A partnership for the past 10 years between Camp Shakespeare at Winedale and the Crystal Theatre in Gonzales has seen young thespians ages 11-17 treading the boards at the venerable downtown venue as they explore the works of the immortal Bard of Stratford-on-Avon through performance.
Campers will return to the Crystal twice this summer as well, beginning this Friday, June 24 at 3:30 p.m. when Session One campers will put on a public performance of the comedy “As You Like It.”
Among the cast will be two young Gonzaleans who are also members of the Crystal Theatre’s Shakespeare Ninja performing group — Lena Salazar and Miguel Moreno.
The pair began attending the two-week University of Texas residential summer camp on June 12 and will complete the experience with their final performance at the Winedale theatre barn at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 26. Another performance will be 3 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at the La Grange ISD Performing Arts Center.
“We’ve been hosting the Winedale Shakespeare campers for a decade now,” said Barbara Crozier, director of the Shakespeare Ninja program at the Crystal. “The first was in 2012 when we had two young men who were part of our original five Ninjas taking part in Camp Shakespeare that year.
“One of the most important pieces that we’ve seen performed at the Crystal was when Camp Shakespeare performed “Merchant of Venice” in 2019, the year before the pandemic shut things down. It is a timeless piece with its themes of racial and religious struggles and strife.”
Moreno is no stranger to Camp Shakespeare as he was featured, along with recent Gonzales High School grad Ruby Hamilton, in the 2020 documentary “Take Pains. Be Perfect” about the history of the University of Texas’ Shakespeare at Winedale program founded by legendary professor Dr. James B. “Doc” Ayres in 1970.
The documentary began airing on PBS stations in April and can be seen for free at pbs.org/video/take-pains-be-perfect-a8uepq. It’s title comes from a line spoken by the character Bottom to the rest of the “rude mechanicals” performing the “play within the play” in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
At age 89, though he no longer runs the collegiate program, the spry Ayres continues to take part in Camp Shakespeare along with camp director Robin Grace Soto and will be at the Crystal to oversee Friday’s performance and to speak with attendees about Camp Shakespeare, which he began in 2000.
Session Two campers from Camp Shakespeare will perform the tragedy “Macbeth” on the Crystal Theatre stage at 3:30 p.m. Friday, July 15.
Tickets for both Crystal Theatre performances are $10 per person (children 12 and under are free). Reservations can be made by emailing Soto at email@example.com or Ayres at HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org"email@example.com). Tickets can be paid for at the door using cash, check, or card.
Camp Shakespeare at Winedale only takes 14 campers per session at a cost of $1,700 per student. The youth stay at the Farmstead B&B in nearby Round Top and spend their day working on lines and characterizations, going through physical and vocal exercises, working on scenes, doing journal writing, relaxation exercises, making masks, taking part in problem solving, singing, dancing and even watching film sequences of Shakespeare’s plays. Everything is done as a community.
“All the elements of the program are intended to promote an understanding and appreciation of the works of Shakespeare, and of their extraordinarily complex and penetrating vision of human life,” according to Soto. “Campers develop, test, and transcend their sense of self through their exploration of Shakespearean characters. What we pursue here is the conviction that anyone can live life more fully through a personal encounter with Shakespeare’s art.”
The best candidates for Camp Shakespeare are kids who “who work well with others, who are inventive, elastic, eager to play, explore and take risks, and are ready to rumble when they arrive.” Applications are accepted from candidates anywhere, regardless of whether they attend public, private or home school and “experience with theater or with Shakespeare is not necessary. Commitment to working and playing with others is,” according to Soto.
The Crystal Theatre Young Program may be the only one of its kind in Texas as it is dedicated to providing “arts-in-education opportunities for young people from all backgrounds” from the year-round Shakespeare Ninja Project to the Crystal Summer Youth Workshop as well as the Young Texians Troupe, which performs original Texas history ballads about the founding of Gonzales, the “Lexington of Texas.”