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Colorado Teens Tackle Shakespeare

  • Shelley Schlender

Americans love Shakespeare. His plays have been adapted into popular musicals and movies … there are 80 Shakespeare festivals across the country … and in Colorado, young teens are producing a light-hearted version of one of the Bard's romantic comedies.

As a cool evening breeze settles over Boulder, Colorado, dozens of youngsters, teens and adults head down a suburban driveway, toting lawn chairs and picnic dinners. They are ushered to their seats by middle school students wearing lavish Elizabethan gowns. "Thouest must go that way," whispers one girl dramatically as she points toward the backyard, "to go to the wonderful dilly dally." Another usher giggles as she adds, "Thus comes together to talk Shakespeare."

Tonight, most of that talk will be happening on a makeshift stage as these pre-teen and early teenage actors perform a real Shakespeare play. One of the ticket takers says that he's been practicing, and declaims one of his lines, "'Antonio, I arrest thee a suit at Count Orsino.'" He says he memorized his lines, noting "everyone had a lot of lines."

The grownups in the audience are proud of what these kids have done, especially the man hosting this backyard production. He laughs as he admits that he is well acquainted with the show's director. "My daughter, she put it on." Dan Miller explains that his daughter, Bay, got involved with Shakespeare in elementary school. "Her teacher does a production every year and she just caught onto it and enjoyed it, and she puts on her own production every summer."

Tonight, Bay is wearing a beautiful burgundy-colored Elizabethan gown, because in addition to directing this play, she's one of the actors. In fact, this 13-year old Shakespeare dynamo says that she even made a few decisions about just how much of the play to present tonight. "A condensed version," she calls it, "one hour."

As Bay hurries backstage, her dad and a hundred other audience members settle into lawn chairs, eager for the play to begin. A handful of teens and children dressed as clowns crowd together, mischievously watching as Bay steps onto the homemade stage.

She starts to announce the program. "The North Boulder Shakespeare Festival would like to present William Shakespeare's comedy…"

Suddenly, the clowns break in. "To be or not to be! That is the question!" they yell.

"No!" Bay yells back, and gamely continues, "We'd like to present…"

She's interrupted again, prompting laughter from the audience. This time, the clowns choose a line from MacBeth: "Double-double, toil and trouble!"

Finally, the clowns let the play begin. It's Twelfth Night, and the actors remember most of their lines. During intermission, Boulder city official Alice Swett takes credit for helping to fund this backyard neighborhood show, through a program she administers. "[It] gives grants to youth for cultural activities such as this one," she explains. "Bay Miller, who is the 8th-grade producer of this production, applied to the youth opportunities program for a grant. And the youth board, which is 16 high school students, reviewed the proposal and gave a grant to support this production."

Bay used the grant money for a better stage, some props and more authentic costumes. In addition to leading this annual neighborhood event, Bay is helping with costumes at a professional theatre production… the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, one of the top Shakespeare festivals in the nation.

But tonight, her focus is on the Shakespearean production in her own backyard, and the applause and cheers of her delighted audience.