Lakesha Green loves her Shakespeare.
The All Walks of Life, Inc. theater arts director studied the Elizabethan acting tradition in college, and four years ago when she came on the staff of the youth non–profit, she had no doubt her teenage charges would love him, too.
“When I was their age I saw Romeo and Juliet at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and it really affected me,” remembers Green. “I thought, ‘Well, let’s run with that.’”
And run she has. She’s written and directed three productions in three years based on her favorite plays of the Bard, including 2010’s Choices, an interpretation of the story of that famously catastrophic young couple, and 2011’s Situations, inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets, especially number 116: “Let me not the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments...”
Her challenge has always been making Shakespeare relevant to the kids. By incorporating lively hip hop soundtracks and modern choreography, Green says her shows “keep the students engaged while they’re still learning all they need to know.”
Rounding out the trilogy this year is Motives, an amalgam of Shakespeare’s tragedies, includingMacbeth, Othello, Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra. Set to songs by Anthony David, Beyonce and Adele, the show runs at 7 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday at the Johnny Mercer Theater.
Let’s see here—death, mental illness, more death—these are big themes. But the success of the first two shows convinced Green that her AWOL kids can handle complex emotional performances.
“I’m more intrigued by the tragedies, and I think the students are more in tune with them as well,” she muses. “They see themselves in these characters and how their relationships play out. This show is heavy, but it makes you think instead of cry.”
This is AWOL’s first time in the 2500–seat Johnny Mercer; last years’ performances sold out the 1200–seat Lucas.
Davena Jordan, AWOL’s indefatigable executive director who runs the organization along with her husband, Tony, was a bit nervous about making the leap. She’s spent the last month tirelessly promoting the production throughout the community.
“I’m just so proud of these kids, they’ve worked so hard and the show is so, so good,” says Jordan. “I hope we’ll see everyone out in the audience this weekend.”
Employing the Shakespearean theatrical device of a “play within a play,” Motives opens with a scene in a mental institution and is peopled with characters who identify with Will’s iconic protagonists.
For Ella Joseph, a sophomore at Savannah Early College Academy who plays the role of the facility’s psychiatrist, taking part in the production has given her a better understanding of why these plays continue to be taught in school year after year.
“It seems like Shakespeare has a character that everyone can relate to, the plays show the trials and tribulations we go through,” says the 16 year–old. “I know them from English class, but acting in the play, I see the deeper meanings.”
Though Ella had little theater experience before coming to AWOL, she saw Situations last winter and knew she wanted to be involved in this year’s performance. Much of the 69–member cast hadn’t been on stage before meeting Green either, but now most of them can flawlessly quote monologues from Shakespeare’s greatest hits.
“I have to say Macbeth is my favorite,” confesses Jasper Brayboy, a Johnson High sophomore and three-year AWOL veteran. “You can really see how the character carries the theme of corruption.”
Both Jasper and Ella say that participating in Motives has helped them appreciate not only the universal themes found in five hundred–year–old plays, but also the plight of those with mental disabilities.
“Walking away from this, I feel like I relate better to people with mental illness and all kinds of people in general,” says Jasper. “If you can make hip hop and Shakespeare work together, you can understand anyone.”
Green is pleased to hear it, because though engendering a love of Shakespeare and putting on a stellar production are priorities, she has other motives in mind for her students.
“The thing I’ve worked into the process of this is the theme ‘walk in your purpose so you can collide with your destiny,’ she says. “My goals are to get everyone thinking about others, and to help understand that others are affected by what you do.”
Though her affection for old William has not waned, Green says Motives will the last of her Elizabethan–era productions for AWOL. She’s already thinking ahead to the next batch of productions: A trio of musicals.
“Yep, I’ve already mapped out the next three years. And I don’t know how it happened, but I’m writing musicals now,” she laughs. “You can’t stop, you just have to keen in and keep on going.”
When: 7 p.m. March 10 and 11
Where: Johnny Mercer Theater
Cost: $20/$5 children 5 and under
Info: 912/303–4987 or awolinc.org