also allowed me to make a pair of Viking boots instead of writing a paper because he recognized that I would learn well that way, and it is because of that class that I am able to make my own moccasins. It’s also responsible for my knowledge of the trials and tribulations of Viking footwear during battle 🙂

All in all, I was champing at the bit to pursue the arts as a career, and these teachers assisted in making me feel confident that the arts are not only important, but crucial. Art is a form of communication, and I believe that it’s as necessary a school subject as learning to write. I am very thankful.

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I am a Producer/Actor for an all-female Shakespearean theatre company called The Tempest Ladies, and part of our mission is traveling overseas (primarily Istanbul, as of now) to schools in order to make Shakespeare more accessible in a fun and creative way. It gives children the opportunity to learn about Shakespeare and his plays through movement, character/relationship building and performance as opposed to sitting in a classroom only analyzing the text. We are based out of and perform in New York City, and we are currently talking about bringing our productions and workshops to underprivileged schools in the area as well as other cities abroad.

April 22-26, 2015

American Theatre of Actors, Chernuchin Theatre (View)
314 W. 54th Street
New York, NY 10035

http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1382019

Here Come The Tempest Ladies!

An Interview with Stella Berg & Katherine Elliot

By Frances McGarry

In 2008, six Syracuse University Acting students imagined a novel approach to presenting Shakespeare.  Inspired by a semester abroad program at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, Stella Berg,  a co-founder/producer/actor of the company, experienced Shakespeare in an entirely different light. “I saw what it was like to really witness a Shakespeare performance done the way that he would have done it; full of music, dancing, humor, life — and it was electric.” Growing up in Istanbul, Stella was taught to dissect and analyze Shakespeare’s plays line-by-line: “I hated Shakespeare in school; it was so boring and I couldn’t understand anything.” Everything changed the moment she saw her first Globe production.  For their final assignment, their class performed a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Globe stage. The founding members were all paired in the same group and since there were no men in their troupe, the women assumed all the roles.  Having a mutual affinity towards the Bard and playing roles they never would ordinarily be cast in, the ladies decided to continue working together as an ensemble.  Being a group of only six, they developed a unique way to cast their shows.  “We switch roles constantly throughout the play.  So no one is cast in any given part, but rather we share the roles and switch often throughout each play.”  The switches happen at very deliberate points – whenever there is a change in the status quo of a character.  Because of this, each actress is given the opportunity to play a wide variety of characters, both male and female.  Thus, became the creation of The Tempest Ladies.

Stella envisions a three-fold approach to achieve this undertaking:  first, to strip away gender stereotypes; second, to embolden young people to access Shakespeare’s plays in real and practical ways, and finally have these aspirations coalesce to be a source of entertainment for their audiences.  Katherine Elliot who recently joined the ensemble this past year was surprised at how audiences embraced this gender-friendly presentation of Shakespeare.  As Producer for The Taming of The Shrew, Katherine was concerned that a 3-hour performance would have audiences streaming out during intermission; in fact, “People were blown away!  The audience was entertained and very active the whole time. They wanted to come again.  They were upset that there wasn’t a longer run.”  As performers, both Stella and Katherine spoke of the dynamic nature of switching roles as well as gender onstage.  “Every actress brings her own idiosyncrasies to that character,” says Katherine, “it’s also fun to have the opportunity to play male roles and to get into their heads.  You learn that men and women are very similar in a lot of ways.”  “These stereotypical elements that we attribute to the male versus the female actually become irrelevant,” Stella explains, “because at the end of the day we’re all human beings [thereby bringing a transparency to] human sexuality. . . It doesn’t matter if it’s a female character or male character; they have the same wheel of emotions. For instance, there’ so much strength and so much murderous and treacherous energy in Lady Macbeth – qualities typically attributed to men. Simultaneously there are moments of intense vulnerability and childlike behavior, of dread and fear from Macbeth – emotions usually attributed to women.  When I play Lysander and play opposite of another who’s playing Hermia, we’re two people in love, regardless of their gender of who’s playing what.  You feel the same jitter and excitement for someone you adore – an element of fear.”  Katherine interjects, “Kate [The Taming of the Shrew] is written as a very masculine character, she’s tough and won’t submit, so she’s seen as this “shrew”. . . and watching actresses in our company play her is interesting.  She is psychologically masculine and biologically feminine, and since we are an all-female ensemble, she tends to be played as a male character would be.  It was a lot of fun for me to watch every night.”  No matter which female is playing which role—audiences suspend their belief and their perceptions are altered by this artistic invention.

The arts can transform people’s lives and this is why The Tempest Ladies are intent on making this accessible to students.  “It can be a bit intimidating to play Shakespeare in English for Turkish students attending a French school in Istanbul,” reported Teaching Artist Laura Borgwardt in her testimonial:

The idea of a language barrier begins to creep into your subconscious. The key is remembering that movement is a universal language. It can convey feeling, story; meaning. Using our bodies to express is innately human. We ‘jump for joy,’ we ‘tremble with fear’. There is a shared understanding of the way we use physicality to communicate. It no longer matters if the audience comprehends every single word that we were saying – they follow the meaning through the movement.

Our workshops in Istanbul focused on ensemble-building and using movement to help tell a story. As a companion to seeing the play performed, they allowed different access points to the material and to the experience. To delve into the themes and physical vocabulary beforehand left the students more prepared for what they were going to see. It gave them ownership over their own experience and allowed them to take part in the process.

I was impressed by how willingly the students jumped into exercises, trusting us and trusting their peers – their fellow ensemble members – and in doing so, creating something so beautiful together. The joy of self-expression, and of working together to accomplish a task, permeated the classroom. It is the same joy we have as an ensemble when we rehearse together and create. It was incredible to be able to share that passion with future storytellers.

After raising $10,000, The Tempest Ladies are readying for their Off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this April.  Looking to the future, they would like to take A Midsummer’s Night Dream back to Turkey, but for now, The Tempest Ladies will set the NYC theater world afire with their talent, their passion, and their tempestuous tale of comedy and gender subterfuge.

For more information about The Tempest Ladies visit: http://www.tempestladies.com, http://www.facebook.com/TempestLadies

To purchase tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream visit: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1382019

March is Save Our Schools Month: Matt Damon Speaks

Matt Damon

 

Arts Education Transforms Societies

Robert L. Lynch Headshot

National Core Arts Standards

 

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) will be joined by singer-songwriter and arts education activist, Ben Folds to host a formal launch of the new National Core Arts Standards 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 20, at the Microsoft New York Metro District Offices in Times Square. The one-hour event will feature remarks by Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts and David A. Dik, NCCAS leadership member and National Executive Director of Young Audiences Arts for Learning, and be live streamed via Google Hangout on this webpage. The Core Arts Standards were created by the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS), a partnership of ten national arts and education service organizations. – See more at: http://www.nationalartsstandards.org/content/launch#sthash.9tgUzL3T.dpuf