The play’s not the only thing Young Shakespeare Players present scenes by The Bard this weekend created using a unique, inclusive model
BRATTLEBORO -- When Suzanne Rubinstein was moving from Madison, Wisc., to Brattleboro there was one thing she knew she had to bring with her.
Trouble is, that thing was an entire theater program called Young Shakespeare Players, founded in 1980 by two child psychologists who thought the Bard’s words would be a good vehicle to help the at-risk youths they worked with express themselves.
From there, it became a mainstay in Madison, giving young people ages 7-18 a chance to explore Shakespeare’s plays, as is, unedited and using an inclusive model that helped them develop as thespians and, more so, as people.
One of those young people was Rubinstein’s daughter Mia, who was bitten by the Bard bug when she was 6, and bitten hard. When the family found out they were moving to Brattleboro so Rubinstein’s husband Matan could join the faculty of Marlboro College, somehow the Young Shakespeare Players was going to have to come along.
"I couldn’t imagine leaving Madison without it," said Suzanne Rubinstein.
With permission from YSP co-founders Richard DiPalma, Rubinstein founded YSP East-New England, the program’s first foray outside of Madison.
"We’re so fortunate he just let us go for it," said Rubinstein.
YSP East started last fall with 19 young people. On Saturday and Sunday, now 22 players strong, YSP East will present "Touches of Sweet Harmony -- Great scenes from Shakespeare" in performances at 1 and 6 p.m., at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St.
The performances, which run approximately two hours and feature different casts, present scenes from "Measure for Measure," "The Winter’s Tale," "Merchant of Venice," "Henry IV, Part II" and "Henry V." All performances are free.
"It’s a mix of romance and tragedy and drama." said Rubinstein, who urged people of all ages to come and enjoy themselves. "It’s not the sit-quietly-on-your-hands kind of Shakespeare. It’s the laugh-out-loud-and-crazy-and-gasp kind of Shakespeare."
The performances offer a glimpse into YSP’s unique way of doing things. There are no auditions or rejections. Every young person who registers receives one or more substantial speaking roles, and casting is done without regard to age or gender. This weekend, audiences can hear an 8-year-old Henry V and an 18-year-old Henry V. Talk about a band of brothers.
YSP is dedicated to exploring these masterful works as they were written, without modernizing or editing.
"(Founder Richard DiPalma) is not editing it down. He feels very firmly ... that young people can handle the material," she said.
The way "rehearsals" run is very different, too. All roles are cast multiply, and various casts run through scenes with everyone else watching. When the scene is over, there is discussion and helpful feedback, with everyone, of all ages, welcome to provide input.
"There’s a very specific culture of feedback. Ninety-five percent of what we call directing happens peer to peer," said Rubinstein.
That spirit extends to staging, tech work and backstage details -- every aspect of the production of multi-age and inclusive.
"It’s a theater program, definitely, but most of the players have never been in theater. It’s actually really a self-growth program," said Rubinstein. "It’s about having a place for young people where they can step into and engage in something that’s truly excellent and profound and deep and beautiful -- and to do it together."
This weekend’s performances, like last fall’s, feature assorted Shakespeare scenes, but Rubinstein is planning for YSP East to do a full-length Shakespeare play -- "Macbeth" -- this coming fall. For information, contact Suzanne Rubinstein at 802-246-1361 or suzanne @ysp.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/yspeast. For about the program, visit www.youngshakespeareplayers.org.
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