Actors leave ivory tower for community

Orlando and his big brother, Oliver, are fussing.

“Let me go, I say!” says Oliver, struggling to read his lines with Orlando’s arm collaring his neck.

“I will not till I please,” Orlando says. “You shall hear me. My father charged you in his will to give me a good education. You have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities.”

Justin Ganzon plays Orlando and Bryce Murphy plays Oliver. The two are students in Lou Catania’s theater class at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh. They are acting out a scene from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” for 12 fellow students and Heather Patterson King, a teaching artist from PlayMakers Repertory Company. PlayMakers Repertory Company is the professional theatre in residence at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I love it that you guys got physical,” says King, who is visiting the class daily for a week, a couple of weeks before the students see PlayMakers perform the classic in an educational matinee at UNC on Sept. 30.

“I’ve never been to a theater and watched a show before, so I’m excited,” says Ganzon, a senior.

That matinee and two more for high school students, on Oct.6 and Oct. 8, will be only one part of PlayMakers’ outreach surrounding its production of “As You Like It” Sept. 22-Oct. 10.

Ordinarily, for nearly every production, the company offers educational matinees, performances with post-show discussions, conversations in area libraries and performances for patrons with special needs, with sign language interpreters and, upon request, tactile tours of the set before curtain.

“PlayMakers really takes seriously its educational mission,” says Jeff Meanza, PlayMakers’ education and outreach director. Its education and outreach programs have served over 100,000 area youth since their inception in 1984.

But for “As You Like It,” a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant is allowing PlayMakers to do even more. The funding, for NEA’s Shakespeare for a New Generation program, allowed for free tickets to the education matinees and extra educational programs for 10 area high schools.

PlayMakers’s Kathy Williams recruited schools with a significant percentage of students on free and reduced lunches. Other high schools may send students to the matinees for $7.50 per student.

The company sent the 10 schools scripts and DVDs of two films of “As You Like It.” Later, teaching artists visit, coaching students through readings, working with writing in iambic pentameter and making Facebook pages for characters in the story.

At Leesville Road, junior Jenan Fatfat says that drama training has benefitted her in life as well as acting: “I think it’s really helping me become a better actor and be more confident in the way I present myself in front of other people.”