Ten Questions for CSF Teaching Artist Gina Braswell
CSF Teaching Artist Gina Braswell tells us about dream projects, helping kids figure out Shakespeare, and the Immersive Shakespeare workshop she’s teaching on November 4 (for ages 10-18).
Amanda Giguere, CSF’s Director of Outreach, is a big fan of Gina Braswell’s teaching style: “Gina’s passion for Shakespeare is infectious, and students in her classes absorb her enthusiasm (not to mention her seemingly endless knowledge of the Bard). She recognizes that Shakespeare is not something to be feared or revered. As a teacher, Gina encourages her students to roll up their sleeves, dig in, and have fun with these plays.” We asked Gina 10 questions about her lifelong fascination with Shakespeare.
How old were you when you started doing Shakespeare?
My first Shakespeare play was when I was three years old! I played the foundling child in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my hometown of Odessa, TX, where there is a replica of the Globe Theatre called the Globe of the Great Southwest. After that first play, I wanted nothing more than to be at the theatre and continued performing there until I graduated high school. I had the opportunity to perform some of my favorite Shakespearean roles such as Perdita, Juliet, Mercutio, Portia, Viola, and Helena. Being involved with performing and learning to love Shakespeare’s texts at such a young age gave me so much insight into the human condition and bred a passion in me for storytelling. This has stuck with me all my life and feeds into everything I do as an adult. This is why I find it so important to keep Shakespeare alive, relevant and fun for kids!
What’s the best part of doing Shakespeare with kids?
Theatre is a natural confidence booster for kids, it teaches students to push past insecurities and let their imaginations cross the boundaries of reality. Shakespeare’s characters are ingrained with such human qualities, mindsets and flaws, and performing these characters teaches kids empathy. By stepping into someone else’s shoes and portraying their thoughts and actions to an audience, kids can better understand one another as well as the world around them. This is an incredibly important and beneficial skill for real life. My favorite part is seeing the lightbulbs go on, seeing their confidence grow as they realize they can understand and interpret a language that seems complicated until they dive into it and begin to live it through acting it out. Imaginative and creative kids find a place they belong within the texts of Shakespeare and the walls of a theatre space, surrounded by a group of people who are just as eccentric and thirsty to explore as they are. From theatre games to opening night jitters, theatre helps kids overcome obstacles and learn to work as a team to get their own voice out into the world. I think that’s pretty amazing.
In addition to acting and teaching, you’ve also worked with CSF in the summers as a dramaturg and an assistant director. Any favorite projects?
I have! And I have so enjoyed working with the CSF. I worked as a dramaturg with the festival for their summer production of Troilus and Cressida (2016). As a dramaturg I was tasked with cutting the script, creating packets with information for the actors about the historical background of the play, previous ways it has been performed and scholarly insight into the context of the story being told. I have also dramaturged for CSF’s Shakespeare and Violence Prevention school tour where I helped to cut and create scripts that would be used in classrooms. The school tour brings awareness of bullying behavior and mistreatment through Shakespeare’s plays in order to develop strategies with students when they witness mistreatment in schools. I have also worked with CSF as a teacher/director for Camp Shakespeare over the past two summers, rehearsing a Shakespeare play with students to perform for friends and family.
You’re teaching a workshop for us on November 4 that we’re calling “Immersive Shakespeare.” Can you tell us a little bit about Immersive Theatre?
Immersive Theatre is a type of theatre experience that brings the audience into the world of the play – spatially and otherwise – so that they can be “immersed” in the story. These theatre projects often have a “living” set that encompasses the audience and invites them to be more active participants. In New York there is a show called Sleep No More which brings audiences into the world of Macbeth via five stories of a warehouse that has been transformed into the various settings of the play. Audiences are allowed to wander through the space of their own accord, and choose where to go or what character to follow or speak with to create their own viewing of the story. An immersive project was done last year in Denver called Sweet & Lucky where audiences were led through the performance space and encouraged to participate in specific activities that were happening within the story. For instance, members of the audience decoded a box of letters, then shredded them, and walked through an indoor rainstorm and sang together at a character’s funeral. The point of immersive theatre is to ensure the audience is a crucial part of the story being told and to let them be involved in the play in as many ways as possible. This might mean they are given pieces of costumes to blend into the story or asked to speak with characters or even asked to participate in scenes.
Definitely becoming a popular trend. The Denver Center’s Off-Center is doing another immersive project right now – the musical The Wild Party. I love changing the relationship between the performers and the audience. How are you planning to introduce the idea to kids in a one-day workshop?
An immersive piece is an ambitious project for a one-day workshop, but it’s still an achievable project. We will be making an immersive Midsummer Night’s Dream where the audience will be able to walk through the magical woods the fairies inhabit. Students will help create simple costume pieces for the audience, such as masks and wings so that the audience will be able to become fairies, and I’ll bring cardboard cutouts of specific set pieces to help decorate the world of the play. The students will be the main characters in the play, lost in the woods, leading the eavesdropping fairies through the space. Students will be encouraged to invite the audience to play with them, invite the audience to speak with them or follow them as they explore the woods and look for other characters. The goal is to show students the various ways in which we can create theatre and the various ways we can involve our audience in the story we are telling.
What else are you working on around town?
I am currently the drama/communications teacher at Jefferson Academy in Broomfield. My students at school are putting on a production of the musical, Aladdin on Nov. 7. I am also a director for the non-profit organization Arts HUB, where I am working with 3 amazing casts of young adults on Seussical (Dec. 8-10) and Winnie The Pooh with 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders (December 2-3). Not to mention our own CSF Shakespeare’s Comedies class which will have their final performance on Nov. 16th.
Do you have a favorite Shakespeare role?
Oh there are just too many to count! I believe my favorite roles in Shakespeare come from my favorite play, A Winter’s Tale. Hermione and Paulina are such strong female characters that lead the story to such a redemptive and cathartic conclusion. Either of the characters would be dream roles for me to play one day.
Do you have a dream project you’d like to create or direct someday?
I have lots of them! Right now I am in the very beginning stages of creating an immersive script for a dream production I would love to put on in the future. I am taking elements of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and blending the two together into an immersive telling of the dangers of political power, greed and ambition. I would also love to put on a full scale immersive telling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in an outdoor wooded area where fairies can do aerial dancing in trees and the audience can follow the magic wherever it leads. I am always brainstorming new dream projects!
How about a favorite Shakespeare quote?
“It is required you do awake your faith” from A Winter’s Tale. I love this quote so much that it is tattooed on my wrist inside an astrolabe (the device explorers used at sea to find their way home before the compass existed). This symbolizes the Shakespeare story as it is all about someone finding their way home and finding redemption through having faith in those that surround you.
What are you likely to be doing when you’re NOT Shakespeare-ing?
When I am not acting, teaching or directing I am spending time playing with my two dogs, painting, sewing and spending quality time with my amazing partner.