OSF interns find way Bard
By Jesse Phelps
After Claire Haider's first experience
with the Ojai Shakespeare Festival's internship program last
year, she relocated. Haider, who lived in Carpinteria and used
to commute, says her mom agreed to move to Ojai to facilitate
her continued participation.
That's the type of loyalty and life-changing effect inspired
by the Ojai Shakespeare Festival's internship program. It is,
according to director Ryan Lee, the nation's only high school-aged
internship program doing a full-stage production as part of the
Interns like Haider spend nine weeks learning their craft, six
of which are dedicated to rehearsal and training before they
take the stage for their three weeks of performances.
Lee, who also plays Edgar in this year's feature production of
"King Lear," says that once festival organizers learned
they had something nobody else was doing, they were inspired
to make it even more special. They started by moving the intern
production from the lawn in Libbey Park to the main stage in
"We give them lights, we give them a set, we give them professional
set designers, professional lighting designers, a costume designer,
and I've worked a lot in the field so I have a lot to offer them,"
says Lee. "(They also have) a fight choreographer, a movement
director and (artistic director) Jaye (Hersh) works with them
on their diction and speech, and, for this show, dialect, obviously,
so we have a lot of training."
The dialect for the current show, "The Comedy of Errors,"
is not Elizabethan but West Texas. That's because Lee has playfully
re-imagined the text as a slapstick western, complete with saloon
and piano music evocative of Buster Keaton and other early film
The Syracuse of ancient Greece becomes Syracuse, New York. And
the characters from that locale speak in accents reminiscent
"The Comedy of Errors" is the sixth show for the interns.
Their inaugural performance came in 1998. "Before that,
it was all technical, all stagecraft, no acting," says Hersh.
Though the show certainly makes for an exciting part of the experience,
the surrounding elements remain a big part of the training, says
Lee. He says he wants the kids to get a full perspective on what
it takes to mount a production.
Some work in the box office, while others help out with technical
elements such as lighting, sound or stagecraft.
"We try to make sure we're giving them what it's like to
create the whole thing," he says. "They're part of
everything. They see how the marketing works, they see how the
producing works. They get a chance to really be immersed in theater
for those nine weeks. It's something I never had the chance to
do when I was a kid."
Lee is the interns' third director and is returning to oversee
his second production after one year off. He says he loves to
see the kids learning and making the most of their opportunity.
"It is extremely rewarding to watch, especially the new
ones, blossoming in front of my eyes," says Lee.
"I work them really hard, I really do. I tell them the first
day, 'I bet most of your life, you have been underestimated.
And I don't do that. I think you're amazing and I'm going to
push you harder than you've ever been pushed. Maybe partway through
you'll say, 'God, I hate doing this so much!' but by the end,
you're going to look back at what you've got to show for it and
you'll have worked so hard that you'll have something to be very
proud of.' And that's what happens."
Amanda Russ is 17 and just graduated from Nordhoff. She had a
special challenge this year that made the final product even
more rewarding. She plays two twins, the servants Dromio and
Dromio, and had to master both accents. But it wasn't supposed
to be that way. When her fellow cast member came down with mononucleosis
less than two weeks before opening night, she was thrust into
the second role. Haider worked with her and she memorized the
new lines over one long night. Then she and Lee tirelessly redesigned
blocking so she could pull off the feat.
She says working with Lee is one of the best parts of the experience.
"We just have so much respect for him," she says. "He's
a fantastic actor, he's a fantastic teacher."
Byron Campbell plays Antipholus of Syracuse and says this is
his sixth production with OSF. He's been with the company since
he was 12 years old. "I was in the first intern play,"
he says. He's gone from tiny parts to playing Oberon in "A
Midsummer Night's Dream" and now Antipholus.
"A lot of it is just how much you learn every year in this
program, it's amazing," he says. " I grow as an actor
exponentially every year."
Travis Winterstein, 16, who plays Antipholus of Ephesus, is in
his fourth year with the festival. "I just love coming here
every year because everyone's just so focused on what they're
doing," he says. "We're ready for anything."
Unlike some of her more experienced fellow cast members, Dekyi
Ronge made her debut in this year's production as Luciana, an
unmarried maiden. She says OSF opened her eyes to a whole new
world. "I was extremely scared to even go to auditions,"
she says. "I really did not expect how great the people
would be. They were amazing, they were warm and they were so
honest. And the play, which made no sense to me when I read it,
suddenly became very clear."
Haider, who will a sophomore at Nordhoff, plays Solinus, the
Duke of Ephesus (here re-imagined as a globelike town sheriff).
She's been working as an actress since she was a small child
and says what makes the Ojai Shakespeare Festival program so
special is the challenge it represents, noting it took about
three hours to orchestrate her every move in her oversized getup.
"I'd have to say it's more
challenging than anything I've ever done," she says. "I
don't think I've ever worked as hard on a performance...and everyone
is required to."
She says Lee is right; the work is difficult and there have been
moments she wondered whether it might not be better to be sleeping
until noon. Still, she says, once the payoff of performing comes
along, " I couldn't imagine spending my summer any other
The Ojai Valley News
to the news