Bill Vanderclute stands in front of the stage, watching a group of eighth grade actors as they rehearse "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." Vanderclute stops the action. He singles out one actor, whose character has just been spurned by a lover, and helps her find her motivation.
"Your boyfriend just broke up with you," Vanderclute said, "Then you go home and you’re parents yell at you because you haven’t cleaned your room, then they tell you your aunt, who you hate, is coming to visit."
Vanderclute says he uses familiar scenarios to help his teenage actors relate to their characters. The director, who teaches English and drama at Flint Hill School, has been overseeing the school’s annual middle school play for the last four years. He says this year’s play, Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," is difficult because in many scenes there are long pauses between dialogue. This means the actors had to learn to act with their movements, instead of with their words. In one scene, for example, Hermia wakes up in the middle of a forest, abandoned by her male companion, Lysander.
"Talia [Samuelson], who’s playing Hermia, had to learn that what is scary is the silence," Vanderclute said. "So there are long pauses where she is completely silent."
<bt>And while the silences create one challenge, the language of the play presents another, according to the actors. "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," like all of Shakespeare’s work, is written in the old-fashioned dialect of Middle English.
"The language is really difficult," said Katie Croft, playing Titania. "No one is used to speaking Shakespearean English."
No one is used to hearing Shakespearean English, either, added Doug Flynn who plays Demetrius.
"Since the audience may not really be able to follow the dialogue, you definitely have to be more expressive so they know what’s going on," Flynn said.
For Samuelson, acting in the play means more than just memorizing words. She says she has carefully studied Shakespeare’s lines to understand their full meaning.
"Instead of just learning what I am saying, I have to think about how I’m supposed to feel," Samuelson said.
<bt>The play opens on Thursday, Feb. 28. Vanderclute says the few weeks before opening night are the most nerve-wracking. At a recent practice he said he was scared because the actors were not ready and a "ton of stuff" needed to be done. At the same time, he said, "a ton of stuff" was happening to push the play forward.
"The biggest pay-off is on opening night, when I sit down to watch and it is totally out of my control," Vanderclute said. "We’ve got kids doing everything. Eighth graders are doing the lights and sound. We’ve got a student stage manager."
And although the actors admitted they will probably be nervous on opening night, Kyle Kubin (Puck) predicted that those nerves will quickly subside.
"Once you get on stage it just flows naturally," Kubin said. "You’re not nervous at all."