Young Shakespeare comes to Shea Theater in Turners Falls

  • Amalia Rubinstein, who plays the nurse in the upcomining Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearses a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Phoebe Burch, and Rosa Maya, who play Juliet and Lady Montague, and Lady Capulet, respectively, in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearse a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Silas James. and Noa Rubinstein. who play Mercutio and a musician, and Benvolio, and a musican, respectively, in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearse a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls, Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Ruby Fennell, who plays Gregory, the Apothecary, and a musician in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearses a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Annabelle Fitch, who was filling in as Friar Lawrence for Liam Shannon, rehearses a scene with other cast members, in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Annabelle Fitch, who was filling in as Friar Lawrence for Liam Shannon, rehearses a scene in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Annabelle Fitch, who was filling in as Friar Lawrence for Liam Shannon, Charlotte Worth, and Phoebe Burch, who play Paris, and Juliet and Lady Montague, respectively, rehearse a scene in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Amalia Rubinstein, Phoebe Burch, Leo Sanzone, and Rosa Maya, who play the Nurse, Juliet and Lady Montague, Capulet, and Lady Capulet respectively, rehearse a scene in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Leo Sanzone, and Maisie Maisie Burch, who play Capulet, and Montague and Peter respectively, rehearse a scene in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Atticus Belmonte, who plays Chorus/Prince and Potpan in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearse a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Max Shannon, Charlotte Worth, Phoebe Burch, Ruby Fennell, and Enzo Belmonte, who play, Other Montague, and Romeo, Paris, Juliet and Lady Montague, Gregory, the Apothecary, a musician, and a Page to Paris, and Tybalt, Balthasar, and Friar John, in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearse a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Rosa Maya, Phoebe Burch, and Amalia Rubinstein, who play Lady Capulet, Juliet and Lady Montague, and the Nurse in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearse a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls, Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Max Shannon, who plays Other Montague and Romeo in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearses a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Phoebe Burch, and Amalia Rubinstein, who play Lady Montague and Juliet, and the nurse, respectively, rehearse a scene in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Cast members in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearse a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Annabelle Fitch, who was filling in as Friar Lawrence for Liam Shannon, Max Shannon, and Phoebe Burch, who play Other Montague and Romeo, and Juliet and Lady Montague, respectively, rehearse a scene in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Silas James and Enzo Belmonte, who play Mercutio and a musician, and Tybalt, Balthasar, and Friar John respectively, in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearse a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Phoebe Burch, and Amalia Rubinstein, who play Lady Montague and Juliet, and the nurse, respectively, in the upcoming Young Shakespeare Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, rehearse a scene at the Shea theater in Turners Falls Sunday, May 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Published: 5/11/2016 1:41:54 PM

Hearing one 8-year-old invite another to “crush a cup of wine” won’t bother you, will it?

The Young Shakespeare Players East (YSPE) have prepared a remarkably fresh production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” for the delectation of audiences at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls on Saturday, May 14, and Sunday, May 15, at 6 p.m. It will also be at the University of Massachusetts  Renaissance Center in Amherst on Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, at noon.

There’s been a recent trend on stage and screen to bring Shakespeare’s plays up to date in modern ways — pistol-packing Romeos and ghostly Hamlets glimpsed on surveillance cameras — and so much cleverness has made faithfulness to traditional Renaissance theater seem refreshing.

“Leave behind what your idea of Shakespeare is and what kids are capable of,” says 15-year-old Izzy Snyder.

Child actors and troupes were a staple of the Elizabethan theater and, as in Shakespeare’s day, the Young Shakespeare production offers music and dancing, scant props and lavish costumes, actors in multiple roles and, most of all, immense delight in language.

“People tell us that they understand Shakespeare better because of how we say the lines,” explained Izzy.

Watching their dress rehearsal, you’re struck by the naturalness and clarity all the young actors brought to their lines. Even the youngest amongst the cast — ranging in age from 7 to 18 — know exactly what he or she is saying, relying less on exaggerated gestures and expressions than on meaningful articulation.

Before any casting decisions are made, the cast spends time learning the play through the text and audio content prepared by the program’s founder, Richard Di Prima.

“Some kids have actually learned to read through this process,” said Suzanne Rubinstein, director of YSPE. Through learning the play, the children themselves decide which roles they should play.

Young Shakespeare Players have much more responsibility than actors usually do, and because they know the play so well, they listen carefully to each other read the lines and then advise on delivery and meaning.

“The children are basically fulfilling the traditional role of director,” says Rubinstein. “There are no adults backstage — no parents helping or telling them what to do. They do everything themselves.”

