Shakespeare in the Park comes to the Adirondacks in many forms this summer from the Adirondack Shakespeare Company’s five-week tour of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) to the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts traveling performance of Romeo and Juliet. The one theatre presentation set apart from the others is The Depot Theatre’s annual Shakespeare program for young people.
For the tenth year Westport’s The Depot Theatre has introduced Shakespeare to those children from 7th grade and older to the wonders of the Baird. Directed and instructed by theatre educators Lindsay Pontius and Scott Gibbs, The Depot Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park do not hold formal auditions but use word of mouth and The Depot website to let interested children know when rehearsals will start happening for the annual Ballard Park performance.
“Usually people will check out the website for information regarding the performance. We meet kids through school, word of mouth or the web. They may have seen a past performance and it sparks interest for the next season, “ says Pontius. “ Age-wise we try to use everyone that shows an interest. This year’s production is Merchant of Venice. We have this wonderful backdrop of the Pavilion so we don’t have a lot of sets. It is an ensemble effort.”
“The actor becomes the creator. That is what we teach these kids. From what they are going to wear to how they move on the stage. As directors we are more like editors,” says Pontius. “We take the great stuff they are doing and shape it. We are not coming in and making this is our vision. It is coming from them, from the inside out. Shakespeare is perfect for young minds. Their imaginations can really go with it. Their minds are so much more riveting. Because the production is outside, there has to be a huge amount of commitment from the actors.”
According to Gibbs the 11 children in this year’s production all act, collaborate on the scenes and help construct the costumes and set design. The process allows the group to interpret the text together “play with it” and create characters the audience and actors will care about.
The five-weeks of training gives children a base in physical theatre, improvisation, stage combat, clowning, voice and text work. Pontius says, “I like to think of rehearsing Shakespeare as the place theatre meets sports.”
There are two chances to see The Merchant of Venice at Ballard Park in Westport, August 5 and 6 at 5:00 p.m.. The performance is free but donations are accepted to further this official apprentice program of The Depot Theatre. For the first year a special exchange program with Town Hall Theater will see this year’s Depot apprentice performers traveling to Middlebury, VT to perform on August 14.
Photo: Romeo and Juliet performed as part of The Depot Theatre apprentice program. Courtesy Kathryn Cramer.