Shakespeare in the blood

Youth's showcase summer theatre program with 'A Midsummer Night's Dream

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

Shakespeare is good for kids.

Nancy Buttenheim is convinced. She specializes in Shakespeare programs for youth, and is co-directing ``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' this summer at Perseverance Theatre. Shakespeare's play about magic, love and mischief opens at 7 p.m. Friday at Perseverance, and runs twice more, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday.

``He just lays out the human experience without judging it. There's so much passion. It gives the kids so much to chew on and wrestle with,'' she said. ``Love is huge, hate is huge, sword fights are huge.''

Twenty-five actors age 9 to 16 passed the audition last month for the project, which is a special varsity-league component this year of Perseverance's annual Summer Theater Arts Rendezvous (STAR) program for youth.

Virtually all the actors have prior stage experience, performing as musicians or acting in community theater and school productions.

Taimhyr Ensor-Estes, 14, has been in about 10 plays during the past few years with the Douglas Island Youth Drama Association and the Perseverance STAR program. She's found a new love on this project.

``I'm totally obsessed with Shakespeare,'' she said. ``I just got the big book at Costco that has all the plays and the sonnets, and I'm reading through it.''

Buttenheim said television and other media tend to dumb down subject matter, providing simplistic entertainment that doesn't stretch audiences or performers emotionally or intellectually.

``You get sharp and quick when you do Shakespeare,'' she said. ``They're getting a physical experience and a spiritual experience.''

Tim Mason, 16, is the oldest member of the cast. He said reading the play was something of a struggle, and that it wasn't written to be read, but heard and seen.

``Shakespeare is meant to acted. There's so much the actors convey with tone of voice and movement,'' he said.

Buttenheim lives in Lenox, Mass., and has acted and taught throughout the United States and New Zealand. She taught at the very first Perseverance STAR program 17 years ago.

Roblin Davis, who developed and directed ``Fry Tales'' this spring at Perseverance, is co-directing the production with Buttenheim. Davis' specialty is physical theater and mask theater, and he's given Buttenheim an appreciation for masks.

``I haven't worked with masks, really. It's been a wonderful collaboration. Everybody has masks and they're just beautiful,'' she said.

Each mask is custom-made for the actor's face. Some are huge and cover the whole head, others are half masks that suggest expression and complement the costumes.

The cast is quick to praise costumer Dawn Pisel for her work. She designed some outfits, modified others from the Perseverance costume shop, and scrounged some from local thrift stores.

``The costumes are awesome,'' said Tess Cannon, 11, who has participated in the STAR program every summer for the past five years. She said this is the hardest she's worked and the most fun she's had in theater.

``They really take it seriously,'' she said.

At the rehearsal this week, Davis and Buttenheim spent the first hour warming up the cast with theater exercises. Davis orchestrated a graceful and chaotic series of moves.

``Walk. Freeze. Hoooooooooold. Hold it,'' he said. ``Now, walk like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Freeze.''

``He's teaching them to walk like actors,'' Buttenheim said.

They switched 20 minutes later, and Buttenheim had them warming up their vocal instruments, breathing, huffing and reciting ``red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather,'' and ``six thick thistles.''

``I love to see how confident they get,'' she said. ``They're going to have this play in their blood for the rest of their lives.''

``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' has 25 actors cast in 20 parts. The play runs about an hour and a half. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books and at the door. Admission is $8, $5 for kids under 12.

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