Friday, April 12, 2019

Grossmont College theater students taking Shakespeare on the road

Grossmont College theater students hit the road in vintage truck.
Shakespeare from the back of a ‘70s Ford pickup?

Thanks to a generous grant from the Foundation for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges, it’ll be theater on four wheels instead of theater in the round for Grossmont College Theatre Arts students who just began a monthlong tour in a borrowed vintage truck.

The truck serves as both transportation and a set for the 30-minute traveling show, a partnership between the college and the San Diego organization Write Out Loud to promote reading and to introduce theater to teens throughout the region. Ten Grossmont College students will spend their Fridays and Saturdays through April 27 rolling up in the truck at schools, libraries, bookstores and at the Shakespeare Birthday festival at the Old Globe. 

Dubbed the “Shakespeare in Exile” tour, the Theatre Arts program is working in conjunction with Write Out Loud, a project that enlists actors to give dramatic readings as part of an effort to bring back an appreciation for books. “Shakespeare in Exile” is based on Emily St. John Mandel’s award-winning novel, “Station Eleven,” which focuses on a touring theater company intent on keeping art and humanity alive by performing the works of Shakespeare in a post-apocalyptic world. The tour has included stops at Grossmont Middle College High School and Southwest High School, where students have been reading the novel as a class assignment.

Acting in a variety of locations will teach Grossmont College theater students to read different audiences and to adjust their performances to best suit the venue, said Grossmont College instructor, local actor and production director Kevin Hafso-Koppman. Hafso-Koppman also adapted the script, which focuses on banishment and stitches together scenes from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” “As You Like It,” “Coriolanus,” “Richard II,” “King Lear” and “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” 

Symonne Still
Student Symonne Still said the outdoor performances teach actors to project their voices since they will not be using microphones and will be competing with ambient sound. 

“I am excited to be a part of this,” said Still, a Steele Canyon High School graduate who started college as a science major, but switched to Theatre Arts because of a lifelong love of theater and her desire to act. “It’s a cool way to introduce kids to Shakespeare.”

Ryan Manikowski
Fellow student Ryan Manikowski said Grossmont’s Theatre Arts program has been superb because the instructors are part of the local acting community. He was accepted out of high school into the prestigious theater program at California Institute of the Arts near Los Angeles, but left after a year because of the exorbitant tuition and not feeling connected with the instructors. 

 “Here at Grossmont, the Theatre Arts instructors take a lot of interest in all of the students and I’ve found value in that,” he said. “My goals are to continue my education and acting and eventually, teaching in a program like Grossmont’s.”

Theatre Arts instructors like Brian Rickel are always looking for opportunities for students to develop their craft and to make connections so vital in the acting profession.

“Partnering with Write Out Loud through the Foundation’s innovation grant has been a great opportunity for us to showcase our students around the entire city,” Rickel said. “The high school outreach within the tour is also terrific, since that’s been a part of our mission for many, many years.”

 “Station Eleven” is one of 35 books approved for grant funding as an NEA Big Read, an annual grant of the National Endowment for the Arts’ community reading program. Write Out Loud received a $15,000 grant to purchase books and to sponsor events such as theatrical performances, panel discussions and artistic competitions.  

With funding from the NEA, the County of San Diego and individual donors, Write Out Loud distributed 4,700 books at schools and libraries throughout the county, including those selected for the “Shakespeare in Exile” tour. According to Write Out Loud artistic director and co-founder Veronica Murphy, this marks the program’s first partnership with a community college. Grossmont College was selected because Rickel and other Grossmont College Theater Arts faculty have performed over the years for Write Out Loud.

Shakespeare in Exile Tour
April 5: 9:30 and 11:50 a.m., Grossmont Middle College High School at Grossmont College
April 13: 10 a.m., Scripps Miramar Library
April 6: 10:45 a.m., University City Library

April 20: 11:15 a.m., Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebration at the Copley Plaza at the Old Globe
April 6: 12:15 p.m., Book Catapult in South Park
April 20: 1 p.m., Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in Clairemont
April 12: 9:40, 10:45 and 11:50 a.m., Southwest High
April 27: 10 a.m., Mystic Mocha in Hillcrest
To help the Foundation for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges continue its support of programs like this, please consider a donation. For information, go to
Grossmont College is “Transforming Lives Through Education” and has served the diverse educational needs of San Diego’s East County since 1961. With more than 150 certificate and associate degree programs, Grossmont GrossCollege provides workforce training, career development and transferable college-level coursework to its nearly 19,000 students. For more information, visit