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Interns double up on Shakespeare to gain valuable experience

  • Modern retelling
    Modern retelling  Cosmo Cothran-Bray '20 is shown with a skull from a scene featuring his role of the clown, who is a gravedigger, in "Hamlet." He also plays a lord in the show.  Photo by Beth Litwak
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Summer’s slowdown didn’t reach as far as Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall for a three-week stretch as two interns from William & Mary stayed immersed in Shakespeare day and night.

But the experience is invaluable, said Joey Ernest ’17 and Cosmo Cothran-Bray ’20.

The pair served as interns for the educational Young Shakespeare Camps and are cast in the production of “Hamlet” that is being co-produced by New York City’s Theatre for Humanity and the Virginia Shakespeare Festival. William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” a 90-minute adaptation by Marianne Savell, will run July 7-9 and 14-16 in PBK Memorial Hall’s Studio Theatre.

“When we’re at rehearsal, we are in the scenes,” Ernest said. “When we’re here at camps, we’re teaching camps. We’re always with the kids, interacting and stuff.”

They bring two very different perspectives. Ernest graduated in May as an English major who participated heavily in theatre, while Cothran-Bray just completed a freshman year very actively involved in theatre, which he plans to pursue as a major to become a professional Shakespearian actor.

They are participating in the summer program during a time of transition.

The VSF suspended its professional summer season last fall after 38 years, citing financial concerns. “Hamlet” is being produced by the startup Theatre for Humanity with its producing artistic director, Beth Litwak, serving as director after VSF Producing Artistic Director Christopher Owens agreed to it with VSF as a minimal co-producer.

Litwak has acted in past VSF productions and returned in 2017 for a second consecutive year as co-director of the camps along with Amanda Forstrom. Litwak said that at a time when the arts nationwide are suffering from lack of support, she feels very strongly that Shakespeare needs to be kept at the forefront of theatrical training and experience, and putting together a production was a way to do that.

VSF officials, who put professional theatre on a three-year hiatus and then will re-evaluate, also want to stay in touch with their patrons in the meantime.

“I can’t speak for other people, but I can say from working with a lot of people at the camps and at Shakespeare Festival that it really is revolutionary and a life-changing opportunity,” Litwak said.

The atmosphere combines those working the camps, which are in their 14th year and go on for three separate weeks teaching ages 10-18, and those working on the production rehearsals at night and their eventual performances. This creates unique networking opportunities between professionals and students and forms relationships that carry into the professional theatre world.

Litwak, Ernest and Cothran-Bray gave numerous examples of past participants working together, helping one another and forming lasting bonds. Ernest and Cothran-Bray have smaller roles in “Hamlet,” but also are helping with scene transitions, blocking and fight choreography with Ernest serving as a stand-in for the major role of Claudius as well.

“I feel like I’m learning a lot just from acting alongside these people, even in rehearsals, which is definitely a useful experience,” Ernest said.

Classical acting training with plays such as Shakespeare’s, Litwak said, also provides a foundation for anybody learning the trade. The works also are considered timeless and relevant today as well as still open to interpretation as evidenced by their many adaptations.

“One of the most important things about Shakespearian acting and Shakespearian theatre is the fact that it combines so many different disciplines,” Cothran-Bray said. “It's acting, it’s history, it’s choreography, it’s movement, it’s writing, it’s culture. And it’s survived for so long. It would be such a shame if it were to fade away now.”