By Josette Keelor - firstname.lastname@example.org
MIDDLETOWN - The opening scene of Wayside's Education in Action program's upcoming play begins with anger, dissolves into utter chaos and magically resolves itself peacefully -- completely indicative of the story it precedes.
William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which begins on the stage at Central High School on March 5, teams amateurs with professional actors to provide a comedy to suit all ages.
In its third year doing Shakespeare, the program's director, Sarah Blackwell, says "the kids are just eating it up. They love it."
Though choosing a Shakespearean play each spring had been a fluke -- first with "Romeo and Juliet," next with "The Comedy of Errors" -- it caused Blackwell to make a decision about the future of the program: "The spring show is always Shakespeare." In the fall they will perform something else, but each spring they will return to Shakespeare, she says.
Studying the work of the 16th-century playwright has been fun for the young actors, who carry the weighty task of conveying the seemingly ancient text to the audience as well.
The actors have spent much time just learning about the language and the stage techniques needed to perform the show, Blackwell says. A Shakespeare boot camp and stage combat fighting workshop have helped the teenagers to better get into character.
When they understand what they are talking about and have fun with it, audience members will as well, says Blackwell.
One thing they learned is that the play is not so old-fashioned, and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is mostly action-packed comedy.
In the recent rehearsal, actors were throwing punches, using choke holds and cheering on a duel between an Amazon and an Athenian, in a scene invented for this rendition, which moves the traditionally 16th-century Greek setting to 1980s America.
The Athenians and Amazons represent a '70s society that is somewhat out of touch in the 1980s world of Fairyland, whose inhabitants dash into that first scene doing "The Egyptian" and tossing about fairy dust in an attempt to bring peace and order to a world at war.
"And then everybody falls in love -- so that's our opening," says Blackwell.
"That is the fantastic thing about 'Midsummer Night's Dream' -- you can do anything with it and it won't ruin the story," she says.
When she and costume designer Tamara Carruthers were brainstorming ideas for the production, they decided on the '80s music because Blackwell wanted the show to have a youthful energy to it.
"My youth was in the '70s and '80s," she says.
Carruthers suggested '70s clothes for their Greek accents and fun, poppy music from the '80s to suit the fairies.
The rest of the story keeps to the original plot: the lives of four young people become entwined when love offered is not returned, and supernatural intervention makes it all even worse.
As expected, the scene is not all love and fairy dust for long.
Hermia and Lysander want to marry, but her father does not approve. When the father appeals to the ruler, Theseus, he tells Hermia either obey her father or die ... or join a nunnery. When she and Lysander flee into the forest, her best friend Helena tricks her other suitor, Demetrius, into following them. Helena is in love with Demetrius, but he does not return her feelings.
When the fairy king Oberon and his minion, Puck, try to intervene, Puck accidentally performs a love spell on the wrong person, and emotions run amok.
Meanwhile, two other plot lines compete for the spotlight: Oberon's fight with his wife, Titania, and a small band of actors practicing to perform a play for the impending wedding of Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.
"That's what comedy is all about," says Blackwell. The more complicated the better.
Blackwell called for Carruthers' skills again during the many fight scenes throughout the play. As a stage fighting choreographer, it's Carruthers' job to make sure the actors know what they're doing.
"We take it very seriously when it gets to the fighting parts," Blackwell says. "We ensure their safety."
For Margot Cramer, 14, and Jessie Kraemer, 15, playing the roles of best friends comes naturally, because they have been best friends for years.
Cramer, as Helena, and Kraemer, as Hermia, are not worried about having to fight later in the play.
"It's the challenge of acting," says Cramer.
"We like each other for half the show," says Kraemer.
Playing their love interests are Benton Yang, 17, as Demetrius, and Daniel Russell, 16, as Lysander.
"I like Lysander much better than Demetrius," Russell says.
"I like Lysander much better than Demetrius," Yang agrees, laughing. He had played the role in a theater class.
Neither minds having to play the unsavory character, though.
"The thing I like about acting is I can step out of my character and be ... different," Yang says.
They also enjoy being able to work alongside professional actors in a Wayside production.
"It's a lot more focus," Kraemer says, explaining that the atmosphere is different when the actors really enjoy what they are doing and want to be there.
Wayside intern Eddie Staver III, 27, is the only professional actor in this year's production. As Oberon and Theseus he has a lot of opportunity to act in opposing roles.
Playing Theseus only at the beginning and the end, with Oberon in charge throughout the show, Staver tries to make them "as distinct as I can," using a big, boisterous voice for Theseus, and a low, mischievous voice for Oberon.
Working with 17-year-old Jessica Davison is another perk of the role of Oberon, he says.
Davison, who played one of the Dromio twins in last year's "The Comedy of Errors," is no stranger to the stage at Wayside. As the tiny goblin Puck, Davison offers a formidable contrast to Staver's towering Oberon.
She looks forward to acting "little and wise at the same time and know everything," she says. "He thinks he knows everything, but he doesn't," she elaborates.
After two years on the stage at Skyline, the show will move to Central High School this year. Blackwell hopes to find a different location each spring.
"We're trying to expand out into the community," she says -- "where the kids are."
Wayside Theatre's Education in Action program will perform Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" March 5-7 at Central High School at 1147 Susan Avenue, Woodstock. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and more information, call the Wayside box office at 869-1776 or visit the Web at www.waysidetheatre.org.