Finding their Voices

Project Shakespeare

  • Project Shakespeare will be performing "The Crucible."
  • Project Shakespeare will be performing "The Crucible."
  • Project Shakespeare will be performing "The Crucible."
  • Project Shakespeare will be performing "The Crucible."
  • Project Shakespeare will be performing "The Crucible."
  • Project Shakespeare will be performing "The Crucible."
  • Project Shakespeare will be performing "The Crucible."
  • Project Shakespeare will be performing "The Crucible."

There’s always been something special about Project Shakespeare, said Director Deborah Thurber. And it is far different from other youth theater, she admits. The teenagers and young children that come to Project Shakespeare don’t do pieces meant for children. They take on adult subjects and adult plays, and they do it with an intensity that makes them worth watching.

This year, Thurber is extending Project Shakespeare, usually a project limited to the summertime, into the school year with three staged readings. First up is Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” The Tony award-winning play details the Salem witch hunts after a group of teenaged girls are discovered trying to conjure spirits. And it won’t just be Project Shakespeare kids on the stage — they will be calling on local and professional actors to join the cast.

Project Shakespeare alum Anthony Carrigan, who now lives and works as a professional actor in New York City, N.Y., was an active member of Project Shakespeare in his youth, even playing the title role in the project’s performance of Coriolanus in 2002. But probably more people will recognize him from his roles in television and film — most notably playing main character Tyler in the 2009 TV series “The Forgotten,” starring Christian Slater. Carrigan, along with Scott Gardner, a local community theater veteran from Rindge, will be joining the Project Shakespeare cast for their upcoming staged reading. “The Crucible” was a play that her students in the ConVal Drama Club, some of whom cross over into Project Shakespeare, had been very interested in performing for a state competition ConVal Drama participates in every year, said Thurber. But having to cut the play down to 40 minutes to suit the requirements of the competition made the play lose a lot of meaning, she said. So, she decided to let them have a taste of the play during Project Shakespeare. Instead of a full production, she said, the group will perform a staged reading — they will be in full costume, and images will be projected behind them to lend to the atmosphere of the play, but instead of a full production, the students will do a dramatic reading of the scripts.

“Although it’s nice to have visuals, it’s the vocal power that really makes the production work,” said Thurber. “It just becomes a soundscape.”

A dramatic reading also is less time consuming, allowing her to extend Project Shakespeare into the school year, when students lives are more hectic, she said. And, she took the opportunity to invite Carrigan and Gardner into the fold. Last year, she said, when she included another community actress, Kathy Manfre, in her production of “The Glass Menagerie.” Having a veteran on the stage really helped raise the level of her young actors, she said. That’s an effect she hopes to replicate with Carrigan and Gardner.

Carrigan, who grew up outside of Boston, started in Project Shakespeare when it was based in Massachusetts, at the age of 15, and continued with the group until he was 18. When he first started, he said, he had no idea he would be making his living as an actor one day. “It’s funny,” he said. “At that age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or who I really was. You’re at that age that you’re trying to figure out who you are and how you fit into the world. All I knew was that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being on stage, and being part of a community of actors all interested in the same thing — telling a great story.”

Carrigan will lead the current Project Shakespeare in an acting workshop prior to the reading. Mostly, said Carrigan, he’ll be trying to get the teenagers to connect with their bodies. “As a teenager, it’s so hard to be in the body you have,” he said. “But it’s really important to get comfortable in it, because that’s your instrument.” Even though “The Crucible” will be a staged reading, that connection is just as important, said Carrigan.

“I think it’s a different exercise,” said Carrigan of staged readings. “Doing a stage reading really forces you to explore more with your voice and how to convey your point and what you’re trying to get across without the physical actions that correspond to it. In that way, it’s a very good exercise on whether you can really use your words to make your argument, make your point and convey your feelings.”

Cailin Ennis, 17, of Hancock, a Project Shakespeare member who will be reading the parts of Tituba, Rebecca Nurse and Judge Hawthorne in the staged reading, said she has the same hopes. “It’s great when you’re able to do a show and have a great scene partner,” she said. “They present a new set of strengths for you to work with. And with adults, they don’t have the same limitations as teenagers, in terms of taking risks. I think getting the chance to work with experienced actors will give me the chance to build experience for myself.”

Especially, she said, as she’s facing several new challenges with the staged reading. She’s never participated in one before, she said, so she’ll have to focus on using her voice and vocals to portray every meaning. “Before, I could rely on physical interaction,” she said. “It’s going to be a learning experience only using my voice for communication, which is a good skill.” Plus, she added, she will be playing a range of characters — a Barbados slave accused of witchcraft, a white woman who protests the witch trials and a judge who prosecutes the accused witches.

“It challenges me to make sure that my vocals are not just different in sound but intent, so it’s clear,” said Ennis.

The funds from the staged reading will benefit Project Shakespeare’s “For England!” Fund, to send students to Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, to perform Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s outdoor theatre, The Dell, in August of next year. Currently, said Thurber, the group has raised $11,000 of the $30,000 cost. Project Shakespeare will also be performing two more staged readings to raise funds for their trip. They will be “Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet,” scheduled for February, and “The Secret Garden,” scheduled for March. Project Shakespeare will also be staging a full performance of “A Christmas Carol” in December.

Performances of Project Shakespeare’s “The Crucible,” featuring Anthony Carrigan and Scott Gardner will be Friday at 7 p.m. at the Lucy Hurlin Theatre in ConVal High School in Peterborough and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Jaffrey Civic Center at 40 Main St. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and are available at the door. For more information, visit projectshakespeare.org.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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