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By Caitlan Butler

Staff Writer

The Teen Drama Club’s production of William Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will open tonight at 7 p.m. in the Callaway Theatre at the South Arkansas Arts Center.

Co-directors Lynn Gunter and Haley Phillips said working with teenagers on a Shakespeare play has been a rewarding challenge.

“I’ve been very impressed because Shakespeare’s not easy to memorize, and then, once you memorize it, you have to act it, instead of just reciting it,” Gunter said. “I’ve been impressed with these young people. I would put them up against adults in community theater.”

The play is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known comedies. The plot is a twisting tale of love triangles that turn to quadrangles and, eventually, to couples; a conniving Fairy King plotting against his queen; a play-within-a-play; and, finally, a happy ending.

SAAC’s Teen Drama Club started work on the production with auditions in September; they’ve had regular rehearsals since October. Phillips said the community will be impressed not only with what the teenagers can do, but what they wanted to do.

In addition to performing in the play, several teenagers also built or designed several of the technical elements of the production. Hannia Valero is serving as assistant director and stage manager; Josie Denson, who is also an intern at SAAC, choreographed the play; Hannah Hickman composed a fairy lullaby for one scene; and Lily Phillips built all of the fairies’ and lovers’ costumes.

“It was great getting to work on such a large scale, creatively,” Lily Phillips said. “Really grateful for the opportunity.”

Gunter said the teenagers asked to do a Shakespeare production. They settled on an abridged version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” However, despite being a 90-minute adaptation of the play, tonight’s production will use the original language written by Shakespeare in the 16th century.

“It’s not boring. Every time they rehearse, I get another joke, or I get another point,” Gunter said, adding that Haley Phillips keeps the teenagers on their toes by insisting they follow Shakespeare’s script to the letter.

“I wish people would be more open to Shakespeare. It’s not that different; it’s just old,” Haley Phillips said. “It doesn’t need to be scary. It can be a lot of fun.”

The Teen Drama Club is made up of teenagers from area junior high and high schools as well as home-schooled children. Gunter and Haley Phillips both home school their children, several of whom are in tonight’s production. The club has children from seventh through 12th grade.

Maggie Phillips, who will play Puck in the production, said she was glad to take on one of the bard’s classics.

“I think that it’s good that someone is doing something other than a Shakespeare tragedy … It’ll be good to see some of his comedy,” she said.

Walt Phillips, who plays Oberon, the Fairy King, agreed.

“I’m just kind of glad it’s not a musical,” he said.

Lily Phillips will also perform in the production as Hermia. She said she was excited to bring Shakespeare to life and hopefully impart an appreciation for him to the audience.

“I think it’s really great that we’re doing Shakespeare and people don’t realize how great it is,” Lily Phillips said. “It needs to be viewed with a more open mind.”

Most of the teenagers involved in the production said they had been members of the Teen Drama Club since its inception about three years ago. Beckah Gunter, who plays Helena, said having a place for teenagers to showcase their skills without competition from adults has been a good experience.

“I really like that we get to put on a show without all the adults … They can be fun, but it’s good to get to do a show with my peers,” Beckah Gunter said. “We get the job done but we also can build relationships without the adults getting in the way.”

For Josie Denson, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be her last performance with the Teen Drama Club. She has also been involved with the club since it was first formed.

“It was different than what we’ve normally done,” Denson said. “It was definitely an experience.”

Hannah Hickman will play two roles tonight. She will play Peaseblossom, a fairy in Fairy Queen Titiana’s court, as well as Egeus, Hermia’s father.

“I think it’s been really fun. I’ve enjoyed working with everyone,” Hickman said.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will have two productions at SAAC. The first is tonight at 7 p.m.; the second will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets for the show are $5 and can be purchased through the SAAC Box Office.

“I hope it will be a good audience; responsive and really appreciates what [they’re doing],” Haley Phillips said. “I think they’ll be impressed.”

“They need to come prepared to laugh; to be inspired; to be in awe,” Lynn Gunter added.

For more information about the production, or to buy tickets, contact SAAC at 870-862-5474 or at 110 E. 5th St.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or cbutler@eldoradonews.com.

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