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Shakespeare festival members share their passion for theater with Oregon City, Gladstone teens

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Nationally acclaimed actor Armando McClain works with Oregon City High School students during an Oct. 24 visit.Oregon City High School students recently got to play theatrical Mad Libs, using a poem as a prompt, with no worry that there would be a quiz on the words later.

Nationally acclaimed actor Armando McClain, who appeared last year in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "Sense and Sensibility" and "Romeo and Juliet," told groups of English and theater students on Oct. 24 that they were welcome to riff off of Langston Hughes' poem, "Dream Deferred."

"I'm going to let you off the hook," McClain said. "They don't have to make sense, and these can be whatever you want them to be."

McClain ended up thanking the students for "all for those imaginative, beautiful crazy dreams" they shared with OSF representatives, which he said exceeded their expectations of just having some senseless fun.

Known as the "Dinosaur Group," one group of students wrote and performed to the lines, "What happens to a dream forgotten? Does it decay like a dead dinosaur? ..."

McClain said the dinosaur turned out to be an appropriate reinterpretation of Hughes' poem, despite all the laughs the Dinosaur Group received for keeling over repeatedly as their revised poem's subject found various ways of perishing. A dream can be recurring, McClain pointed out, or the vision for America outlined in Martin Luther King's Dream speech can seem closer or further away at various times. 

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Oregon City High School students riff off of Langston Hughes poem, Dream Deferred, during an Oct. 24 exercise."It's kind of cool how they brought that poor dinosaur back over and over again just so it can be killed again," McClain said.

Esther Williamson, another OSF presenter, suggested to students that they should "get into their bodies" through physical movement when literature is giving them trouble.

"If you feel like you're not connecting with something on the page, move around a bit," Williamson told the students.

OCHS drama teacher Clyde Berry said OSF's strong commitment to diversity has been as empowering for students as the lessons themselves.

"To see an empowered woman, or a man of color, kicking butt in a leadership role will show kids in a less diverse area, like Oregon City especially, that anything it possible," Berry said. "The artists get to speak from the heart rather than thinking about preparing for the test."

Williamson and McClain noted that the program that had five teams of school visitors is now down to just their one team, due to financial cutbacks at OSF and leadership transitions in Ashland. Williamson said she's heard from teachers who have reported that their quiet students will begin talking after an OSF visit.

"It takes a real act of faith to throw all these seeds out there and hope they take root," Williamson said. "We don't always hear about that impact, but we have to trust that it's there

OCHS was the first stop this year for the OSF School Visit Program Team. Representatives of the team last year shared their passion for Shakespeare and theater with students at Rex Putnam High School, and during the second week in December, they will be back at Putnam.

McClain is looking forward to returning to Putnam, sharing his story about breaking barriers he never would have thought possible as a teenager. Terry "Max " Minton, McClain's high school teacher in California, showed him what was possible after giving him a hall pass to leave class if he wanted to.

"I want to share that gift that was given to me," McClain said. "To have a place to belong as a freshman was important, and it really stuck with me that he said, 'I would love to have you,' so I tore up the pass."

OCHS is in its first year of a three-year commitment with OSF, along with Gresham and Gladstone. The three schools tentatively plan to do a group show in three years to include a third of students from each school, along with a trip to Ashland.

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