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Putting a young face to classic theater

September 20, 2005|by Lydia Hadfield

What do you think when you hear the name Shakespeare? For many, Shakespeare brings to mind stodgy academics, abstruse language and moldy books. However, the Shakespeare Generation thinks differently.

Based in Shepherdstown, W.Va., the Shakespeare Generation is a theater company composed entirely of people younger than 21 years old. Clara Rubertas and Sarah Thomas, both 14 at the time, created the Shakespeare Generation in January 2000. Since then, the company has secured grants from The Arts and Humanities Alliance of Jefferson County and produced nine Shakespeare productions. According to producer and longtime cast member Erik Anderson, 20, the company is now able to fund its shows through admissions and ads.

Putting a young face to old work is what the Shakespeare Generation does. The company often updates play settings to the modern era to emphasize the continuing relevance of Shakespeare's work. Their most recent production "Much Ado about Nothing," took the story out of 16th-century Europe and into the modern corporate workplace.

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"Once you start to understand Shakespeare, you really understand how great these plays are - they're hysterical!" said LeClair Windle, 20, the Shakespeare Generation's treasurer and last remaining original member.

Imparting that understanding to the audience is one of the challenges of performing Shakespeare, especially when cast members might be as young as 8. There were some doubts from the public at first as to whether the project would succeed, but it's evident that the company has done well.

"By now we have an audience that returns every time," remarked Sarah Pearson, 18, who has been with the company for about two years, "I do hear some parents say, 'I wasn't expecting much but, wow! You guys did a good job.'"

Though mastering the lines and understanding the plot can be difficult than working on other plays, performing Shakespeare has its rewards.

"It's a good feeling when you go into an English class and you can read Shakespeare because you've done this," Windle said.

"To be honest with you," said Anderson, "(It) makes me feel intelligent."

So if you think Shakespeare is for dull, old people, think again.

"I would encourage people not to be skeptical about something that seems to be unusual," says Pearson.

"Never in my life have I encountered a more friendly, outgoing group," Anderson said.

"It's a fantastic experience," said Windle.

"I only hope it continues for a long time," added Pearson.

Now that many of the Shakespeare Generation's leading members are in college, the company has produced only summer shows for the past few years. Shows are usually held at the Shepherds-town Train Station.

Shakespeare Generation typically performs during summer. To receive information about auditions and upcoming shows, visit the Shakespeare Generation's Web site, www.shakespearegeneration.com and join their mailing list.

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