When he was 13, Kevin Robertson complained to his mother that he had nothing to do during the summer. She got him to audition for a local production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest."
"I had no idea what I was doing, and then they cast me in a lead role," recalled Robertson, 38, who by day is an air conditioner mechanic in Gainesville and by night an actor. "I became enraptured by the stage and theater and the process of making a play. I've never really done anything else."
Richardson now has a chance to inspire a similar love for the intricacies of Shakespearean theater in a new generation of teenagers as instructor of an acting workshop sponsored by the Center for the Arts.
The three-week workshop, which begins tomorrow in Woodbridge and costs $155, will shape a dozen young people 13 to 18 into an acting troupe capable of performing "Romeo and Juliet."
" 'Romeo and Juliet' is a comedy until somebody gets hurt," Robertson said, jokingly. "It is one of Shakespeare's more timeless plays. The love between warring factors still translates to something audiences can enjoy today."
Robertson hopes to develop in his students an understanding of the play that goes beyond its text to its context.
"The Shakespeare experience is not only the language but the life and history and politics of the time. The lessons learned, the mistakes made," Robertson said. "If you boil it down to the simplest things, the play is about miscommunication. What if the friar had gotten to the tomb in time? Why were the Capulets and Montagues feuding? Once you develop answers to these questions, you develop your vision of the play."
Robertson said his biggest challenge will be to familiarize the students to the unfamiliar meter of Elizabethan tragedy.
"A lot of young actors find Shakespeare intimidating because his language is unfamiliar," Robertson said. "Since they don't know what the words mean, they speak in a way that is sing-songy, they forget punctuation or to breathe, they emphasize the wrong words. In the balcony scene, the way you shape the words can change the meaning."
During the daily two-hour sessions, Robertson said he plans to use a variety of exercises to coach students through their fears of the language.
"Shakespeare is great with insults, and there are hundreds of them throughout the play," he said. "I have a bunch of 3-by-5 cards with insults, and everyone will get in a circle and insult the person next to them."
He also will ask students to create "back-stories" for their characters--the background and history of the characters--an exercise that helps actors create believable onstage personas.
"I can't tell someone how to be Romeo or Juliet or Tybalt," he explained. "I say, 'These are the words, you create the character.' "
The daily sessions, which will run from 7 to 9 p.m., also will touch on the technical aspects of theater, such as lighting and staging. The workshop will culminate in a performance of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Ferlazzo Building in Woodbridge on Aug. 27, the final day of class.
"My only goal is that the kids have fun and understand that Shakespeare's plays are as important today as they were back then," he said. "This is my way of continuing my love of theater."