The Bard, without fear

With enthusiasm, a new children's stage troupe dives into Shakespeare

October 02, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Chest heaving and voice thundering, Daphne Reid, 11, faced Dani Bryant, 11, and skewered her for stealing her man.

Thief of love. Canker-blossom. Painted maypole. Her voice rose with each word volley.

Suddenly, she paused, mid-diatribe. Another voice quietly supplied, "I am not yet so low ... "

Taking her cue, Daphne went on, "I am not yet so low but that my nails can reach unto thine eyes." Then she lunged across the wooden outdoor stage, her long purple dress no impediment to her rage.

Daphne's lofty yet menacing language came straight from the pages of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the first play she and her peers in South Carroll were taking on as the newly formed children's acting troupe, Touchstone's Players. As they counted down to their first full performance Saturday at Century High School's Globe Theatre, they were consumed with last-minute memorization, stage directions and, of course, costumes.

The ambitious ensemble, named for a bawdy clown in another of the Bard's works, has fearlessly jumped into a world that has left high-school students through the ages shuddering in dread. They've mastered the flowery phrasing of the Elizabethan Era - the thees and thous, whithers and wantons, adieus and asses (the animal variety) - to put on a good old love story, with the obligatory mortal fools and immortal meddling.

"They're doing unbelievably well," said Tom Delise, a Century English teacher who created the troupe of about 20 elementary and middle school players. Though considerably abridged, their presentation is unadulterated Shakespeare, he said.

And, instead of cringing, as some older students are wont to do, the young actors are comfortably navigating the archaic prose.

"They just take to it," Delise said. "They're not intimidated by it."

Kris Breeden, one of two former Century students whom Delise recruited to co-direct the production, said the kids have fun with the story.

"They understand it ... and they get the jokes," said Breeden, now a junior at McDaniel College.

The young actors seem to slip into their roles easily, developing their individual character interpretations.

As Oberon, the king of shadows, Joey Marcellino adopts an air of mystery and stealth, whipping around his purple velvet robe - representing his cloak of invisibility - with a flourish as he slinks about the stage to eavesdrop on the mortals.

Nick Seese, one of two boys playing Nick Bottom, a weaver turned actor, prowls in front of the outdoor stage as he exuberantly demonstrates his ability to act as king of the jungle.

"Let me play the lion, too. I will roar, that I will do any man's heart good to hear me. I will roar," said Seese, in character, during one rehearsal.

Jack Del Nunzio's Quince, a carpenter who performs with the fictional troupe, speaks with an unmistakable British accent.

"I thought I might as well try it," Jack said between scenes. The 9-year-old said he liked saying such things as thee, thou and thine, instead of the more modern you and your, and saw it as a fun challenge.

Like Jack, Nick shrugged off the language's complexity.

"It's more sophisticated, but ... it's a good change," he said.

Daphne, who plays Hermia, one of the main characters, also said it wasn't that hard, "once you get used to it. ... You've just got to get past the insults."

Added Joey: "The language helps you get into the character."

And when the 16th-century prose perplexes them, they don't hesitate to call on the nearest adult for a translation.

Before one afternoon rehearsal, Nick pulled Delise aside to ask about a phrase in one of his lines:

"The raging rocks and shivering shocks shall break the locks of prison gates, and Phibbus' car shall shine from far and make and mar the foolish fates."

"What does that `car' mean?" Nick asked.

The car referred to the chariot driven by the sun god Phoebus, Delise explained.

"Ah," said Nick, nodding.

"The ancient Greeks believed the sun was carried across the sky," Delise added.

Later that afternoon, Breeden said she didn't think Puck, the merry fellow who helps Oberon bewitch and confuse the play's lovers, should be costumed with wings like the fairies.

"Puck isn't a fairy, but a sprite," she said.

"What's a sprite?" asked David Kreinar, one of the tradesmen-turned-actors. The entire troupe was seated on the edge of the stage for the usual post-rehearsal debriefing.

"A sprite? It's like a spirit. It's kind of a woodsy, earthly spirit," Breeden said.

"Like a dryad," Joey added, quietly.

Outside of rehearsals, parents also have shepherded the kids through the unfamiliar terrain, sometimes learning a thing or two themselves.

Maggie Neal, 10, said she initially struggled to understand her lines as Demetrius, one of the leading men. She turned to her mother for help.

In one scene, Demetrius fends off the advances of a lovesick Helena, saying, "I charge thee, hence, and do not haunt me thus."

All that meant, Maggie said she learned, was, "Leave me alone, and don't follow me."

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