Monday, August 23, 2010

My electronic scrapbook

Because I have nowhere else to store it:

An article about SJYS

Don't expect 'dumbed down' performance from San Jose Youth Shakespeare

By Mary Gottschalk
Posted: 08/12/2010 08:04:59 PM PDT
Updated: 08/12/2010 08:04:59 PM PDT

In Silicon Valley one doesn't expect to hear Shakespeare quoted by youths as young as 8 years old, but that's exactly what San Jose Youth Shakespeare is all about.

On Aug. 19-22, children and teens ages 8 to 19 will be onstage at Historic Hoover Theatre and asking such questions as, "Are you good men and true?" or advising others to "Patch grief with proverbs."

Yes, for those who know their Bard, it is Much Ado About Nothing and it will be the 12th Shakespeare production by the group since 2004, when it started with As You Like It in Willow Glen.

Bob Rumsby, who co-founded the group with his wife, Barbara, says it began when his daughter Audrey was really interested in Shakespeare and had been studying it with other children. "The idea came up that we might be able to put on a show, and it took off from there."

Audrey and her younger sisters Jeannette and Evelyn were part of a group of children being home-schooled, and the initial membership of Youth Shakespeare was made up of these students and their families.

Over the years it has expanded to include youths from throughout Silicon Valley, and the age range has widened. Rumsby has served as director for all the productions, and his wife serves as general manager of the company.

Rumsby's enthusiasm for Shakespeare is understandable when you learn he is a native of Surrey County, near London, and before coming to the United States he was a member of the National Youth
Theatre of Great Britain. He studied drama at the University of Birmingham before traveling in 1982 to UC-Davis, where he earned his master's of fine arts degree.

Now the Cambrian area resident works as a technical writer at ParAccel in Cupertino and calls his theater work "my hobby."

Rumsby refuses to dumb down Shakespeare in any way, sticking to the original language and length.

"We don't change anything," he says. "We do make small cuts here and there, the same thing that professional companies do. We don't cut the plays heavily, and that sets us apart from a lot of children's theater groups that reduce plays down to an hour or an hour and a half. If we reduce, it's to 2½ hours."

And he doesn't tamper with the Bard's language. "We really don't change any words at all, and we don't change any characters. The only thing we do is increase the number of characters in certain ways, and we use more people than the chorus lists."

As an example, Rumsby says that Much Ado About Nothing calls for a group of three to four watchmen, but he is using 10 in this production.

"When you add it up, you can do the script as written with quite a lot more people than the cast list would appear to call for," he says.

As for the language, Rumsby admits, "Some of them struggle. If they start out at 9 or 10, they do struggle, but by 13 or 14 they're doing really well. It's not as hard for the kids who have an intellectual interest in this as it might be for other kids."

Rumsby is particularly pleased with the teen musicians in this production. Sharon MacCauley is playing a full-size harp, Naomi Smith is playing violin and Maya and Ziad Khayat are playing Elizabethan-style classical guitar.

The group rehearses for at least three months before each show.

"It means once a week for eight to nine weeks and then two or three times a week for the remaining month. We work every Saturday basically for about five hours," Rumsby says.

When it comes to selecting each production, he adds, "We try to do different things, and I choose plays I think are reasonable for young people to do. I wouldn't try to do King Lear or Othello. It's too difficult in intellectual terms."

He says he tries to pick comedies or if not, he says, "They have to be simpler in some way and they have to have plots the children can really understand."

However, Rumsby has already chosen Hamlet for 2011 and admits, "It's a big risk and it's a real challenge. It will take a lot longer to rehearse."

This will be Youth Shakespeare's second performance this year at the Historic Hoover Theatre. Past performances were held at Mulberry School in Los Gatos, Canyon Heights Academy in Campbell and Theatre on San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose, and the group's first performance was at the Center for Spiritual Living in Willow Glen.

Rumsby says the Hoover theater has turned out to be very easy venue for the group's shows. "The facility is good, it's easy to find parking and it works out well for people."

The only drawback, he says, is that the stage is at one end of the theater, and he prefers to do shows in the round.

San Jose Youth Shakespeare presents "Much Ado About Nothing" Aug. 19-20 at 7 p.m., Aug. 21 at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m., and Aug. 22 at 3 p.m. at Historic Hoover Theatre, 1635 Park Ave. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door for adults; $5 in advance and $7 at the door for ages 8 to 17 and free to children 7 and under. Visit or call 408.978.5516.