September 16, 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

 

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER MESSENGER © 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

Students from Whaley Middle School and Discovery Charter Prep High School present flowers to Jane Donaldson, second from right, and City Hearts founder Sherry Jason, far right. The woman in the middle is City Hearts instructor Yvonne Senat.

They came in buses and cars—from Compton, Downtown Los Angeles and Pacoima—to support the young students who participate in City Hearts’ Arts programming in Shakespeare, Dance, Musical Theatre and Photography.

It was amazing. It was City Hearts—Kids Say Yes to the Arts’ Fifth Annual Shakespeare Challenge.

Surrounded by the mystical Santa Monica Mountains and staged at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum with its rich history of bringing the classical arts to the community, this year’s “Challenge” on May 28 began with a competition among 72 students performing scenes from Macbeth to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER MESSENGER © 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

A visitor looks at the photo exhibit of teacher Brian Nieman (R) set up on the idyllic Theatricum Botanicum grounds.

While there was a panel of celebrity judges—among them “Star Trek DS9’s” Armin Shimerman; HBO’s “Luck” star Diana Burbano; “Mad Men’s” Morgan Rusler; and Hidalgo’s Joshua Wolf Coleman—this panel was augmented by former City Hearts students, Graco Hernandez, Carolyn Marie White and Gale Caswell, and City Hearts Alumnus and board member John Sandoval.

It was not so much a competition as a way for young people to challenge themselves.

When asked why he has returned this year, Shimerman smiled thoughtfully.

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PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER MESSENGER © 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

Students from Foster Elementary performed a lovely piece called “Batman Begins.”

“Can there be a more joyous way to spend a morning than watching pre-teens glorying in Shakespeare’s characters and language? City Hearts gives that magical learning opportunity to the children of Los Angeles.”

Teacher Eric Stein explained, “It’s easy to get them interested in Shakespeare. With the little ones, it’s game-based. Little bursts of information to show them that The Bard isn’t scary, but a storyteller. First graders, for example, start with the witches’ piece from Macbeth. They wiggle their fingers and get tactile to ‘Double double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble’.”

Well, they may have started with “little bursts of information,” but these students got it! From

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER MESSENGER © 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

City Hearts Drama teacher Charles Maceo introduced the Shakespeare piece “Bottom Returns.”

The Tempest and Miranda’s speech begging Prospero to stop the storm, to Portia’s demand from Julius Caesar; to Borachio and Conrad facing the judges in Much Ado About Nothing; and Macbeth’s “Dagger” speech, in which Augie, from Discovery Charter Prep High School,­­­­ brought his street-wise persona to the part and really nailed it. These kids weren’t just reciting words, they were feeling what the characters felt, living their lives in their shoes.

Graco Hernandez originally attended Theatricum’s Academy of the Classics in its Youth and Teens program (Ages 4-18), to “get over his fear of being in front of people.” He has now joined the panel and plans to pursue a career in acting.

“He takes performing very seriously and has such a respect for the craft and wants to improve every single time he rehearses or performs,” says teacher Charles Maceo.

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER MESSENGER © 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

Absolutely adorable kids from Arts in Action danced to “It’s Hard Knock Life” from Annie.

Turn around during the performances and, if the enthusiasm on stage didn’t get you, the looks on the audience’s faces did. “I can’t believe they are so alive out there,” said one mother, whose two young daughters were trying to calm their brother and gave him one of their hats so he would be protected from the sun before his performance.”

One father said his son had been changed radically, “as he began to understand that other people from different places and different times had the same feelings he did.” Another mother, watching her son dance for the third time, said, “it’s changed the way he interacts with people, the way he moves [through life].”

“It was the best Challenge we have had to date,” added Maceo. “The level of clarity and confidence and talent goes up exponentially year by year. The parental and family support was extraordinary, which makes the students that more focused and appreciative of the performances.”

From the panel, the feedback was always positive. “Commitment,” said Coleman. “Enthusiasm” said Shimerman. “They mastered the physicality and hit the right tones,” said Morgan.

In conjunction with the “Challenge,” is another event, City Hearts’ Fresh Focus 2014 fundraiser (Open your wallets, now), an exhibit of student photographs from another aspect of City Hearts’ outreach: classes taught by professional photographers Raul Vega, Brian Nieman and Katie Dalsemer. When the audience took a break from the performances, they strolled along walls filled with the students’ work, mingled in with a gallery of fine art photography by professional photographers, part of a silent auction where collectors may have found extraordinary pieces by young emerging artists for their collections.

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER MESSENGER © 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

Dancers from Foster Elementary grooved to “Love Train.”

Glancing at one piece, one of the City Hearts Board members said, “Now if that isn’t early Man Ray, I don’t know what is.”

“Our Fifth Annual Shakespeare Challenge and Recital/Exhibition was absolutely outstanding,” concluded Sherry Jason, who with her husband Bob Jason, founded City Hearts. In 1977, as a new lawyer, she toured Central Juvenile Hall and met a boy having his first piano lesson; he was playing Mozart by ear at 13.

To her dismay, she learned that he was a convicted murderer and walked away wondering what might have been if he’d met a piano before guns.

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER MESSENGER © 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

Teacher Calvin Banks (center) led his students in a joyful version of Bob Marley’s

“Today, our students were prepared and presented themselves with poise and eloquence,” Jason said, reveling in the success of the event. “It was amazing to see Challenge participants, as young as 7 and 8, reciting their monologues with strength, power and understanding. The recital children were adorable and brought the house down with ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ from the musical Annie. It was truly a joyous day!”

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER MESSENGER © 2014

City Hearts’ 5th Annual Shakespeare Challenge at the Theatricum

At the end of the recital all the City Hearts students gathered on the Theatricum stage.

It is living proof that Jason’s 1977 encounter and her resolution to do something has made a difference—a big difference—for thousands of children for almost 37 years.

City Hearts provides the highest quality Arts education and experiences to the most-at-risk children in the most economically stressed neighborhoods of Southern California. Its mission is to inspire a love of the Arts, an appreciation of creative discipline and respect for the creative process, enabling children and youth to be confident, imaginative, tolerant, generous and cooperative, as well as caring contributing participants in the global community.

Tax deductible donations (Tax ID #: 95-4036895) are most welcome and appreciated. For more information: cityhearts.org.