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Learning the ways of the stage

Last year's STAR production filled Perseverance Theatre to overflowing, so the culmination of this year's summer drama camp will be performed over two weekends

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2001

Andria Budbill can't stop smiling. Literally.

Andria, an 11-year-old student in Perseverance Theatre's STAR program, plays a clown in the play "Crazy Corpus," a new student-penned play combining clowning and mask work that opens Friday.

But beaming nonstop - even if you're a happy member of a clown troupe - has its price.

"I'm supposed to smile for basically the whole play and it's painful," said Andria. "(But) I'm learning a lot and I'm getting to act. I've never really done that before."

STAR, an annual summer drama camp for Juneau youth age 9 to 17, has been teaching kids the ropes of acting and drama for 20 years. For the 2001 session the program expanded to four classes, two of which - "Crazy Corpus" and "The Tempest" - will culminate in main stage productions.

The change came about because of the phenomenal success of STAR's 2000 performance of "A Midsummer's Night Dream," which ran for only one weekend.

"We had to turn away about 100 people," said administrator Dawn Pisel-Davis. "You couldn't get in and we had people standing. We had people sitting everywhere, kids on laps - it was amazing. There were so many people."

This year, the main stage shows will run for two weekends. The two other programs, "Junior Physical Theatre" and "Junior Theatre Shakespeare," will stage one daytime performance each for family, friends and community members.

"They are working in our Phoenix space - the small theater within our theater," Pisel-Davis said. "Those two classes were more for beginning actors ... or kids who couldn't make the commitment of being here every day. We have a very short rehearsal span for a main stage show."

Students in "The Tempest" learned their lines in about a week; the "Crazy Corpus" performers had four days.

"That's very hard, to learn a whole Shakespeare play in a week," said Nancy Coursen Buttenheim, director of "The Tempest" and 2000's "Dream." "I like to make sure that they understand very well what they're saying, which often takes a lot of work. Shakespeare's not easy."

Buttenheim performed in "The Tempest" herself for two years, playing Miranda, daughter of the marooned Prospero. In STAR's production, she chose to focus on the different aspects of the characters' personalities.

Each one - ranging from slave to monster - is played by a different actor. Lines of dialogue are passed smoothly from person to person or spoken in unison.

"We've got lots of people on stage and it's very exciting," Buttenheim said. "Of course, now I'm completely attached to this particular way of seeing the show. I can't imagine (villainous) Caliban being played by one (person.) How boring."

"Crazy Corpus" takes a different tack, choosing not to define its characters precisely.

"We took the definition of 'crazy,'" said director Roblin Gray Davis. "We took the meaning mostly of being 'intensely enthusiastic or possessed of inordinate excitement.' That was one of our big themes - just being crazy."

 

Students created their own masks, beginning with plaster casts of their faces and building up with clay to create features. Four types of masks are used in the play - full-face masks, half-masks, top-of-head masks and clown noses.

"The ones we've created are mostly humanoid, but the features may not be normal," Davis said.

Brenna Heintz, 13, is one of the half-mask performers.

"I think the hardest part would be trying to get your expressions right," she said. "Trying to say (lines) with enthusiasm all the time when you're practicing."

Buttenheim is continually amazed by the capability of the performers.

"They're amazing. They're incredible," she said. "One of my kids said, 'I want to do STAR seven days a week, all day long, forever.' It's really thrilling to know that by the end of the summer they're going to have a Shakespeare play under their belts. They're not going to forget this."

"The Tempest" opens tonight at 7 p.m. at Perseverance Theatre, and shows at 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Aug. 8 and Aug. 10, and 2 p.m. Aug. 11. "Crazy Corpus" opens Friday at 7 p.m. at the theater, and shows at 2 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Aug. 7, 9 and 11. Tickets - $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under - are available at both Hearthside Books locations and at the door.

"Junior Shakespeare Theatre" will present a free public performance at 11 a.m. Friday at the Sandy Beach playground, weather permitting, or at the theater. "Junior Physical Theatre" will perform at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the theater.



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