Teen helps kids put on short play
It took a lot of shushing to get the play started. Between the noise of nearly 100 audience members and the scuffle of 50 children backstage, the faint welcome to William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' was difficult to hear.
But once it got started, the audience quickly quieted to enjoy the latest installment of the Oak Hill Neighborhood's backyard Shakespeare.
Friday's production, which took place on a backyard patio strung with sheets and curtains obviously pilfered from local homes, is the third production in a series that started last year when Jacob Benfell found the 'King Lear' edition of Shakespeare in a Box, a version of the play abridged to 45 minutes, and decided he wanted to perform it.
'I had never heard of it,' Benfell said. 'It turned out I really like
Benfell turned to his teenage baby sitter, Chelsea Frandsen, to help fulfill his long-held dream of starring in a play, and she willingly assumed the role of directing and choreographing a cast of small actors.
'I wanted to jump up and hug him,' Frandsen said, recalling her reaction to Benfell's suggestion. 'I was bored; I wanted to do something.'
Frandsen quickly followed the successful staging of 'King Lear' with a production of 'Taming of the Shrew,' also out of a box, but this play did not go nearly as well.
'Taming of the Shrew was half disaster,' Benfell said.
The children staged and rehearsed 'Taming of the Shrew' in July, when many children went on vacation, so the play was not very well rehearsed, according to Frandsen. 'Mostly, I was just running around backstage prompting them,' she said.
Much more time and effort went into producing "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Frandsen started working on the script that she abridged herself last September, cutting it to a shorter production with child-size soliloquies. Frandsen also had to raise the limited funds needed for costumes and scenery before auditioning the children.
"She talks about it constantly for weeks," said Frandsen's mother, Dawn Frandsen.
Before beginning the short three weeks of rehearsal, Frandsen also auditioned all of the children wishing to participate in the production.
All of the children went through a cold reading of the script and Frandsen rated them on a scale of 1 to 10 and analyzed other factors such as how the children carry themselves and how they perform the scene. For this particular production, Frandsen auditioned around 70 children.
The children have nothing but giggles and good memories of the afternoon rehearsals that lasted for an hour and a half daily.
"It's very satisfying," said Chase Acheson, who played Bottom in Friday's production. "We put in a lot of effort, and it brings good memories. It's always fun to change your lines and stuff."
Frandsen may not remember the rehearsals quite so fondly, remembering nearly losing her voice and consistently quieting her cast, but she has a wealth of stories from directing the children and the gratitude of a yard full of parents.
"It's all owing to Chelsea," said Sarah Davis, who had three children in the play. Davis said the summer Shakespeare has built her children's confidence and even helped her son Henry land the lead in his elementary school's production of "A Christmas Carol."
Frandsen does not plan to stage another play this summer, but she eagerly discussed her choices for next year.
"I think I'm going to do one per summer," she said. She is looking at a comedy, such as "As You Like It" or "Measure for Measure," but much of her cast would much rather perform another tragedy, such as "Macbeth."
"Tragedies are fun," said 11-year-old Diane Cardon, who played Helena in Friday's production.
Clearly the children enjoyed their participation in the backyard play, complete with an uncontrolled and delightful dance scene, and young actors smiling in spite of themselves.
"For me it's not how good it is; I want them to feel good," said Leslie Benfell, Jacob Benfell's mother. "I love that it's a kid production. It comes from their desire and interest and they love it."