Three local productions available to fans of the stage this weekend address the issue of childhood in their own way.
At Sage Ridge School in south Reno, students in the drama department began last week their production of the William Shakespeare classic “Romeo and Juliet.” This story of young love put on by a cast of young people has been transported from the era of the Bard to America in the 1920s.
The idea to put the Montagues and Capulets in pinstripes and flapper dresses sprang from the imagination of 15-year-old sophomore Helena Von Nagy, who plays the role of Mercutio and also designed the play’s sets. She said the idea for the new time period came to her not only because she is fond of its style but because the story’s concept of rebelling against parents fit in well with the era.
“If you read about 1920s, the social conflicts and prevalent themes fit into the plot of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” she said.
Senior Emily Pierce, who plays Juliet, said that while researching the play’s dialogue she and the other actors, with the help of their drama teacher and director, discovered something about the relationships between the young characters and the adults.
“We came to realization with our director, Mr. (Cameron) Crain, that the adults in the play act more like children than children do,” she said.
The young actors from Sage Ridge have their hands full not only learning Shakespearean language but also portraying a depth of love that is elusive at any age. Seeing young actors learn their craft is a passion of local actor and community theater director David Zybert, who is at the helm of a one-night-only presentation of “Dead Air” on Saturday at the Atlantis Hotel Casino.
“Like everything else, acting is something that develops over time,” Zybert said. “I liken it to an infant: An infant starts in life and they don’t see anything except what’s right in front of them. Then they discover they have hands, then that they have feet, then they see their parents and gradually their world gets bigger and bigger. Acting is much like that. When you start you learn the basics: walk on stage at the right time, hit your marks, say your words and get off stage. As your acting skills expand, you start realizing where you fit in the bigger picture. One of the things I enjoy working with novice actors is watching that discovery that they’re part of a bigger whole and where they fit into that bigger whole.”
“Dead Air” is a comedy dinner mystery play, Zybert said, that is also this year’s fundraiser for TheatreWorks of Northern Nevada. Part of the proceeds from ticket sales will support TheatreWorks’ teen and youth acting workshops and programs. Though the beneficiaries are the community’s young actors, “Dead Air” primarily employs older actors, many of who are seasoned veterans of the local theater community.
The story takes place in the 1970s and is centered around the fictional 37th anniversary airing of the “Guy Godfrey Show,” a radio broadcast that hasn’t changed since the time of Sage Ridge’s “Romeo and Juliet.” A cast of zany characters — including Godfrey, who remembers nothing and calls everyone Larry; child star Lil’ Mary Alleghany, who never grew up past age 9; Sven Herberphupen, the maestro whose orchestra is forced to play from another room; and so on — must solve a mystery when an intern turns up dead.
Only one of the cast members is young — 14-year-old Sparks resident Nasya Mancini — but the experience of working with veteran actors will pay off in the long run for her, Zybert said.
“The most important thing that Nasya will get as a young actress is the opportunity to work with older, seasoned and skilled actors who can take her talent and ability to another level,” the director said. “She’ll learn to work in an ensemble cast and her self-confidence will improve.”
Two other local young thespians who will benefit from the experience of older actors are brother and sister Quinn Ross, 12, and Kieran Ross, 9. They are playing two of the Lost Boys in the musical “Peter Pan,” opening in the Eldorado Showroom on Friday. They will be part of an international cast performing the show through Jan. 1, 2012. Both said they have been in lots of shows, but this is by far the biggest and they have been practicing hard for it.
“I sing in the bathroom,” Kieran said.
“Our mission at the school is to give students the opportunity to have professional stage experience,” said Mig O’Hara, a teacher at Fascinating Rhythms, an acting academy in Reno that worked with the “Peter Pan” production to provide talented local children such as the Ross siblings.
Penni Tovey, who plays the title role in “Peter Pan,” says maintaining a high energy level is key to any character whose target is young audiences. As for her character, he embodies the youthfulness people try to retain as they get older.
“Look at all those face creams and the makeup and the things that everybody including men as well as women try to do stay young and youthful,” she said. “We get to the gym and we work out and we look after ourselves and eat the right food. Everybody wants to stay as young and fit and as healthy for as long as possible. Peter Pan embodies that.”
“Romeo and Juliet” plays at 7 p.m. today and Friday at Sage Ride, located at 2515 Crossbow Court in Reno.
“Dead Air” plays Saturday at the Atlantis. Doors open at 6 p.m. with a dinner and auction. Tickets cost $45 in advance by calling 722-2155 or $50 at the door. For more information, visit www.twnn.org.
“Peter Pan” plays weekends through Jan. 1, 2012. For ticket prices and showtimes, visit www.eldoradoreno.com.