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FOR THE KIDS : Acting Troupe Gives Students Shrewd Sample of Shakespeare : Audience finds the playwright's topics cover war, sex, parents, jealousy, revenge--not much different from today's television.

November 03, 1994|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The wild-haired young woman on the stage would have no part of the man who wanted to marry her. She kicked him, screamed at him, cursed him. He fought back, hauling her off on his shoulders.

The audience of high school students hooted and cheered rowdily. This was Shakespeare?

If Shakespeare is dry and incomprehensible, it wasn't on a recent day at Westlake High School. And that's exactly what actors from Tour de Force Repertory Theatre had hoped to show.

The Thousand Oaks-based theater group has been visiting local high schools and middle schools performing scenes from "The Taming of the Shrew" and talking about theater in the time of Shakespeare.

The group is putting on the play at the city's new Civic Arts Plaza from Friday through Nov. 13. It is doing a special show for children Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day, a school holiday. For the 11 a.m. performance, students will be admitted for $5 instead of the usual $12.

The group, founded by William Hillstrom, was concerned that school funding cuts had taken away any chance for today's students to see a Shakespearean performance.

"They read Shakespeare in class, but that doesn't do anything for you," Hillstrom said. "Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read."

He contacted English teachers in the Conejo Valley Unified School District and offered to bring "The Taming of the Shrew" to students. During late October, the group put in costumed appearances at Westlake, Conejo Valley and Newbury Park high schools and Colina Intermediate School.

At Westlake, students streamed into the auditorium all day for a 50-minute Shakespearean sampler. Hillstrom introduced students to Shakespeare and the actors of his day.

An actor back then wasn't considered much better than a vagrant, he told them. "They went from town to town doing shows. They would set up shop in the courtyard. Actors were thrown in jail frequently."

And Shakespeare? "He wrote the movie of the week," he said, drawing whistles and hoots from the students. His topics? War, sex, parents, jealousy, revenge--not much different from today's television. There was one big difference, though. In Shakespeare's day, the parts were almost always played by men.

Between scenes, each of the actors came out and chatted with the audience about Elizabethan times and theater of that era. Why did Shakespeare write in iambic pentameter? The rhythm made it easier for the actors to remember their lines. As for clothing, the richest color of the day was black.

And the play? It's a comedy about two sisters, one of them named Kate who is headstrong, wild and ornery. ("In the 16th Century, they called them shrews," Hillstrom told the audience. "Today, it's bitches.") Petruchio marries her, and then through some cunning, he attempts to tame her.

The students saw three scenes that left no doubt that Shakespeare could be witty, bawdy and at times even exciting.

Tani Caudillo, a Westlake High senior, said it had been boring to read Shakespeare, "but it's a lot different when the actors are on the stage. Everything looks different. It's easier to understand."

Each year, the students read a Shakespearean work--"Romeo and Juliet," "Macbeth," "Julius Caesar." Students, and even the public, expect to be bored, Westlake literature teacher Janice Anderson said. "Contemporizing it is important."

The performance was right for the students, she said, because if they expected Shakespeare to be square and boring, what they got was bawdy and action-packed.

Tour de Force Repertory Theatre, in its second year, does pre-1930 drama. "We feel very strongly that classic drama must be presented to be preserved," said Darren Raleigh, who plays Petruchio. "All of us have given up time from our regular jobs to make these appearances, to pass the magic on to today's students."

*

Here's the latest POG alert: Moorpark's Community Services Department and the city's DARE officers are sponsoring a milk cap tournament Saturday at the Arroyo Vista Recreation Center.

The contest, run by Trov USA, is for kids 11 and older. It begins at 10 a.m. and requires a $2 registration fee to play. Kids can either preregister or register that day. They need not worry about losing their milk caps in the tournament--they won't be playing for keeps. They will get DARE milk caps at the door. Information, 531-9100.

Details

* WHAT: "Taming of the Shrew," special performance for students.

* WHEN: Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. Play runs Friday through Nov. 13.

* WHERE: Civic Arts Plaza, Forum Theatre, Thousand Oaks.

* COST: $5 for students, this performance only.

* CALL: 449-2787.

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