Jason Kelly | May 25, 2017
They don’t have the words in their mouths.
Cast members for the Robinson Shakespeare Company’s production of Cymbeline are reading scenes together for the first time. The vibe is loose and informal, recess meets rehearsal. Laughter and side conversations fill the large multipurpose space of Notre Dame’s Robinson Community Learning Center with the white noise of a classroom before the bell rings.
From left: Ophelia Emmons, Ellie Graff, Cameron Pierce and Zion Williams review their scripts backstage at Washington Hall, photos by Barbara Johnston
Actors sit cross-legged on the floor in a ragged semicircle around director Christy Burgess, who seems to see and hear everything. She gives them time and space for their one-liners and their playful dabbing — until she doesn’t.
Then she summons their attention and harnesses their energy with one of the Shakespearean calls-and-responses in her repertoire or a simple, “Stop talking,” projected above the din, her hand puppeting a closed mouth.
On this February school night, the students are at the start of what feels like a long journey. Their May performances at Washington Hall — let alone the late-summer trip to perform in England — seem far, far away. There’s time, or so the calendar lulls them into believing.
In front of the cast members, like hieroglyphic tablets, lay thick spiral-bound scripts. They venture preliminary impressions of characters and interpretations of the scenes to be read.
Burgess, program director for the Shakespeare Outreach Initiative, helps them tease out meanings from the brambles of Shakespearean language they’ve only just begun to clear. Most of them have been involved in this company for years, but Cymbeline and the parts they’re portraying are new.
Eighth-grader Forest Wallace plays Cloten, the insufferable frat-bro stepson of King Cymbeline. Cloten wants to marry Cymbeline’s daughter, Imogen, but Forest says his character doesn’t really love her, he’s just angling to be heir to the throne.