Designed by Cheryl Taylor for New Genesis Productions
We all know he wrote some killer, timeless stories, and that we really should love him, but Shakespeare can feel like the vegetable of the theater world: fundamentally important but sometimes challenging to consume. When sharing it with kids, it can be hard to know where to start. Just like vegetables, it takes the right exposure. Then Shakespeare's work opens up into the mad, cross-dressing, murderous, pun-ny drama it was meant to be. The youth theater company in Shokan, New Genesis Productions, provides that wing wherewith we fly.
Best known for its summer intensives, where they present Shakespeare’s comedies to families in all its Elizabethan glory, NGP transforms kids into fine actors with an impeccable understanding of the larger-than-life roles handed them by the Bard. After two weeks of material discussions, character development, voice work, line study, and stage combat with NGP’s artistic director, Lesley Sawhill, and guest directors, in an idyllic forest setting, the actors don traditional costumes and take the Little Globe stage for a slightly abridged production. The open-air theater is not only a perfect tribute to Shakespeare’s outdoor Globe theater in England, it’s also perfect for families, where they watch and wander without disturbing anyone. But what’s more common is to see those small faces enthralled, older kids doubled over at scripted slapstick, and parents marveling at how the understanding in such small voices can make them see Shakespeare anew. The shows are rife with sincerity and learned skill as the young actors prove that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
NGP also runs a school-year session for teens who display a keen interest in developing their acting and/or directing skills. Studying the Meisner method and doing deep text work, teens form a troupe of experienced and committed actors, often taking turns directing each other, and working backstage in various capacities including stage management. Every spring, they present a full-scale production of Shakespeare’s tragedies, usually at Byrdcliffe’s black box theater in Woodstock.
This year, they’ve taken on Romeo & Juliet, guest directed by Phil Mansfield. The production is set in a 1970s NYC club where Verona becomes Club Verona, the house of glam rock. Mansfield feels that’s a power structure that teen actors can relate to. “I want the kids to feel that everyday aspect in their speaking,” Mansfield says. “The fact is, with Romeo & Juliet, you’re kids hanging out on street corner.” Doing serious analysis of the original text, Mansfield directs the actors to say, “Your mutha!” in Iambic Pentameter. And for the first time ever, NGP is partnering with the Paul Green Rock Academy show band (their cream-of-the-crop musicians) to provide live music for Club Verona. Mansfield feels it enables two important children’s arts groups from the community a rare opportunity for collaboration.
Many of the actors involved in Romeo & Juliet have spent years studying Shakespeare together, and Sawhill feels working with different directors is a perfect opportunity for them to stretch themselves and reach further for their potential. Because, as the Bard says, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
New Genesis Productions presents Romeo & Juliet, May 22-24, four shows only at 7p, 2p and 4p, at the Byrdcliffe Theater in Woodstock; $12 tickets or $5 for children under the age of 12. The show’s run-time is about two and a half hours with intermission. Mostly homemade concessions and wine available. Reserve tickets online.
Don’t miss New Genesis Productions’ plein-air summer shows: The Comedy of Errors, July 10-12; The Two Gentlemen of Verona, July 24-26; The Merchant of Venice, August 7-9; all shows at 5p; tickets are $8 suggested donation, children under 12 are free; mostly homemade concessions and wine available. Check the website for more details and for camper registration info.