At the dress rehearsal for Sand Point Housing youth’s performance of their original script, The Rude Princess, the energy was electric. Developed through weeks of workshopping in 2015 via Theater of Possibility (TOP) – a program that teaches acting and collaboration skills to youth with little to no previous theater experience – the play was coming to life for its debut performance as part of Seattle Public Library (SPL)’s Community Day: Celebrate Shakespeare!
Shakespeare? TOP Founder & Director, Lauren Goldman Marshall, explains: “Our mini-play, The Rude Princess, was created through a collaborative group process,” where the kids improvised, and Lauren wrote down their story. “Together, we invented a tale about two sisters – one ‘good’ and one ‘bad.’ When I realized we had stumbled upon the premise of Taming of the Shrew, we looked to Shakespeare’s timeless comedy of human nature to help answer our questions: Why is Katie so mean? What would it take to make her nice?” The opportunity to perform their play at SPL gave them the chance to really delve into these questions.
In Taming of the Shrew, Kate becomes “nice” by submitting to her husband – an idea that didn’t sit well with the Sand Point youth and their mentors. So Lauren says, “We gave our piece a contemporary ending – one which won’t make women cringe!” Instead of submitting, Katie becomes “nice” by becoming “real.” Rather than lashing out like she once had, she now speaks her truth in a way people can hear – but she’s honest, not phony, like her sister Bianca.
In The Rude Princess, Katie’s transformation comes about when her parents, the King and Queen, send her to reform school, where she encounters three tutors. The first one, a music therapist, is sent running when she tries to calm Katie with song. The second, a spoon and frying pan-wielding “tough love” tutor, also gets chased away by the fearless Katie. But when the third tutor, Percy, “kills her with kindness” no matter how mean she tries to be, she makes a true friend and learns to speak her truth without rudeness.
A transformational process
Since TOP first collaborated at Sand Point, Lauren says, “We’ve grown from being very much a drop-in program where kids came when they felt like it to a program where kids are coming week after week and learning lines, and learning to work together, support one another, and collaborate. I definitely see a lot of growth happening in terms of interpersonal relationship skills – learning what it takes to put on a play together.”
The production also helps the youth draw some parallels in their own lives. The actor who plays the Rude Princess says, “I’m the same as Katie: I act mean sometimes. I act nice sometimes. I act quiet sometimes. I act rude sometimes. I act cuckoo sometimes.”
Pam Shane Johnsen, a Sand Point Housing resident and professional actress, has volunteered with the group for about a year. She says she first got involved with theater as a teenager herself. One day, passing by the community room, she saw the TOP kids in action. She jumped at the chance to volunteer to assist Lauren. “It was a really good fit,” she says, and is thrilled to be involved with the youth experiencing a passion for theater for the first time. During the dress rehearsal, she jumped in occasionally with encouragement and tips for making the performance even better.
I asked the actor who plays the “sweet” but fake sister Bianca what she likes most about TOP. “Pretending to be someone else.” And what’s the hardest thing about it? “Memorizing the lines!” The actors are expected to be “off book” (no script), but the narrator can prompt them if they get stuck.
David Olivera is the Solid Ground Children’s Group Facilitator who helps with this project. He says Lauren is “just a great teacher,” and that “definitely, this drama class has transformed these kids to see the possibilities of what they can do. It trains them in all kinds of disciplines. A lot of them didn’t like to read, but now that they have to memorize their script, it’s nail biting, but I’m impressed! This is what happens when you involve kids with art.”
Come see The Rude Princess!
(Downtown/Central Branch, 1000 4th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104)
If this story piques your interest and you’d like to see it in action, you’re in luck! There will be one more performance of The Rude Princess at SPL this coming Sunday. Lauren reports that the first SPL performance was a success, and expects it will be even better with the confidence that comes with having performed it once.
The Cast (in alphabetical order): Bethel, Essey, Jazzy, Kissahenet, Meklit, Nyaagon, Nyarueni, Ran, Salmo, Seham, Siem & Teddy.
The Rude Princess Credits: