A Lastsummer’s Weird Idea

In a flash of inspiration befitting Shakespeare’s most impish and whimsical play, Director Kristin Wolanin — while attending a Hawaii-themed fundraiser — had an epiphany.

As the auteur herself put it: “I had a weird idea last year and all summer I crafted it.”

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Wolanin’s weird idea sent the Playing Shakespeare class on a tropical adventure that sets “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the Aloha State, and features everything from a ukulele ensemble’s Hawaiian lullaby to a quartet of Lower School fairies.

The curtain rises at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door.

One of the Bard’s most popular plays and a staple of Middle School English classes, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has served as the introduction to Shakespeare’s work for generations of students.

Wolanin ascribes the play’s perennial popularity to its resonance with adolescents and the travails of the Middle School years.

“The play is very adaptable,” she said, “and the themes of first loves and misunderstandings and wanting to be able run away and hide in a magical forest — it’s not a stretch for a lot of Middle School kids to relate to parts that for adults are pure fantasy.”

To help the cast learn the nuances of Hawaiian culture, history and language, parent Mika McDougall volunteered as a sort of paradise consultant. The Hawaii native “was incredibly generous with her time,” Wolanin said. “Mika’s contribution to the play was just awesome. Her work with the students gave the whole production an authenticity that took it to another level and I can’t thank her enough.”

This is the first LCDS production in almost a decade to feature a cast that draws from all three divisions. The Lower School’s contribution to the team consists of four fairies, who were chosen from fourth and fifth graders who got their first taste of the audition process.

On the other end of the age spectrum were the 11 Upper Schoolers who enrolled in the Playing Shakespeare class. The class is a year-long elective that combines play study and rehearsal with historical context, as well as physical, vocal and speech training. The course’s final exam, as it were, is the production of the work they’ve spent all year immersing themselves in.

Because Wolanin chooses a different play each year, Playing Shakespeare is never the same course twice. This means that the dramatically inclined, such as senior Delphi A., can take the course for three of her four Upper School years. Delphi, who plays Puck in “Midsummer,” has done just that.

“This year’s class was really fun because the play essentially has three different plots,” Delphi said. “That gave us the opportunity to work on our own, as well as in small groups and as an entire class. When you spend that much time with the text and with each other, you just feel such a deeper connection to the play.”

“The big thing with Shakespeare is the story,” Wolanin said. “Not the sets, not the costumes, not some cool lighting idea, none of that can capture the essence of what’s important. If those things are bad, they can distract, but performing Shakespeare is all about the words and getting the actors to express the story. That’s the place we’re trying to get to — or at least get closer to — every day in class.”

The Difference Between Experiencing and Observing

Text by Lauren N. ’19
Photos by Lauren N. ’19 and Lauren Mac. ’19

Stepping off of the plane in Kona was the most refreshing thing that many of us had experienced in a long time. The temperature was in the 70s, palm trees peppered the landscape, and the sun peeked through the clouds as 15 students and three faculty chaperones walked across the tarmac. After a trip to the island’s only Costco and a receipt as long as one might imagine with a house of 10 teenage boys, we found our rooms and fell asleep almost immediately.

As soon as we awoke the next day, we hit the road for Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in Hilo, setting off into the rainy forest and hiking through the Thurston Lava Tube to reach our final destination: the Kīlauea iki Crater. The crater, made from lava that dates back to the 1959 flow and that grows deeper by 10 centimeters a year, was a sight to see with its many steam vents, mounds of volcanic rock, and ʻōhiʻa lehua plants dotting the barren landscape.

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Soaking wet, we then continued to travel down the coast to the Makaopuhi and Mau Loa o Mauna crater. Observing the vast and beautiful landscape of the coast and lava flows dating to the 1800s was awe-inspiring. We visited the Jaggar Museum and overlooked the Kīlauea Caldera, which, unfortunately, was closed to hiking due to volcanic activity.

