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A Day with Brooklyn Technical High School Students

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[To Shauntai] When you watched Laurence Fishburne, you said you wanted to see how Shakespeare intended it in his time.

SHAUNTAI: Yeah.

But here we’ve got three different versions of Shakespeare in different times. Do you think he intended it to be timeless or not?

SHAUNTAI: Probably at that moment he wasn’t thinking, “Ah centuries from now high school students will be performing this.” [Laughter] But I’m pretty sure he was thinking this should be something that everyone should be able to relate to no matter how young they are, no matter how old they are. So, he probably wasn’t thinking as far off as hundreds of years, but he was probably thinking. “Maybe a few years from now the younger generation could understand this and relate to it.” And, technically, we are a younger generation, so, yeah.

How do you feel about that on Dream?

SHAKELA: I feel like it’s so fun that you can put it in any time period. I really love our play. I think it’s awesome.

PAMELA: We could have put it in a different time period, but we wanted to keep it as it is. I don’t feel it really has a time period.

SHAKELA: Yeah. It’s so distinct and so unique the way Shakespeare wrote it that we didn’t want to change that. As a class, we liked it that way.

PAMELA: To me it doesn’t have a time period, that’s how I interpreted it. It just feels like a timeless time. [Laughter]

You talked about the husband-wife aspect of Titania and Oberon. Is that a timeless thing to you?

PAMELA: Absolutely.

SHAKELA: Yeah. Husbands and wives are still going to be arguing a million years from now. And the whole Hermia, the lovers thing, I feel like that’s timeless, too, like with teenage love and stuff.

PAMELA: The rude mechanicals.

SHAKELA: And then her father wants to keep them apart.

JUSTIN: I think we’re all just overanalyzing Shakespeare. You never know, but he didn’t go, “Hey, maybe a few years from now this could be relevant,” maybe he just went, “Hey, you know what? My life sucks. I’m going to write all these tragedies and put my feelings down on paper and make people read them later.”

PAMELA: Really? You’re so pessimistic. [Laughter]

JUSTIN: I’m not pessimistic, I’m just saying…

SHAKELA: He wrote comedies, too.

JUSTIN: …"Here’s what happened in my day, I’ll write about that."

PAMELA: Were you aware that we were going to be doing Shakespeare when you entered drama?

TIFFANY: I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t sure what we were doing.

JUSTIN: I thought in drama we were going to be able to make our own skits and then do all this stupid stuff and get a grade on that, but it turns out we have to do Shakespeare and I’m like, Ohhh.

PAMELA: Really?

SUMYIA: I was actually upset when I heard about Shakespeare, I was like, “Uhhhh I don’t like Shakespeare.” But I’ve definitely had a different—I like it now. It’s fun. And we have so much fun together, like [she motions to Tiffany], we’re not the main characters, but we’re just ready for our debut, and we’re backstage going, “Yes, let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go look for the handkerchief now.”

SHAKELA: We had the option of doing the play or the monologues, and every class happened to choose the play. I think we just wanted to have fun with it. The monologues? I personally said, “Oh my god, it’s so many lines. Why is she making us do this?” But then, that was really fun, and now we get to do a play, and actually it’s turned out really well, so, I’m excited.

[To Sumyia] You said you’re not a main character, but you’re Desdemona. I mean, it all revolves around you, lady.

SUMYIA: I don’t know. I kind of feel like I am a main character, but at the same time I made my character so that she’s naïve and she thinks small of herself. And she has like an older sister, Emilia, because we’re very close and she guides me through.

Did you come up with all of that yourself?

TIFFANY: We came up with that together.

SUMYIA: Yeah, we talked about it and we were looking at the lines and we were just like, “Wow, it would be so awkward if you’re my maid talking to me like that.” And she was like, “Yeah, I kind of think we should be an older-younger sister/best friend kind of people,” and it was a lot easier to portray the characters that way. And when we were on stage, it was more natural and it was fun.

And as for Emilia, it’s still a pretty hefty role. I’ve seen some great Emilias who carry that play.

SHAUNTAI: She’s one of them. She’s one of them.

Does Emilia bring something to the play?

TIFFANY: Yeah, I mean she kind of, accidentally of course, sparks the catalyst to the reason why Othello wants to kill Desdemona.

SUMYIA: [whispering] It’s all your fault.

TIFFANY: Yeah, unknowingly she does it for her husband’s approval. Me and the guy who plays Iago, Gabriel, we discussed our relationship and how we should be, and even though our play’s really short—it’s a condensed version of Othello—we wanted to really show how their relationship changes in the seven scenes that we have. We wanted the audience to see how at first Emilia is head over heels for Iago and really just swept off her feet by him. And then when she finally gives him what he wants, the handkerchief, for his approval, how vicious and how ugly his reaction is and who he really is as a person.

Emilia really does kind of respond to everyone, especially for Desdemona. I think our characters are really polar opposites, and that’s how we wanted to play it, and we bring out the best or most in each other.

Hermia—I know, Pamela—did you have that same kind of thing going on in Dream? Did you work with Helena especially or with Lysander?

PAMELA: I was the outsider. No one wanted me. I felt like they were all fighting over Helena, so I kind of built my own character. We had to make these prompt books to build our characters, so I’d be writing how I was insecure, how I was angry or I was really sad because Helena was prettier than me and they wanted her and all this stuff. So, I would portray that I was angry but inside I was sad. It appears to be that I’m angry at Helena but really I’m sad. She was close to me and it hurt that she was taking the man that I love, Lysander, and he wants her. So I did build most of the character by myself.

[To Shakela] Did you work very closely with your Oberon?

SHAKELA: Yeah, I actually did, and also the person who plays Bottom. Since it’s cut, my scenes are mostly with Bottom, so we had to figure out a way to make our relationship seem really hilarious. Because, of course, he’s a donkey and my fairies are all scratching him, and I was like, “If this is real life, I would not let other fairies scratch my boyfriend.” So, we had to figure out a way to make that funny and I’m just this really happy fairy queen even though her fairies are scratching her boyfriend and stuff. And then with Oberon, I finally realized that he cast a spell on me. I was talking to [Harris Van Alterman playing Oberon] and I said, “Shouldn’t I be really angry at you? I think I would be upset.” So, we decided to make it kind of hilarious like, “Yeah, you did pull a prank on me but that was a good prank, so we’re still friends. We’re still married.” We just decided to take everything in a silly way.

Justin. [Everybody laughs.]  Actually, I’m going to support Justin here. Shakespeare was a commercial playwright, he had a business, he owned shares in the theater, and he made his money by how many people came to the theater. And that’s all he cared about.

JUSTIN: Money?

Money. Yeah.

JUSTIN: That’s all a lot of people care about these days.

So, when you say that he probably didn’t look ahead 400 years from then and say kids were going to be reading him, he probably didn’t. He had to write fast, and he was an actor, too.

JUSTIN: And even then it wasn’t really original because didn’t he get his ideas from other play, right?

A modern day comparison to Shakespeare would be Stephen Spielberg, somebody who had stories from other places, plays, books, other movies. Shakespeare—there was another Hamlet before Shakespeare wrote Hamlet—would do what Speilberg does, he’d take this idea and do his own magic. Speilberg does some great movies. He does some dogs, too, but he does these really great movies. Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List are two of the greatest movies, and then he’d do action yarns like Indiana Jones  and War of the Worlds. That’s who I would compare Shakespeare to in the modern day, somebody who was a commercial artist. But he had an amazing ability to write. And he had tremendous insights, which is where I’m going next.

Do you guys feel that Shakespeare touches all sides of humans?

SHAUNTAI: Yeah.

TIFFANY: I think that’s one of the reasons why his work is timeless because, yeah, he was a commercial writer, and I don’t think he was writing so that he’d be immortalized. I think he wrote about what he knew, which was human relationships, and he was really able to understand people. Because the thing about his characters is that they’re not just one-sided; maybe if you read it they seem one-sided or kind of shallow, but when you really try to explore the character, you see that there’s more to them than just what the text says.

Comedy guys want to add to that?

PAMELA: Obviously he wasn’t a saint, he was looking for money like all writers and playwrights, but he definitely wrote beautiful plays, and he wrote things that maybe he didn’t know at the time would be amazing, but, turns out it was amazing.

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