This weekend is a big weekend for high school thespians here in Portland Oregon. Starting today seven metro-area high school drama departments will gather in PCPA's Winningstad Theater to put on a weekend long festival featuring seven different plays written by Mr. William Shakespeare.
What's the deal with this? Well it's all part of Portland Playhouse's Fall Shakespeare Festival, in which the professional theater company teams up with various Portland area high schools to help them produce 90 minute versions of well known Shakespeare plays. The festival will take place over three days with Caitlin Gable, Cleveland, De La Salle, Fort Vancouver, Hudson's Bay, Jefferson, and Lincoln High Schools all taking part.

"We did it last year with 2 schools just for fun at the Playhouse [Portland Playhouse's Venue, the Church on NE Prescott]," Artistic Director Brian Weaver told me in a recent email conversation. "It exploded to 7 schools this year because of the intense need and desire that students, teachers and administrators have for more art in the schools."

From the sound of it, it seems that Portland Playhouse's goal with this festival is to not only expose High School teens to a level of performance art they may not always take part in (one that is valid, needed, and ultimately beneficial in my opinion), but to also give PDX's general public a little taste of what theater could have been like in the Bard's time. Weaver explains, "The Festival is a spectacular theatrical event, in part because student actors connect well to Shakespeare; they get the passion, large stakes, disaster...high school is not unlike an Elizabethan Tragedy. But the biggest surprise is the creation of an electric and fully engaged audience during the Festival. This Festival audience is the most active and alive theatre audience you will ever encounter.... It's the closest thing we have to how an Elizabethan audience at Shakespeare’s Globe might have reacted."

Want to hear more about what these kiddos are up to this weekend? Jumpeth with me!

Ok as I said before the fest kicks off on Friday, but here is the full schedule:

Nov 5th 6pm: A Midsummer Night's Dream(Hudson Bay H.S.) and Comedy of Errors(De La Salle H.S.)
Nov 6th 2pm: King Lear (Cleveland H.S.)
Nov 6th 6pm: Twelfth Night (Fort Vancouver H.S.) and Julius Caesar (Jefferson H.S.)
Nov 7th 4pm: As You Like It (Catlin Gabel H.S.) and Macbeth (Lincoln H.S.)
Tickets range from $8 for students and kids and $10 for adults.

As you can see, the schools haven't shied away from some of Shakespeare's heavier work. I'm particularly interested to see how Cleveland takes on King Lear (a teen playing the old and dying Lear poses quite a challenge) and also with Lincoln's Macbeth, which is easily Shakespeare's darkest play and deals with many an adult theme.
But I get the feeling that even with the more serious plays, Portland audiences might be impressed here. Portland Playhouse sent seven directors into each of the schools to help the faculty and to administer acting classes for the students. And as far as a high school theater festivals go, the Playhouse has set some ambitious goals. This is how Weaver ended our recent email interaction, when I asked him what they wanted the audience and the students to get out of the festival: "We want people to get an experience with the power of language. To get the actor/audience relationship with no fourth wall. To be more alive."