The next day we headed to the beach to snorkel in a small and secluded bay. There, we saw many of the fish that we had studied throughout the year. Afterward, we trekked to the other end of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park for our unique live lava hike. The experience was well worth the 10 miles hike. Being so close to the lava allowed us to take stunningly great photos, while at the same time experiencing the scorching heat of molten rock.

We spent our third day in Hilo, starting at the local, open-air farmers market where we bought a variety of local foods, drinks, Hawaiian shirts, and authentic, handmade trinkets. Then we headed to Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park (site of the 1946 April Fools Day tsunami that killed 160 people) and several other places, such as Waipi’o Valley, Wai’luku River State Park, and Rainbow Falls. Finally, we traveled to the Kaumana Caves, where our caving was cut short because of a collapse a few yards past the cave’s entrance. Our day finished with a dinner of the fusion cuisine that locals enjoy.

The green and black sand beaches were our destination on the fourth day. After driving to the southernmost point of the island, we hiked to Mahana Bay, one of Hawaii’s few green sand beaches. Then we had a bit more leisure time at the black sand beach in Punalu’u, where we saw two sea turtles — our first turtles of the trip.

The fifth day was our earliest morning; we woke up at 2:45 to set out for the sunrise over Mauna Kea. At 13,000 feet above sea level, we could see the island of Maui peeking over the clouds as the sun rose. We watched the landscape while surrounded by the dozens of telescopes planted on the peak for private research.

Two Step is one of Kona’s most popular snorkeling spots, known for its colorful coral and abundant marine life. That’s where we started our sixth day, and where we saw many creatures, such as sea turtles, sea urchins, moray eels, moorish idols, yellow tang, and perhaps the most surprising, a white-tipped reef shark. We had the afternoon to ourselves, before leaving for our night snorkel with manta rays. The rays, which can grow to seven feet in width, glided right over divers’ heads, and the snorkelers watched in awe from the water’s surface.

On our next to last day, we returned to our first snorkeling spot, where we collected data on the amount of fish of certain species in the bay and the quality of the coral. Afterward, we spent the afternoon at Kekaha Kai Beach, where we played football, relaxed in the sun, hiked over lava rocks on the beach, and swam with more sea turtles. We then cleaned ourselves up and headed to Royal Kona Resort luau, where we ate traditional food and learned about Hawaiian history and culture. We all looked especially festive sporting our leis and Hawaiian shirts (and for some of the boys, khaki short shorts).

All too soon, our last day arrived. We spent it touring coffee plantations, touring the town of Kailua-Kona and eating dinner at a local taqueria.

Everything we did in Hawaii felt authentic, the difference between experiencing and observing Hawaiian culture firsthand. Overall, this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and, if given the chance, every one of us would go back and do it again.

London, Stonehenge and Shakespeare, Oh My!

By Delphi A. ’18
Photos By Hayden F. ’20

We got through the security at Philadelphia International Airport with plenty of time to spare so Ms. Wolanin separated the 13 of us into two groups — Delphi Red Boots, and Mitch Mahoney — and sent us on an airport scavenger hunt. We had to ask strangers to name Shakespeare shows, take a photo defining ufology and many other quirky or theater-related prompts. Back at our gate, the scores were tallied (Delphi Red Boots was in the lead). Seven hours later, we landed in London.

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Since it was morning local time, we had to push through the haze of exhaustion that hung over us and do a walking tour of the city. Our amazement quickly overpowered our tiredness. We rode the Tube and took a double-decker bus. We saw the statue of William Shakespeare in Leicester Square and almost got drenched by a fountain. From the top of the London Eye we could see over the tops of many of the buildings we had seen on foot, and huge expanses of the city we didn’t have time to see close up. After a dinner of meat pies and mashed potatoes, we made the way to our hotel and our rooms. We had been awake for around 32 hours.

The next morning we set out for some of the major landmarks, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Westminster Abbey to start. From there we headed to Buckingham Palace, home of the Queen, whom we were lucky enough to see. Many photos later we were on our way to Windsor Castle, the Queen’s favorite home, a building with 1,000 rooms. We got back to the city with just enough time to grab some delicious hamburgers before popping over to a local theater to see our first show, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of “Hamlet.” Intense and emotional, the show left us with lots to discuss.

