WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON/For Digital First Media
Shakespeare’s language is tough for many adults, but the kids at Newtown Arts Company (NAC) aren’t scared. They’re taking on the bard and his classic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in NAC’s Shakespeare for Kids production.
The comedy is a love story that features lots of laughs. The story revolves around the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and Hippolyta, and includes the adventures of four young lovers and a group of six amateur actors, who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies in the forest.
The language and show are adapted for children, but producers aimed to keep a lot of the thees and thous intact. Director James Banar, of Newtown, said the story condenses monologues from one page to one or two sentences that highlight the story. It’s by kids, for kids – the number of acts and integrity of the play is intact, but it’s more kid-friendly.
It’s a challenge for them, he said. The cast – from ages five to 13 – rehearses two hours per night for 10 nights prior to the performance on March 7. They seem to be liking it.
“They’re into the story,” he said. “They understand what’s going on and are excited about it.”
Even though Shakespeare can be daunting for grown-ups because of the language, his stories are universal. This tale also includes jealousy, anger, love, transformation. There’s even a spell that someone puts on the wrong person so kids understand that people can be hurt by actions, regardless of intent.
“I think when you break it down to the characters, it’s like everyday life,” Banar said. “Kids have disagreements with their friends. They have their own opinions when someone likes so and so that person doesn’t like them, but likes someone else instead.”
Banar, who has been working with NAC since 2008, likes working with the kids because he gets to see the stories through their eyes.
“It’s interesting to sit down and listen to their perspective of the story. When you start talking about the details, they recognize the characters,” he said.
He also likes how educational theater can be.
“It teaches them diction, storytelling,” he said. “It teaches cooperation. The older kids will work with the younger kids – they know they may forget their lines. They’ll help and do the verse with them. They all work together.”
Gabrielle Kalayjian, 11, of Newtown, plays Peter Quince, a carpenter and the leader of the craftsmen’s attempt to put on a play for the Duke’s marriage celebration. She thinks Shakespeare’s language can be confusing, but “I’m getting used to it,” she said.
She likes being on stage.
“It feels great,” she said. “It’s like I’m a real performer in front of an audience.”
She doesn’t get nervous – she’s been doing this a long time, since she was 6 or 7, she said. The theater bug bit her when she was 4 or 5. Her mom took her to New York to see Broadway shows. She sees at least one per year and her favorite is “Wicked.”
When she’s not on stage, she likes singing, and playing with her friends and her puppy, Skylar. Being busy is easy for her, she said.
“I do the play practice every day then I do my homework,” she said. “Then I have some free time to do other things. It’s a lot of fun.”
Gabrielle’s mom, Michelle, is happy that her daughter is enjoying the experience. And she’s thrilled about what the experience is giving to Gabrielle.
“It teaches the kids confidence,” Michelle said. “She made a lot of friends. It’s great.”
Banar hopes that kids (and their parents) will come out and see all of the hard work Gabrielle and company have put into the production. He thinks everyone will have a good time.
“It’s a nice story about people cooperating, love, and romance,” he said. “It tells a really funny and heartwarming story.”
IF YOU GO
What: Shakespeare for Kids production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
When: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. March 7
Where: Newtown Theatre, 120 North State St., Newtown, PA 18940.
Tickets: $10 general admission
Info.: Call (215) 860-7058 or visit www.newtownartscompany.com