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Working hard about nothing

by Lenise Willis

Reading Shakespeare’s classics, his eloquent language and doths and thou arts can be complicated even for adults, much less High School students trying to complete their required reading. But what about elementary school kids? Well one group of children is not only following along to the complicated love story of Benedick and Beatrice, but they’re tackling the production of Much Ado About Nothing to bring it to life.

This week The Drama Center’s Children’s Theatre is performing a youth production of Shakespeare’s classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing, in which the main characters Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into admitting their love for one another. This is the third year of the Youth Shakespeare production by The Drama Center.

“I have kids in grades three through nine loving Shakespeare; how cool is that?” said Rosina Whitfield, youth theatre director.

“They love the battle of wits between Beatrice and Benedick in the play and the ‘merry war betwixt them,'” Whitfield continued.

Of course, keeping up with Shakespeare’s brilliant prose isn’t the only challenge for such young actors. Understanding the many notions of love, its subtleties, and even sometimes contradictions can be difficult for young minds to grasp. As we all know, love is just complicated—especially Shakespearean love. “They have a little trouble with the transition to them falling in love,” Whitfield said.

She said it’s also been a challenge getting them to do the necessary kiss, but they’re facing that fear and awkwardness, too, like champs. Overall, the production has had a lot of learning opportunities to help the young actors develop their skills. “The comedy is broad and visual; the serious moments are universal and consist of recognizable themes and emotions. The young actors are finding places in the script where they can add to the humor and tension in the play,” Whitfield said.

“I have had to tell them they can’t crack up during the show. I love that they get and appreciate the comedy but I need to point out that the audience is meant to laugh but the characters need to take it seriously. Nobody writes like Shakespeare and it’s exciting to see the young people really enjoying it.”

Besides honing their acting skills, the children in the production also greatly benefit from the opportunity from an educational and literary standpoint. They aren’t just learning how to stage kiss and develop their characters; they’re also learning about a great literary classic at a very early age—something that will help them in school later on.

“What is really gratifying for me is to see the young people not only understanding but really getting to love the Shakespearean language,” Whitfield said. “Many of them were in last year’s production of As You Like It and they have told me that in school when they have to study Shakespeare they have a leg up because they understand and appreciate it.

“Shakespeare was meant to be acted — not just read,” Whitfield continued. “A friend of mine likens reading it to going to a restaurant and eating the menu.”

“I have spent much of my career getting young people to love Shakespeare,”

Whitfield added. In fact, Whitfield has two Shakespearean adaptations that have been published, one of which was performed at the High School Theatre Festival held a few weeks ago in Greensboro.

In addition to the youthful spin to the classic, The Drama Center’s production has a few other twists, too, including two live violinists. “The music is provided by the actors in the show,” Whitfield said. “We have a dance and a wedding, and we are utilizing two of the actors’ violin skills, which is great.”

The play is also a shortened version, running for only an hour and a half, and takes place outside, making it a wonderful environment for all ages. Whitfield suggests that audience members bring a picnic and blanket or chair. !

WANNA go?

The Drama Children’s Theatre is performs Much Ado About Nothing, Friday through Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the Tanger Bicentennial Garden, 1105 Hobbs Road, Greensboro. Donations are accepted at the performances. For more information, call the box office at 336-335-6426 or www.thedramacenter.com. The play features 20 local young people in grades 3-9.

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