New theater company to host intensive Shakespeare workshop

December 14, 2014

On April 26, William Shakespeare turned 450 years old. Around the world, Shakespeare’s birthday has inspired all kinds of festivals and activities, from a special concert by the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada to classical performances by the Fundación Teatro a Mil of Chile.

Silvia Baltodano wanted to celebrate Shakespeare in a more hands-on way. She is the founder and artistic director of the brand-new Luciérnaga Producciones (Firefly Productions), which specializes in musical theater. Baltodano invited her former professor, Christopher Weddell, to lead a workshop called “Shake-Scenes,” which is designed to help English-speaking actors of all skill levels perform classic monologues. Shake-Scenes is a three-day, 20-hour workshop and will take place in February.

“We’re all celebrating Shakespeare’s anniversary, so I wanted to do something special to commemorate it,” said Baltodano during a recent conversation with The Tico Times. Baltodano grew up in Costa Rica, but she studied a wide range of performing arts in Canada and the United Kingdom, and she speaks exceptional English with a London accent. “It was very hard for me, because I had English as a second language. But it was a very valuable experience.”

Indeed, performing in a Shakespearean play is an art unto itself. Actors must contend with old-fashioned words, complex metaphors, and iambic pentameter, a poetic rhythm rarely used today. Meanwhile, the workshop will take place in English. While the Shakes-Scenes course is open to anyone, and native Costa Ricans are strongly encouraged to sign up, the scripts will be read and performed in their original language.

“Shakespeare in Spanish is like reading Cervantes in English,” said Baltodano. “It’s not the same thing. When you translate, it’s inevitable to lose part of the storytelling. Costa Rica already has such a great English level, and acting in English takes it to another level.”

Baltodano harbors a particular fondness for Shakespeare’s writing. “I like how it still reflects society, so many years later,” she opined. While Baltodano was studying in London, she visited Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica of the 16th century playhouse where dramas like “Romeo and Juliet” were first staged. “If we’re going to do a Shakespeare workshop, we’re going to do a great Shakespeare workshop. I don’t think Shakespeare is there to be read. But that’s what a play is. That’s the actor’s job. When you hear it and see it, you get it.”

Enter Christopher Weddell, Baltodano’s former instructor and a Shakespeare coach who has led workshops in such places as French Canada and Spain. Weddell is based in British Columbia, but in 2015 he will fly to Costa Rica to teach his course at Teatro Triciclo in Escazú. The workshop isn’t cheap; students can take the full class for $300 or audit it for $150. But this tuition pales in comparison to a serious course in New York or Los Angeles, and the small Luciérnaga team hopes to fill all available spaces – 15 regular students and 25 audits. (Students who audit the class can attend all sessions but have more limited chances to practice and perform.)

Last month, Luciérnaga Producciones hosted its first workshop with a handful of ballet students. Baltodano says her company’s mission is to train students in the trifecta of musical theater skills – acting, singing, and dancing – and the ballet class was its first foray. In the reverse of her own experience, Baltodano wants to continue bringing experts from other countries to teach in Costa Rica.

“If we bring people from abroad to teach, the knowledge stays here,” she asserted. “It’s an opportunity for our knowledge to grow in the area, and I think it’ll have a bigger impact. We didn’t have a lot of students, maybe eight or nine, but they received a lot of individualized attention. People wrote us after. They really enjoyed it. They wanted more.”

To learn more about Shake-Scenes and Luciérnaga Producciones, visit the company’s website.

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