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Bringing Back the Bard

12 American students bring Shakespeare to England.

“It was a different kind of summer camp,” said Heather Sanderson, “it certainly was.” For one week in August, Sanderson introduced 12 acting students, ages 11 to 18, to her hometown of Clacton-on-Sea, in Essex, England, “taking a group of kids from here to stay with complete strangers they’d never met and working together to perform Shakespeare.” The young American thespians spent one week rehearsing a 45-minute “Romeo and Juliet” that they performed in Clacton with a few roles reserved for their hosts. “It was Americans bringing Shakespeare to the Brits,” Sanderson said.

All of the students stayed in the homes of members of Clacton’s Youth Theatre Workshop, who were practicing the American musical, “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Eight parents accompanied the group, which visited the Globe Theatre in London and Otley Hall in Suffolk, the home of Matthew Gosnold, commander of the Godspeed and co-founder of Jamestown.

Gracie Terzian, 16, had never left the country before. She ended up rooming with Clacton’s “Carnival Queen” during carnival week. “She had to wave a flag to start the donkey derby and such things,” said Gracie, also mentioning the sandcastle competition and the pantomime horse race.

The whole group rode on a carnival float with the youth theatre troop. They spent three hours standing and waving in the rain, as the youth theatre sang the same song from “Little Shop of Horrors” over and over again. “I waved an American flag the entire time,” Gracie said. “My hands were numb.”

“It was a big deal in this little town to have the Americans come over,” Sanderson added.

Emily Woods, 11, who has been acting with Sanderson for five years, said the simple production they saw in the Globe, a reproduction of Shakespeare’s original theatre, reminded her of the productions Sanderson produces in the nave of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, the home of her Bardsplay acting classes.

“IT WASN’T just like going to another place and living in the hotel,” said Eban Kuhns, 18. You actually have to live the culture.” Kuhns said his homestay family drove him to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, a place he had been dying to see. He bought a calabash pipe like Holmes’ and had the experience of “walking around in something you’d just read about.”

The highlight for Jack Corbley, 15, was visiting the vault of London’s Hard Rock Café and being allowed to pluck on the flying-V guitar that Jimi Hendrix played in that Isle of Wight festival.

And the groups’ performance of “Romeo and Juliet” brought down the house in Clacton. In addition to the play, students shared some of the improvisational skits that Sanderson encourages to help her students get in character. The students had practiced Tybalt’s dramatic death scene in versions that aped a Broadway musical, a kung-fu movie, a rap video, a western and an episode of the television show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

But the most lasting impact of the trip were the friendships the American actors made with each other and their British hosts.

“We saw so many group hugs,” said Sanderson. “We were taking pictures of these kids in this big scrum hugging each other.”

“Everyone in England is funny,” said Miles Butler. “That’s a fact.”

If anything, living in the homes of Clacton may have made the rest of the England seem a bit boring for the Americans.

“Meh,” said Charlie Himel without enthusiasm, when asked about the highlights of England’s capitol city, “We didn’t know anybody in London.”