Students bond over Bard at festival

Three local high schools among six presenting plays in Portland

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer



If you go

What: Fall Festival of Shakespeare, featuring performances from regional high schools, including three from Clark County.

When: Ridgefield High School’s “Twelfth Night” and Fort Vancouver High School’s “Hamlet” at noon Nov. 5; Hudson’s Bay High School’s “Taming of the Shrew” and De La Salle North Catholic High School of Portland’s “Macbeth” at 5 p.m. Nov. 5; Oregon high schools Franklin (with “Romeo and Juliet”) and Rex Putnam (with “Much Ado about Nothing”) at 2 p.m. Nov. 6.

Where: Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland

Cost: $10 for each pairing of two plays, plus service fees. Fees are up to $8 through Ticketmaster: 1-800-745-3000, Tickets can also be purchased at the door with a $3.25 fee.


More than 200 teenagers — roughly half of them from Clark County — will converge on Portland this weekend to celebrate a theatrical tradition that dates back 500 years.

“Shakespeare’s plays are great, because they deal in the highest stakes, the most important things in life — passion, honor, destiny,” said Brian Weaver, artistic director of the Portland Playhouse, and the man behind the Fall Festival of Shakespeare. “The themes in the plays are big. Almost as big as the experience of going to high school.”

That insight spurred Weaver to create the festival three years ago. Open to high schools in the Portland-Vancouver area, this year the event will feature performances from three Clark County schools, and three from Oregon.

Each ticket includes two plays.

The Washington students will all perform on Nov. 5:

• At noon, Ridgefield High School will take the stage “Twelfth Night,” followed by Fort Vancouver High School with "Hamlet" at noon.

• At 5 p.m. Hudson’s Bay High School performs “Taming of the Shrew” at 5 p.m., followed by “Macbeth,” by Portland’s De La Salle North Catholic High School.

At 2 p.m. Nov. 6, two more Oregon high schools perform, Franklin with “Romeo and Juliet” and Rex Putnam with “Much Ado about Nothing.”

The plays have been edited down to run no more than 90 minutes apiece.

Each play was directed in collaboration between the Portland Playhouse, which hired six professional directors to work with each cast, and a local drama teacher or staff member from the school.

Students were recruited from across each school to act, help with set design, work on costumes, and otherwise help to build a play.

Once each team was assembled, the word “play” took on added significance, Weaver said.

“We start out by playing games,” he said. “To be an Elizabethan actor, you have to be in pretty good shape.”

Students from all six schools came together three times as they rehearsed their separate plays, for classes on fighting, dancing and performing on stage.

Weaver, who’s accustomed to working with professional actors, said he’s inspired by the students’ enthusiasm.

“What they lack in classical training, they make up for with passion,” he said.

They’ve been encouraged to keep that passion high even when they’re in the audience. As each school takes the stage, the other schools’ students will take their seats. But they’ve been encouraged not to be sedate about it.

Performances will harken back to Elizabethan times, when Shakespeare’s troupe performed in theaters dubbed “play houses,” and audiences were lively participants in the show — oohing, ahhing, booing or calling out.

“It makes for an electrifying event,” Weaver said.