By Susan Shinn
Shakespeare wrote, “The play’s the thing.”
In the Piedmont Players Theatre’s current production of “As You Like It,” the flu’s the thing.
Director Reid Leonard’s cast of 30 fifth- through twelfth-graders has been decimated in recent weeks.
But they’ve recovered and are soldiering on, because as someone else said, “The show must go on.”
“We have no other option,” Leonard said Tuesday afternoon.
“As You Like It” is being performed for the county’s fourth- and fifth-graders through Friday, with public performances slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Meroney Theatre. All tickets are $6 for the one-hour performances.
“As You Like It” is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, incorporating cases of switched identities, political intrigue and, of course, true love.
This isn’t the first time youth theater casts have tackled Shakespeare. Performances in recent years have included “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Comedy of Errors” and “Taming of the Shrew.”
Leonard isn’t intimidated with tackling these plays with young actors.
Shakespeare, he explained, uses so many techniques that other playwrights don’t.
And students who study Shakespeare plays are “10,000 times better” than those who don’t.
“That’s an exaggeration,” Leonard said, “but Shakespeare used hyperbole.”
The plays, he said, are an augmentation of what elementary and middle-school teachers are using in the classroom.
About 60 kids auditioned for the production, which Leonard said was “about normal.”
He cast 30 before the production turned into “plague central.”
“We’ve had four to eight people out a day,” Leonard said, before the whole cast was able to reassemble on Tuesday. “So that’s been rough on this one.”
Leonard said that children who audition either want to be a star or want to come and have fun. What they find, however, is that they have to concentrate and work hard.
“That’s part of the experience,” Leonard said.
Shakespeare’s material is really not that much harder to work with than any other playwright’s, Leonard said. “You approach it the same way you do with adults ó a line at a time. There are lines of poetry and lines of prose. You have to understand what you’re saying. We know we’re playing for fourth- and fifth-graders. We explain a bit of the plot as the play goes along.”
For younger audiences, the production has been cut to one hour.
“As You Like It” takes place in two locations ó at the Duke’s palace, and in the forest of Arden.
Since Leonard didn’t have much of a budget for the set, he asked the children, “It you had paradise, what would it be?”
“Flowers!”, “Hawaii!” and “Whimsical!” were included in the answers.
“We took our gladioli and blew it up really, really big,” Leonard said, gesturing to the huge, striking gladioli which hangs center stage. A full moon can be seen in the background.
A wrestling mat, a la “WWF” will be used for the wrestling scene.
Using modern elements for the staging is nothing new for Shakespearean plays.
“We used vampires in ‘Comedy of Errors’ and there were ninjas in ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona,'” Leonard noted.
To help young audiences better understand the play, PPT board members and parents have been visiting classrooms, giving students an introduction to the show, to Shakespeare and to the basics of theater.
“So it’s not just a field trip,” Leonard said. “Teachers, give your students extra credit and come on.”
nnnCall Piedmont Players Theatre at 704-633-5471.
By Susan Shinn