William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” performed by BYU Young Company, is currently touring and performing for elementary schools across the Salt Lake Valley. On-campus performances will be available at the West Campus Studio Theatre on March 15-18 and 22-25 with an American Sign Language interpretation on March 23.
Kris Peterson is the director of the production and said she has had a clear vision for it since the very beginning. Peterson has been a professor and director at BYU for the past five years. She is best known for her directing in BYU productions “Letters from Cuba,” “Manual for a Desperate Crossing,” “Cyrano,” “Comedy of Errors” and “Luna.”
Peterson has directed this specific show multiple times before, however, this production required a different approach. Peterson said because it is a touring show there were several changes that had to be made.
Moving locations for each show requires the set to be practical to travel with, Peterson said. This led Peterson to the idea of making the production set look like a slumber party. With a blanket tent, pillows and a quilt, the set creates a familiar feeling for the students, she said.
One of these changes included cutting the show to an hour long to focus on educating and entertaining elementary school students. From calling students up on stage to join the actors in the middle of a scene to having small dance parties during scene changes, the students are engaged throughout the entire production, she said.
Peterson said she believes this interactive approach is very successful. “I think Shakespeare is actually meant to be very interactive,” Peterson said. “It was written in a time period where the audience would have been very visible to all of the actors on stage. And the audience would have responded to the dialogue and the action that was taking place.”
According to Peterson, the Young Company actively asks the kids to “contribute creatively to what they are doing on stage in a way that changes the action of the play.” Peterson continued saying, “The kids are able to save the action and see what happens with these characters based on their creative contributions.”
BYU freshman Abby Kraczek works with the Young Company as their stage manager. Her role includes traveling with the team, setting up and taking down the set, running all tech elements throughout the production and making sure that the show runs smoothly.
Kraczek agrees with Peterson, saying the audience participation makes the show unique and “really unpredictable.” This unpredictable element of the show is one that Kraczek said she loves, saying it is rewarding to watch the kids’ reactions, expressions and opinions each night.
Cast member Coleman Harper said he shares a similar love for the interaction aspect of this production. He said, “This engaging style of theatre benefits them. Lots of kids need an escape and theater is a good way to do that.”
Harper mentioned how “fulfilling” it is to be able to provide that escape. “Being able to laugh for 45 minutes to an hour is something that the world needs, and kids need,” he said. “Because it is scary out there, and here, in our show, it’s fun and hopeful.”
Harper said he believes the purpose of the Young Company group is to “empower kids.”