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SKHS students do Shakespeare with swords

South Kitsap High School students practice a battle scene for their production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, which opens Nov.6. - Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo
South Kitsap High School students practice a battle scene for their production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, which opens Nov.6.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

It takes a special kind of faith to give a pack of teenagers swords and send them on stage to battle as French and English soldiers.

But drama teacher Scott Yingling definitely has it, because for months he’s been doing exactly that as director of South Kitsap High School’s production of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

“All summer, we practiced stage combat for two hours, three days a week,” Yingling said, adding that once school started, that schedule increased to every day after classes. “They’ve each completed about 100 hours.”

Since the teens are using real, albeit “blunted,” swords, Yingling said he spent the first two months of rehearsals focusing on safety. He made sure that while wielding their swords, the actors maintained eye contact with and proper distance from their opponents at all times and followed every beat of their choreography.

“If you step out of character or lose your concentration, you’re not going to get just a light pat on the back,” he said. “I know, I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those injuries.”

So has senior Mac Fox, who plays King Henry and was hit in the face when his sword slipped during rehearsals. Though he expects to have a permanent scar, Fox didn’t seem to mind, and said it fits in perfectly with the play since Henry is hit in the face with an arrow.

“I think my partner has been hit (by my sword) every day,” said senior Monica Domena, who plays a dutchess and was obviously enjoying the sword fighting. “We were all so excited when we learned we were using real swords. Teenagers and swords? C’mon!”

Domena’s character was originally a man, but Yingling changed it to a woman. He did that with several other characters as well, including the Prince of France.

“There are so many girls in theater class,” he said. “I told them, I’m not gender biased. If there’s a girl who can swing it, I’ll even make Henry a woman.”

But Fox earned the role, which he said he was very grateful for, even if it required him to memorize about 4,000 lines.

“I love this role — I think it’s one of the best male leads in Shakespeare,” he said, explaining that he hopes to study Shakespeare in college, and plans to audition for the Seattle Shakespeare Company in February.

Domena said she was also a fan of Shakespeare, especially after being immersed in his language for months.

“It’s really brilliant,” she said. “Once you understand it, you see the genius in it.”

And while his students were obviously excited about the play, no one was quite as enthusiastic as Yingling himself.

“This was like the perfect storm of really good things coming together,” Yingling said, adding that he had been waiting for an opportunity to direct Henry V.

“It is my favorite Shakespeare play,” he said. “I love everything about it. I love history, and I love stage combat — there is so much that goes into it.”

And after working with his current group of actors on other productions, Yingling said he knew he had the cast to pull the play off.

“I can’t express how happy I am with my cast. They are the best kids in the world,” he said. “They have attacked this language, and studied it for months.”

Yingling, a 1999 SKHS graduate, was hired as a drama teacher in 2006 after his former teacher, Carl Olson, retired.

“When I was his student, I told him I was going to take his job, and he said, ‘Great, I’m retiring in six years. You can have it then,’” Yingling recalled.

Yingling took Olson at his word, graduating from Central Washington University with his teaching certificate and coming back to Port Orchard, where most of his family still lives.

“But Olson wasn’t retired yet, so I took a job at the (Puget Sound Naval Shipyard) and waited,” said Yingling, who has since married and become a father. “I was offered a job in Yuma, Ariz., but I turned it down. I put all my eggs in one basket, and it worked out.”

Yingling hasn’t quite earned Olson’s job yet, as his fellow drama teacher Debi Emans is the school’s theater manager, but he loves his job just the same.

“There’s a really good tradition of theater teaching here. Debi is great, and the administration is very supportive,” he said. “I have a principal that, when I told him I wanted to give teenagers 16 swords, he said ‘OK, have fun.’”

If You Go

What: Henry V at SKHS

When: Friday, Saturday and Nov. 13-14 at 7:30 p.m.; one matinee Nov. 8 at 2 p.m.

Where: SKHS theater

How much: $4 for adults, $3 for students

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