BWW Review: Gamut's Educational Outreach: Fun, Not Just Smart
In Pennsylvania, the public school core curriculum includes Shakespeare, which is hardly a surprise, but the problem is that it's usually taught through classroom reading. Shakespeare, like most dramatists, didn't write to be read, but to be heard. The result is that many Pennsylvanians profess not to like Shakespeare, while they don't really know Shakespeare. All they know of him is dry classroom work.
Fortunately, in the Central Pennsylvania region, Gamut Theatre Group performs not only traditional productions of Shakespeare's plays but educational productions of the five curriculum works, tailored to a length (about 90 minutes) that fits into the class schedule for area schools without disrupting the entire day. The shows are brought to the schools with a cast of five playing multiple parts. Other students are able to come to Gamut's theatre in Harrisburg to see the educational productions.
And you should, too. Alas, the public performances of Gamut's educational outreach productions run for only one weekend. They should run for longer and be more heavily advertised. Why should you see what you might be inclined to write off as a "school show"?
If you love Shakespeare, but don't want to spend three hours plus intermission in your evening or Sunday afternoon, you want to come. Melissa Nicholson's edits of the full plays leave all of the action, all of the quotes and speeches you want to hear, and cut out the (yes, frequent) dry moments with summarized narration by the cast that does not intrude on the rest of the show. If you don't think you like Shakespeare, you need to come. Shakespeare is much more fun than you'd expect, and the stripped-down, fully-edited versions will show you all of the excitement in the same time as watching a movie at the mall. If you just love theatre, you have no excuse not to attend. And bring your kids while you're at it.
This year's MACBETH is a prime example of the quality of work being done as Gamut's educational outreach - and quality is important, because high school students recognize it as surely as anyone else. It, in fact, holds up favorably next to Gamut's production last summer of MACBETH for its Shakespeare in the Park programming. Nicholson's cuts leave no dangling characters or plot, leave subplots and motivations intact - a challenge in a play with so many interpersonal and political conflicts - and keep action moving even with a limited number of cast engaging in swordfights. There's no sense of feeling cheated even when one knows the full-length production well. Perhaps the most amusing aspect of the educational production was seeing last summer's Macbeth, Thomas Weaver, playing his antagonist MacDuff. Weaver is always a pleasure to watch on stage, and he makes both roles make perfect sense (even if those who saw him in both kept expecting him to help Lady Macbeth dispatch Duncan).
Ross Carmichael made for a delightfully twisted Thane of Cawdor, and Michelle Kay Smith a charmingly wicked Lady Macbeth. Zane Garcia and Gabriella DeCarli bring up the rear as Duncan, Banquo, Malcolm, Fleance, and one of the witches, among several other parts.
It's worth keeping an eye peeled each early spring for Gamut's educational outreach productions - the students shouldn't be the only ones to have fun with Shakespeare. Keep your eye on GamutTheatre,org.
This summer's Shakespeare in the Park will be A Midsummer Night's Dream, for your next Shakespeare fix.