Stories: Winning Juliet focuses on the new girl at a high school who runs into unexpected animosity and resentment by some established ‘popular’ students when she decides to audition for the female title role in the school’s production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo & Juliet.
Quick Delight 12th Night is a lively, truncated version of The Bard’s comedy, Twelfth Night, which will be performed in a full-length version as Shakespeare Festival’s 2013 production in Forest Park. All the World’s a Stage is described as “scenes from Shakespeare’s greatest hits” by Christopher Limber, education director for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, who wrote this 40-minute adaptation.
Highlights: One of the benefits that Shakespeare Festival St. Louis brings to the community is its education tour. From January through May, a gifted troupe of players under the leadership of education director Limber performs at schools throughout the metropolitan area. Fact is, they’ve journeyed as far as northwest Arkansas to bring the Bard up close and personal to students.
Additionally, another arm of Shakespeare Festival called Metro Youth Shakespeare recently performed a nifty little work by Limber and Elizabeth Birkenmeier titled Winning Juliet. The “Kids for Kids” production smartly demonstrates what the impact of cyber-bullying can be in the age of Facebook and Twitter.
Other Info: Winning Juliet, which was presented April 28 through May 4 at Clayton High School, cleverly lays out in one act and one hour how the age-old problem of bullying can be exacerbated in the modern era. Julie (Abigail Oldham) has just transferred to Stratford High School, home of the “Pursuing Bears.” She is intrigued by a notice of auditions for the school’s upcoming production of Romeo & Juliet.
Almost immediately, though, Julie is dismissed as a second-class citizen by the ‘cool girl’ at school, Gwyneth (Dasia Vence). Further, Gwyneth or rather her pushy, shallow mom (Christina Rios) has decided that she’ll be playing Juliet and others shouldn’t even bother trying out. That’s OK with Gwyneth’s trio of mindless sycophants, Carmen, Khadija and Kayla (Aevion Dancy, Rachelle Martin and Zoe Achilleus, respectively), but Julie wants to take her chances.
Encouraged by the drama teacher (Rachel Fenton) and a fellow student named Tyson (Leo Ramsey), who is pursuing the other title role, Julie takes a most unusual approach to her audition, with surprising results.
Birkenmeier and Limber cleverly utilize an intriguing media design created by Michael Perkins that uses a background screen to enlarge Facebook postings, texts and other modern modes of communication. There’s even a local TV reporter shown on the scene of Julie’s alleged suicide, which was discovered on YouTube.
Director Emily Kohring smartly guides her mostly student cast through a plot that carries a critically important message that references identity theft and fraud as well as physical intimidation in the school corridors. Music director Limber carefully intersperses original music by Dave Torretta to make the medium of the message relevant to 21st century kids.
David Blake’s straightforward scenic and lighting design conveys much with an array of props provided by Anna Blair and the teamwork of the cast. Elizabeth Henning adds the contemporary costumes and Melfreya Findley offers original choreography.
Oldham and Ramsey successfully lead an enthusiastic cast that also includes Chuck Lavazzi as the bewildered school principal, Gabrielle Greer as the vapid TV reporter and Tyler Smith, Katie Kohler, Sariah Henning and Emily Jackoway as other students. All of the students attend the Grand Center Arts Academy, the Clyde Miller Career Academy, Oakville Senior High School or Webster Groves High School.
For the education tour, Limber leads a marvelously agile and energetic troupe comprised of Anna Blair, Robert Mitchell, Michael Perkins, Laura Sexauer and Eric Dean White. These savvy professionals know how to deliver comic lines with maximum impact, whether employing a lower-class English accent (Blair) or demonstrating the pomposity of the dupe of Twelfth Night, Malvolio (Mitchell).
They can wield a mean stick to propel a puppet playing a Fool (as done by Sexauer) or convey the bluster of Sir Toby Belch (White) or the temerity of Andrew Aguecheek (Perkins). They move at a dizzying pace in which they nonetheless make myriad costume changes as well as dance between a plethora of characters they bring to life.
A handsome background piece that depicts the Old Globe Theater utilized by William Shakespeare and his company provides all the setting required for Limber’s adaptation titled All the World’s a Stage. White is delightful as a genial if stage-frightened Will (no reference here to leaving his wife a used bed in his will), while the others cavort as various characters from the pages of Shakespeare on the imagination of Limber.
They explain what theater was like, both behind the scenes, on stage and in the audience, in Elizabethan England as well as perform makeshift vignettes from various works by Will, mostly comedies. Truth be told, this is the weakest of the three endeavors but perhaps the most educational.
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ educational tour has reached tens of thousands of students this winter and spring throughout the metropolitan area and even beyond. It will be even more rewarding if many of those same students trek down to Forest Park later this month or next to see a full-blown version of Twelfth Night after having their appetites whetted by such passionate artists.
Plays: Winning Juliet, Quick Delight 12th Night, All the World’s a Stage
Group: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Venue: Area schools
Dates: Through May 18
Info: Contact 531-9800, ext. 101 or firstname.lastname@example.org