Friday, August 13, 2010

A Lovely Day in Staunton Rids One of Friggatriskaidekaphobia

*Friggatriskaidekaphobia: fear of Friday the 13th. Cool word, yes?

Hello, I’m Natalie. I’m a junior English and Writing & Rhetoric major at James Madison University and education and marketing intern at the American Shakespeare Center (ASC). This is my fifth week working in our office, the Masonic building in the heart of Staunton’s historic “red brick” district. My internship grants me access to the most intriguing parts of Staunton and the ASC. I help to record the ASC’s Youth Company Theatre Camp (YCTC), get to know the city by talking to residents and community organizations, explore the arts culture, and hunt for places of interest to young people.
        In previous weeks, I've been working with other interns to document YCTC lectures and performance master classes for ASC’s archives. The YCTC campers were passionate, lively, and engaging. They were serious about their work during workshops for fight choreography, clowning, Elizabethan dancing, and fearless as young performance artists. One day in particular stands out, the music performance master class I videotaped in Stuart Hall. The campers were aggressively attentive during a lesson on Elizabethan music rules and jumped headfirst into composing a traditional song. Chris instructed them to choose each note of the melody. After he confirmed whether the song fit within Elizabethan guidelines, they created a contemporary version. Modern adaptations of Elizabethan songs are key to the authenticity of Blackfriars Playhouse. Shakespeare himself had music of his time performed in between acts of his plays, he explained. In less than an hour, the campers had a fully developed song with parts for violin, flute, recorder and drum, a few verses, a chorus, and harmony.
        I was surprised by the joyful reactions elicited by each new suggestion. YCTC’s positive environment easily facilitated natural collaboration amongst the campers. Their quick improvisation indicated the presence of talent, confidence, and feelings of belonging within the YCTC atmosphere. I saw no traces of opposition, nor inadequacy if one did not play an instrument or “couldn’t sing well.” The campers delighted in songwriting and performed the result with camaraderie I pleasured to witness.

Another project I’m working on is a short video illuminating Staunton’s hippest facets, an insider’s guide to Staunton for college students in the Shenandoah area and beyond. Staunton’s downtown is the epitome of charm and eccentricity, the perfect place to lose oneself in exploration. I challenge anyone to spend a few minutes on the street without wandering into a kooky antiques store, thrift shop, art gallery, restaurant venue, or café. I happened upon pretty Japanese screens and vintage record players in Worthington’s Hardware, and watched glassblowing at Sunspots Studios. Marvin, the owner of Frontier Antiques, played piano as I perused funky rugs and found a cool edition of Camus’ The Rebel in stacks of old, peculiar books. As I dissect my pile of pamphlets, I learn of more Staunton has to offer; a 1950’s drive-in called Wright’s Dairy Rite, inexpensive movies at the beautifully restored 1930’s Dixie Theatre, and live music outdoors almost every weeknight of the Summer.
Staunton’s arts culture is thriving, intimate, and welcoming. Art here has a powerful pull; an aesthetic person of any degree cannot help but orbit the storefronts on Beverley Street. Besides its visual appeal as a classic Victorian Main Street, Beverley Street’s windows exhibited a wide range of art—everything from traditional painting to sculpture and experimental photography. The most recent installations were in place as the “Filling the Half-Empty Glass storefront art initiative” by the Staunton Downtown Development Association (SDDA) and volunteers. My favorite was “Shakespeare’s Othello,” a sculpture by Trenley Anderson in an empty space across the street. Even Beverley Street windows that are not galleries or part of the initiative invite passers by to Staunton’s art scene. Large, red paper lips in one window urge blingo players to support the Staunton Augusta Art center, a colorful array of fake heads accost those who pass Staunton’s School of Cosmetology, a photo shop down the street showcases a local photographer’s work exploring grief, and Camera II’s window encourages everyone to blow up personal photos, “Decorate your home with your own art.
Today I will finish storyboarding the video and check out some of the performances, restaurants, cafés, galleries, and stores on my list of prospective youth magnets. It’s not too hot—perfect for meandering and hopefully chancing upon more to share.

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