Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011

Local theater troupe Acting Up (in Acadiana) kicks off a year of activities celebrating the world’s most famous bard. By Erin Z. Bass

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  Photo of SYSE members Destin Briant, left, and George Saucier by Robin May

Led by Amy Waguespack, Acting Up (in Acadiana)’s Summer Youth Shakespeare Ensemble started in 2001. Waguespack had created a similar program at the University of Maine and wanted to introduce kids in Lafayette to William Shakespeare when she moved to town. Now, 10 years later, the theater camp is filled to capacity and has been so successful that Waguespack, along with local architect Hector LaSala, who’s served as set designer since the camp’s inception, are looking to franchise the idea.

While working out the details of how to take Summer Youth Shakespeare on the road, Waguespack has also developed a series of events to celebrate the camp’s 10th anniversary and the poet and playwright who inspired the program. First up is a Bard Yard Bash at Blue Moon Saloon Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving. Local bands like Feufollet and Fights and a few singer/songwriters will compose to Shakespeare’s songs from works like Twelfth Night, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For those who have a hard time wrapping their heads around a Cajun band like Feufollet singing Shakespeare, Waguespack can explain: “When we say Shakespeare songs, obviously we don’t have any of his music that survived, at least that I’m aware of,” she says, “but there are lyrics written into many, many of his plays that were intended to be sung.”

Danny Devillier has composed for many Shakespeare plays as music director of Summer Youth Shakespeare for the past seven years. His band Fights has been working on its Bard Yard set and plans on performing three songs. “The songs are really short, so the neat thing about transferring those to Fights [style] is we have to elongate them and write lyrics,” he says. “It’s just these weird styles, one that sounds like a bossa nova, one that sounds like Tom Waits and one that sounds like hip hop.”

He says his band mates have taken extra liberties with the hip hop version of Shakespeare, writing a rap over a song from Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of the playwright’s early comedies. “It’s refreshing,” Devillier adds, “and way different than anything we normally do.” 

Waguespack, who fell in love with Shakespeare during college, can’t remember how many of his works she’s directed over the years but admits she’s not a traditionalist. “I leave the language intact, but I try to set it in places that are relevant for a contemporary audience,” she says. For that reason, selling Shakespeare to kids ages 10-18 for 15 days during the camp each summer has been easy.

“In a few days they mount a full Shakespearean production,” Waguespack says. “I’m amazed every year.”

Leading up to the 2012 camp will be several other Shakespeare-themed events at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. The first weekend in January, at the start of Mardi Gras season, Acting Up will present Twelfth Night. Attendees are invited to come in costume, as themes of masking, drunkenness and overindulgence will be prevalent. In March, longtime collaborator with Acting Up and Los Angeles director Justin Zsebe brings Hamlet Prince of Puddles, an adaptation for all ages that will be part of AcA’s Youth Performance Series. The celebration wraps up in July when Summer Youth Shakespeare Ensemble presents five public performances of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Starting with Bard Yard Bash, Waguespack hopes “A Year of Shakespeare” turns out to be something the playwright would approve of. “A lot of people want to come and see men in tights and pumpkin pants and all that, but I think he would be pleased that there’s still a contemporary take on his works that were written so long ago,” she says.

That doesn’t mean a few performers won’t show up at Blue Moon in Elizabethan garb. Waguespack confirms that one singer/songwriter is in search of an ensemble, and she’s determined to help him find it — and help Acadiana gain a new appreciation for Shakespeare.

Bard Yard Bash will take place Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 8 p.m. at Blue Moon Saloon. Admission is $10. Tickets for Twelfth Night go on sale at the Acadiana Center for the Arts Nov. 25. For more information, call 739-4273.

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