Shakespeare for Everyone

 

2000
St. Francis College
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book by Renée Bucciarelli & Matthew Burgos
based on the play by William Shakespeare
music by Da Burgos Brotherz, Anna Chapman & Lesley-Ann Giddings
directed by Renée Bucciarelli

 

Last summer, Matthew Burgos came to me, his Teen Music Theatre Workshop teacher at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, and Benny Russell, his composition teacher and Head of the Jazz Division at BCM, with a wonderful idea:  let’s get the two classes together to create an “urban,” musical version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.   At that time I was unaware that The  Bombitty of Errors was fast becoming an off-Broadway hit, and thought the idea extremely fresh and exciting.

But where to begin?  We started with a handful of students:  Matthew and brother Andrew, Lesley-Ann Giddings, Anna Chapman, Miranda Knutson, Alex Kasden, Alexa Roitman, and Stephanie Susberich, none of whom knew the play all that intimately.   We set about familiarizing ourselves with the structure of the original play, its plot, and characters.  Then began an exciting round of discussions in which we attempted to delineate contemporary parallels to situation and character.   Who were the fairies?  Were they aliens — for example who’d landed in Prospect Park to observe the foolish actions of mortal earthlings?   We ultimately chose to keep them the closest to Shakespeare’s originals, the speakers of the play’s most exquisite poetry, albeit now in the style of hip-hop.  The “rude mechanicals” of  Shakespeare’s original became a bumbling but sincere teen band, eager to perform for the Welcome Back to Brooklyn celebration.   “Duke Theseus” became our “Bottom’s” uncle, the  “Officer Duke” who is to be crowned King of Brooklyn for bravery at that celebration.   “Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons” became Ms. Lita Pollit, principal at the high school the teens attend in our version.

 And so we began to write.   I’d bring in a scene, we’d read it together and teen editorializing would begin: “No one gets ‘grounded’ anymore, you’re on ‘lock down’!”.  As the excitement grew, others tried their hands at a scene or two.  My (and Benny’s) turn to editorialize:   “Yes, Dimitri‘s a snake, but he’s not a drug dealer!”  Soon songs inspired by scenes began to be added to the mix.

David Rivel, the Director of BCM caught wind of the excitement the project was creating and graciously let us continue through the year with this unprecedented experiment at the school.   As the group grew to its present large size, the inherent diversity of it gave us all perhaps our most meaningful lessons.  In sketching comic characters issues of archetypes and stereotypes inevitably arise; I am truly proud of my students for their willingness to explore with open minds and unflinching honesty very personal issues of age, gender, and ethnicity, and to transcend their own notions.   If these teens are reflective of our city at large, the future looks mighty good!

This project was selected to be part of the Brooklyn Arts Exchange Teen Arts Festival and (from the life-imitating-art file) was featured at the Welcome Back to Brooklyn Festival on the WNYC Stage. 

Thanks to Deborah Wright Houston and Liz Shipman for their enthusiasm for the project.

 Renée Bucciarelli

 

CAST

The Lovers

Helena

Alexandra Kasden

Dimitri

Andrew Burgos

Mia

Lesley-Ann Giddings

Luis

Matthew Burgos

The Adults

Theseus Dukakis

Jorge Torres

Regis Hillman

Jonathan Plaud

Lita Pollit

Anna Chapman

The Band

Quincy

Alisheba Johnson

Bottom

Kevin Alexander

Snoopy Snoop Carla Emanuele
Flutie Tyrone Williams
Fattie Anna Chapman
Slam Rosa Schneider
Will Will De Natale

Girl Fairies of Prospect Park

Titania

Miranda Knutson

Peaseblossom

Alisheba Johnson

Cobweb

Carla Emanuele

Mustardseed

Alexandra Kosmala

Boy Fairies of Prospect Park

Oberon

Evan Franca

Puck Erik Stewart
Changeling Boy Josiah Johnson
Krysta Klear Matthew Burgos

Breakdancer

Lavall "Brisk" Chichester

Breakdancer Eddie "Special Ed" Chaudry
Breakdancer Red "Red Reb Alpano
John Flaherty* Michael Ray Escamilla*

Design Crew

Jonathan Plaud

Anna Chapman

Special Thanks

David Rivel, Director of Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and staff; Jennifer Newell, Alex Veselo, Peggy McNeil and especially, all the parents for their help and support.

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