The word “immature” should not be used to describe members of Gamut Theatre Group’s Young Acting Company.
Though all are students with ages ranging from 6 to 19, when they get on stage, they are not kids. They are experienced professionals.
For the past nine years, Gamut has put on a large-scale production of a classic story acted entirely by young people. While stories have previously ranged from fairy tales to coming-of-age stories to big adventures, this year, the Young Acting Company is trying something new. They will be putting on a production of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”
Director Melissa Nicholson said that, while they have previously never done a Shakespeare play for this production, she felt that the students were up to the task of handling and working with more challenging material. The early-modern language is typically a barrier for young people when approaching Shakespeare, and it is probably the most dreaded thing covered in a high school English class—teenagers abounding with claims of “too hard” and “olde English.”
Gamut, as a theater company, has always been devoted to making classic stories accessible. Where the language seems confusing at first, the ideas still resonate. The Harrisburg Shakespeare Company does its educational outreach production of a modified Shakespeare play that is short and easy to understand, usually with added narrators to help frame the story. Additionally, the Gamut Theatre Summer Academy hosts acting classes for four weeks, where students work with a variety of texts, including two full weeks of Shakespeare.
It is still a challenge, however, because the subtlety of the texts—and wide variety of interpretations—can be daunting.
“For the actors, the most important thing is to get the story across, regardless of your interpretation,” Nicholson said.
This is why the students undergo in-depth table work, where they discuss and analyze the text, what they are saying, and what it means to their characters.
“We focus a lot on making the story very clear and intentional, and they have been working really hard at it,” Nicholson said. “They really do most of the stuff that the adult actors do in the Main Stage productions, and they are up to the challenge.”
“As You Like It” is a Shakespeare comedy that suits all fancies. Nicholson believes that this is demonstrated by the title.
“He didn’t name it ‘Rosalind and Orlando’ or ‘The Duke’s Gone Crazy,’” she said. “By naming it ‘As You Like It,’ I think Shakespeare is sort of saying, ‘Here are all of the things you like,’ and put them in a play.”
More than a fun play, the story resonates with all ages, as it explores love and the things that happen when someone falls in love.
“We get to poke fun at being in love,” Nicholson explained. “And I think that makes the experience really relatable.”
More than just putting on the production, the Young Acting Company also provides an important mentorship opportunity. With such a wide age range, the younger students look up to and rely on the older students for support and guidance. A number of the older kids have been actors in the Young Acting Company since small children themselves.
“They understand the high standard that I hold them to, and the younger cast members see that and really emulate that,” Nicholson said.
In a way, Nicholson believes this gives her the opportunity to be and create positive role models that encourage students to pursue the arts, while honing a skill that is evident in the production.
The story within “As You Like It” reflects the fun that is central to the Young Acting Company’s goals. With a cast of more than 50 actors, they are able to create a tiny world for the play.
“In many of the shows we do, we try to keep our cast under 20 actors,” Nicholson said. “But getting the opportunity to have 50 or more actors really allows you to think creatively in presenting a whole village or crowd to the audience.”
These crowd scenes help to communicate the tone and attitude of scenes that the audience tends to imitate. In addition, it gives the ensemble the ability to play with the environment surrounding the story, giving the play depth and interest that can be lost in a show with a smaller cast.
All of this contributes to the immersive and developed experience that is a Young Acting Company production.
“You don’t have to be a kid or have a kid to watch these shows,” Nicholson said. “Really, these young people are so talented, and they make the story so clear, and they have fun while they’re doing it.”
“As You Like It,” performed by Gamut Theatre Group’s Young Acting Company, runs April 12 to 14 at Gamut Theatre, 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-238-4111 or visit www.gamuttheatre.org.
UPCOMING THEATER EVENTS
AT HARRISBURG’S PROFESSIONAL
At Gamut Theatre
Young Acting Company
Presents William Shakespeare’s
“As You Like It”
April 12 to 14
Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
TMI April Show
At Open Stage of Harrisburg
“A Wrinkle in Time”
April 11 to 14
Madeline L’Engle’s classic novel is brought to life by the OSHKids Performance Company.
“The Kids You Read About in Textbooks”
April 7, 14, 28 at 7 p.m.
At the Susquehanna Art Museum
Kids react to the political and social issues that face their generation.
“RENT: School Edition”
April 25 to 28
The Teen Studio at the Alsedek Theatre School presents this groundbreaking musical.
Musical Theatre Master Class
With Lara Hayhurst & Trey Compton
May 6 at 7 p.m.