Love’s Labour’s Lost, a musical adaption, opened at the Public Theatre as part of the Shakespeare in the Park series during the Summer of 2013. Almost two years later, Love’s Labour’s Lost opened as the local premier on the stage of the Play Group Theatre in White Plains, NY.
This upbeat musical premiered at the Delacorte Theater in July of 2013, the second Shakespeare play to be transformed into a musical since The Gentlemen of Verona in 1971. I was among the audience of a performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost and watched in awe as actors such as Daniel Breaker and Rachel Dratch recited the words of Shakespeare and then belted new-aged lyrics about young men, rich people and academia. I have always found Shakespeare intriguing, but the idea of modernizing a beloved play like Love’s Labour’s Lost was thrilling.
I played Perdita in a production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale when I was sixteen. Now, I was both excited and curious to find out what it was going to be like watching teenagers perform Shakespeare from the eyes of an audience member and not an actor. As I sat in the seats of the Play Group Theatre watching teenagers from Westchester County play the same parts I had fallen in love with back in 2013, I couldn't take my eyes off the stage.
With a strong cast of mainly high-schoolers, the actors headed into the process of a cross between Shakespeare and a musical and “were all pretty scared of the stigma Shakespeare has. I think it was hard for us to relax and stop being intimidated by the ‘Shakespeare-ness’ of it all” explains Taya Bokert, a junior at Mamaroneck High School who played Katherine. Josh Ackerman of Edgemont who played the King also had similar worries heading into the process. He explained how “it was difficult at first to find the balance between the Shakespearean text and the modernized story” and continued by explaining how “It was also difficult having tech week the week before finals week.” It could be difficult for high-schoolers to grip Shakespearean text in class, but these kids found it easier to relate when bringing these characters to life on stage. Sam Schmaier of Harrison explained “once I put my text to actions and actions to my text on stage, I was shocked at how much sense I could make of words that had previously seemed so unfamiliar to me.” And it showed. The entire cast maintained a buzz within them from the opening chord to the last harmony. It wasn't hard to sense the determination that every actor had towards the show and the dedication that they had put forth. Every moment was hit, and no word of Elizabethan language went was spoken without a strong sense of truth. The actors understood what they were saying and more importantly why they were saying it, which resulted in a beautiful production of the show.
It is so important that theatre is used as a way to educate young actors and to present them with new challenges. For the actors of Love’s Labour’s Lost, many thought that the process was going to be a lot simpler than it turned out to be. “I thought it was going to be easy to play Katherine because she’s a teenage girl who is close to my own age, but it was way harder than I thought” says Bokert. Schmaier, who played Rosaline, added that “going into the process, I believed I would have a pretty easy time understanding my character and getting into the setting of the show. Little did I know how many layers there were to Rosaline, and to all of the characters in Love’s Labour’s Lost.” This production was used not only as an entertainment piece, but also as an educational device for the actors. Bokert eagerly stated how she learned that “Shakespeare is timeless! It is not this big mystery that no one can relate to, and most of what Shakespeare meant can be found by looking at the punctuation or the way things are phrased. I think Shakespeare was trying to make it easy on the actor.” Thomas Levy of Edgemont also learned that “Shakespeare gives you everything you need. Everything is there waiting for you and you just have to use Shakespeare's brilliance to your benefit.”
I admire any teenager who has the courage to memorize Shakespeare and put it on it's feet. However, what these young actors did was a step above. They analyzed, they sang, and they danced- every step, note and sonnet done truthfully and with passion. The production had me laughing and crying (of laugher), and I immediately downloaded the album on Spotify so I could learn all the lyrics. The music in this production was performed beautifully, and was also used to help tell the story. Levy recounted that “besides the music being so amazing and beautifully written, it was super important. We all used the music to our advantage to convey the story which made it easier for the audience to understand the plot.”
The age of these actors did not diminish any aspect of the show, and proved to me that when you provide actors with the proper education and encouragement- no matter their age, they will give you a heartfelt performance with all the clarity in the world. Never let the age range of a cast deter you from attending a performance of any show. Kids and teenagers will prove to be smarter actors than you thought, and will deliver a brilliant performance.