By Katherine Karlson
The young thespians of Endicott Performing Arts Center want their audience to compare them, not to a summer’s day, but instead to the magical, mischievous midsummer night in the eponymous play by William Shakespeare that they will present this weekend (Aug. 18-21) at George W. Johnson Park in Endicott.
“Shakespeare in the Park” has been a highlight of EPAC’s summer schedule since 2004, and this year’s offering is the popular A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Director Dustin Hirthler is now in his 19th season with EPAC, starting as a 14-year-old performer in 2004 and, for the last five years, directing the Youth Troupe as well as serving as an instructor for the Kids Theatre Workshops.
Hirthler is enthusiastic about the potential young people bring to the stage.
“When you work with younger actors, you see a lot of shy individuals who aren’t sure they can do it. When they start to ‘get it,’ they find something inside themselves that makes the audience say, ‘I can’t believe what those kids just did.’”
Some of the actors are as young as seven; some of the teenagers have been on stage for years.
“They can handle it. Shakespeare is timeless. This play never grows old, and they enjoy the comedy, the story lines, the magic it contains,” Hirthler said.
One of the distinctive features of this production is gender-neutral casting. Not only is Puck played by a woman, so are both Titania and Oberon, Queen and King of the Faeries, respectively. “I wanted to tap into the androgyny of the fairies,” Hirthler said.
This production has more music and dance than previous ones in order to recreate a true Renaissance sense of theater and spectacle. Emily Foti, a career dancer and teacher at EPAC, provided appropriate choreography for the cast, and there is even music that underscores certain scenes, which provides a cinematic feel to the play, Hirthler added.
On Sunday afternoon, a Shakespeare Festival will take place before the 2 p.m. performance. At noon, there will be musicians and performers of different genres in the park to entertain and amuse playgoers. “It will feel like you’ve gone back in time to Renaissance England where you can be outside and enjoy yourself,” Hirthler said.
IF YOU GO: EPAC’s Youth Troupe presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream as this year’s “Shakespeare in the Park” production at the wooden amphitheater in George W. Johnson Park, 201 Oak Hill Ave., Endicott. This free performance runs Thursday, Aug. 18, through Sunday, Aug. 21: Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Patrons should bring their own lawn chairs although there is limited bleacher seating. Performances will take place rain or shine. For more information, go to www.endicottarts.com, or call 607-785-8903.