The next morning we had a theater workshop that began with us warming up our bodies by jumping in unison and then in rounds. As more steps were added we learned that the simple act of jumping and clapping can be quite difficult. Next, we attempted to copy the walk of someone in the room, learning not only how challenging it is to imitate such a seemingly simple action, but also how our own way of walking may be unique. Finally, we attempted to tell stories using only our bodies frozen in a scene. As actors who spend a lot of time memorizing lines, it was eye-opening to tell a story without any sound.

After an afternoon that included a trip to the British Museum and some spirited Scrabble in a café basement, we made our way to the next show, “The Play That Goes Wrong.” The comedy about all the things that can go wrong during a performance hit close to home for all of us actors and technicians. There were many moments when we thought, “That has totally happened to us.” It was relatable and had me in tears of laughter.

The next day we left early for Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. First, we stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage. (Not that Anne Hathaway.) Shakespeare and his wife grew up in the same town. Next, we headed to Trinity Church, the final resting place of the Bard himself. We stood in reverence barely a foot from the stone marking Shakespeare’s grave. It had been raining when we entered the church, but when we left the sky was clear.

From where his days ended, we then journeyed to where they began. Our tour through the small home that Shakespeare grew up in included a sing-along with a man dressed in Elizabethan attire and playing a Renaissance instrument. Before we left, we ran into two Shakespearean actors who performed a monologue before asking some of us to join them in a scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” not realizing that many of us are going to be in our own production of that show this April. After dinner back in London, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery, where we spent the remainder of our time before seeing “Mamma Mia!” Bright lights, with songs that make you want to dance, “Mamma Mia!” was a truly exhilarating experience that had us laughing and smiling.

The next day began with Ms. Wolanin’s proclamation: “It’s Globe day!” After a tour of the reconstructed Globe Theatre, we took an acting workshop in which Hayden F. ’20 and Ben K. ’21 got to perform the iconic balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet.”

That afternoon we went on a tour of the city through the lens of Harry Potter, visiting many of the films’ locations and discussing the places that exist only in the magical world of green screens and movie studios. After that we got the chance to go to St. Paul’s Cathedral to participate in Evensong, an evening service.

After dinner, we headed out on the second themed tour of the day, but this one was much darker. As we walked down the back alleys of Whitechapel, a district in London’s East End, we heard the gruesome and bloodcurdling stories of the Jack the Ripper murders. We headed back to our hotel, hoping not to have nightmares.

On the way to Bath, we stopped at Stonehenge for a tour and plenty of photo opportunities. We discovered you cannot actually touch the stones as there are still many artifacts beneath the earth that we could disturb by walking above them. It was still very eye-opening to stand so close to such an ancient structure. In Bath, we saw the interior of the well preserved Roman baths. A monk stood by the main bath, blessing all travelers. The next morning we got a chance to visit a henge with stones we could actually touch, in the small town of Avebury. The wind whipped our hair around us as we strolled the beautiful countryside. It seemed we were as far from the city as we could possibly be.

Back in London, we made a fast shopping visit to Harrod’s, took the obligatory photo walking across Abbey Road, then we spent some time at the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221b Baker St. We went to see platform 9¾, and as we were leaving Kings Cross, we were caught in brief hailstorm. We ate a delicious curry outside the Tower of London, and then headed to our final performance, “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery,” a dark comedy with an even darker twist in the second act. The show drew us in and made us gasp.

As we went to bed our on our last night, we played cards and reminisced. The feeling was unanimous that the trip had been a both educational and magical experience.

Artist in Residence Performs with LS Students

Prolific children’s musician Steven Courtney has been working with students in preschool-fifth grade to put on a unique performance for parents and other friends in the audience. The animated and eclectic show featured Courtney’s own compositions, such as “Banana the Rhino,” as well as Bob Marley’s laid back anthem “Three Little Birds.” Project Arts made the special event possible by underwriting the Artist in Residence program that allowed Courtney to work as closely with the students as he has.

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