There are two complete casts, one for each venue — the Shea and UMass — and as one cast performs, the other acts as stage-crew.

“People should come see both productions,” 11-year-old Atticus Belmonte advises, “because they’re really different.”

Shakespeare provides a rare vantage point from which to view history. Noa Rubinstein, 11, said, “History textbooks don’t cover everything.” And Effie Paxton, 8, added, “Being in a play is a more interesting way to learn history, because you’re actually experiencing it.”

While textbook editors include only content they deem fit for children, Shakespeare’s plays offer no such discretion and should never be mistaken for mere gossamer-enwrapped spectacles of delight.

Though Acts I and II of “Romeo and Juliet” are full of laughter, dancing, and romance, it is a play that is as much about hatred as about love, the giddy passions of its title characters hopelessly interrupted by “neighbor-stainéd steel.”

Audiences might ask, “Do we really want our children to inhabit the bawdy, violent, and sexually-aware characters of the Elizabethan stage?”

“As Capulet, I have to say some really terrible things to my daughter,” said Magsy Lombard, 15. After insulting and shouting at Juliet for more than 30 lines, Capulet tells her that unless she marry Paris, she can “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,” — hard words delivered with chilling force by Magsy during the dress rehearsal.

When asked how she is able to pull off such rage and cruelty she said, “I just try to understand how he was feeling.”

It isn’t often that 15-year-old girls try to understand the feelings of angry, frustrated fathers?

Shakespeare weaves spells of emotional intelligence that Rubinstein takes advantage of while preparing for the plays.

“I thought the kids would relate more to comedy,” she told me, “but they’re eager to talk about tragedy. For this play, they really wanted to talk about the double suicide, the impact of suicide on families, and the bad choices people can make.”

The preparatory materials were created by Richard DiPrima, a child psychologist who started The Young Shakespeare Players in Madison, Wis., where Rubinstein met him.

Impressed by his model for healthy childhood development, she said she brought his method to western Massachusetts, and YSPE has been producing two plays a year since 2012.

“Shakespeare shows them a range of human emotion and experience that opens their hearts and minds to the world and exposes them to a rich language that they then use to express their own thoughts and ideas,” she says.

It’s probably no surprise that adolescents are capable of inhabiting the extreme passions and mood swings of Renaissance drama, but the comedic portions can be more challenging.

“The audience participates in comedy, and if they don’t laugh, it can bring you down,” said Amalia Rubinstein, 12.

It didn’t seem to be an issue for her during a recent dress rehearsal, when in the role of Juliet’s nurse, she fully embodied the efforts and exasperations of a middle-aged busybody and the implicit humor therein.

Ten-year-old Silas James as Mercutio and Annabelle Fitch as Friar Lawrence also ably provided comic relief in this story of woe.

Critics have decried the characters of the nurse and Friar as meddlesome and ultimately culpable in their clandestine plotting to help Romeo and Juliet consummate their marriage, but watching Amalia and Annabelle in these roles gives another perspective.

Rather than vicariously experiencing the joys of love denied to them, as some critics have charged, Amalia’s nurse and Annabelle’s friar want to help these young people precisely because they are so tuned in to the feeling of love. The nurse’s maternal love for Juliet is palpable, and from the friar’s opening lines, his love for God’s creation — the flower-filled natural world — is fully relatable in New England springtime.

Against the backdrop of “ancient grudges,” the idea thatlove is holy is communicated from Romeo’s first banter with Juliet. Max’s Romeo and Phoebe’s Juliet are as tender and coy as they should be, joking about the other purposes they could put their hands and lips to besides prayer.

Max Shannon, 14, and Phoebe Burch, 13, are emotionally convincing throughout their performances, evincing passion, desire, and finally desperate protest against the profane realities that obstruct their sacred bond. Both young actors wear “love’s light wings” gracefully, showing audiences that “stony limits cannot hold love out, and therefore, what love can do, that love dares attempt.”

The two remind audiences of how the hatreds of the adult world take a toll on the young.

If on the one hand, it is perfectly natural to see adolescent actors playing Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, it is also impressive to see what such a young cast and crew have created.

Rubinstein said she is proud of the way this mixed-age group becomes a “supportive, loving, and accepting” community.

“It’s amazing to watch a child of any age join the ensemble, take on a huge project and walk away with a feeling of accomplishment,” she said.

All performances are free and open to the public. Young Shakespeare Players East is supported by grants from the Montague Cultural Council and Amherst Cultural Council, as well as local agencies, which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.


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