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Clockwise from center: Edwin McGuffin, Ian Faul, Jackson Schneider, Carson Strang, Bonnie Blue Roy, Henri Allemond, Zach Menard, Josh Castille.
Photo by Robin May

Now in its 10th year, a Shakespeare camp for youth brings intensity to the AcA.

Love’s Labour’s Lost isn’t just another of Shakespeare’s plays about to close out its run at the Acadiana Center for the Arts this weekend. It’s also the 10th anniversary of the Summer Youth Shakespeare Ensemble.

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Summer Shakespeare Theatre alumni team, from left, front row: Kara St. Clair, Amy Waguespack (director) and Sara White; back row: Chanee Briant, George Saucier, Harmony Decker and Cameron Metrejean. Photo by Robin May

For a decade now, Acting Up (in Acadiana) Productions, under the direction of Amy Waguespack, has brought children and teens, ages 8 to 17, together for an intensive crash course on all you need to know about putting on The Bard. The production and everything having to do with it takes place at the AcA. Curtain Friday and Saturday is 7:30 p.m.

From acting to set design, dance to music, this energized group of 40 or so are immersed in a 15-day performance-arts camp that concludes with a full-blown, albeit edited, Shakespeare performance.

“I wanted to have a program where students could have a full performing arts experience in a fairly compressed amount of time where it wasn’t going to take up their entire summer,” says Waguespack. But it will take a chunk of each day with acting, dance, music and design that begins in the morning with just classes. “And in the afternoons, it’s their practicums where they apply what they’ve learned and when they’re actually rehearsing the play, and actually rehearsing the dances and songs that are going to be in the play, and working on design projects.”

And that is exactly what has many campers coming back each year as a participant, or as an instructor.

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Known simply as Summer Shakespeare, the camp has a profound effect on those who experience it. “I just think it’s a rad program. I have fun every year,” says assistant director Kara Guarisco, who was a camper for three years and an instructor for six. “I had fun as a camper,” she says, adding nearly wistfully, “in a perfect world, I’d still be a camper.”

Because of her experience, Guarisco recommends the summer camp for kids who lean toward the arts because of all of the aspects it touches on. “It is holistic in the way that it incorporates all of the art forms that are required of theater, so you really get a variety of training – if you’re a kid and you don’t really know what you’re into yet,” she says. “If you’re into music, you can go hang with Danny [Devillier] and work on music. If you’re into set design, you can go hang out with [architect] Hector [LaSala].”

“If you’re really into acting, you’re in it all of the time. If you’re into movement, you hang out with [choreographer and dance instructor] Esther Winn,” says Guarisco. “So, it really caters to children’s needs and what they want to do, what they want to accomplish.”

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Katherine Durel, who graduated from St. Thomas More, is in her fourth year with the summer program. She’ll be heading to New York and a conservatory known as Collaborative Arts Project 21, where she’ll study performing arts, specifically musical theater. “I like the bond everyone has here,” she says. “The acting coaches really connect with the students, and then the students are able to connect so well with each other since we’re together 11 days straight.”

In the relatively short period of time, campers learn to “really trust each other and we create friendships and bonds you really don’t find anywhere else,” she says. “I feel that Summer Shakespeare and working with Miss Amy in general has really prepared me and trained me to take the next step, to rise to another level.”

Durel says she has been involved in similar acting programs. “The training here is just a little bit higher. They treat us as if we’re mature young adults and teenagers,” she says. “They trust us and just give us tips and training that I’ve been able to carry though high school and I’ll hopefully be able to carry it through my next stage in life.”

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l-r: BOTTOM ROW:Andre Lafleur,Zoe Chauvin,Morgan Weathers,MIDDLE ROW:Catherine Durel,Maddie Dartez,Lilllian Feist,Kennedy Broussard,Sarah Cook,Kaitlin Romero.:Andre Lafleur,Zoe Chauvin,Morgan Weathers,MIDDLE ROW:Catherine Durel,Maddie Dartez,Lilllian Feist,Kennedy Broussard,Sarah Cook,Kaitlin Romero.:Andre Lafleur,Zoe Chauvin,Morgan Weathers,MIDDLE ROW:Catherine Durel,Maddie Dartez,Lilllian Feist,Kennedy Broussard,Sarah Cook,Kaitlin Romero.TOP ROW:Lily Broussard,Stephani Griechen,Lily Wu-Laudun,Ana Maynor
Photo by Robin May

Since 2005, Danny Devillier has been the music composer/teacher with Summer Shakespeare, and in recent years, he’s a part-time performer in the production. In the process, though, he gets the campers to be a part of the musical accompaniment when and where they can.

“But because most of the characters have lines within a certain context, they can’t always play their instruments,” he says. “But a lot of them do play instruments — a lot of talented kids this year.”

Devillier wants the campers to be aware of what they bring to the production, musically, even if they aren’t playing an instrument or singing. “In the big picture, I would hope that they can realize that all of them have music inside of them when they’re speaking a line, the projection of their voice, the pitch of their voice,” he says. “Not to sound cheesy, but to find their inner musician and apply that toward their role on stage.”

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BOTTOM ROW-L-R: Alix Basden,Seth DeRoche,Joey Mills,Belle Saucier,Francesca Tauzin. TOP ROW: Maddie Martin,Samantha Degeyter,Ian Bonin
Photo by Robin May

So, we know what this particular member of the staff has in mind for the campers, but what does someone like Devillier get out of his job? “Ah, man, what do I not get out of it,” he says. “This camp is intense. This is kind of everything all at one time.

“To me, from a musician’s standpoint, this is what you live for,” he says. “You get to do it all. You get to teach people. You get to write for a certain setting. You get to try to perform it. It really is an all-encompassing thing.”

The house band, so to speak, in Love’s Labour’s Lost also consists of Summer Shakespeare alumni, says Devillier. “It’s nice to see after 10 years that we’ve graduated some musicians who can step into that role and do the job.”

Jesse LaSala, Hector’s son who assists Devillier, was in the first-ever production of Summer Shakespeare and caught a few shows here and there. Now he’s returned to help out.
“I always wanted to come back, and this is the first opportunity I got to,” LaSala says. “I’ll be working with one of my long-time mentors.” (Devillier also taught LaSala in high school marching band.) “So, it’s coming full circle.”

Pre-sale tickets are $12 and $7 for students through high school. AcA members get a $2 discount on pre-sale tickets. To purchase tickets, call (337) 233-7060; you’ll pay a $1 surcharge. To purchase tickets online go to www.acadianacenterforthearts.org; tickets purchased online have a $3 surcharge.

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