It takes a village
Story and photos by Tracy Maike Kehr
The Dogwood’s Summer Youth Theater performed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream July 28 and 30 to a packed house. What a dreamy (and free) performance it was. With over 44 actors, stage hands, choreographers, costumer, makeup assistant, construction manager, director and assistant director, it definitely took a village to run this production.
Beginning in early June this team dedicated their days to getting to rehearsal on time, four days a week for two plus hours a day. The actors are from all over the county and one even driving here from Lansing to be a part of this production. The director, Chelsea Webb is a resident of Newaygo and calls the Dogwood her second home.
“This was my 13th year directing. I started by acting in two SYT (Summer Youth Theater) shows and when the original director got busy with college after 2 years, I offered to take over. The rest is history. It's definitely a labor of love as it takes a lot of time to produce.
"In addition to practices most nights, I usually come in 2-3 hours before the kids and spend many weekends at Dogwood. This year the backdrop itself took near 30 hours and the rest of the set pieces take anywhere from 5-20 hours each to build and paint. In total, it's probably 100’s of hours, but I've never sat down and counted exactly how many. It's why I call Dogwood my second home. I practically live there in the summer”
Not only does Chelsea work hard, but she enlists her entire family.
“My mom assists with directing, my dad in set building, my sister helps with tech, sets, and anything else I ask of her. Two of my brothers act in it. My third brother video tapes the performances so we can give the kids copies of the show. This year my niece and nephew both acted in the show.”
Chelsea said that if I she had to pick just one thing that keeps her coming back every year, she’d have to say it's the kids.
“The kids are amazing to work with and always keep things interesting. We created a safe place for them to come, act, and get to know other kids from around the county. It's important for kids to have a place they can feel safe and with no other theater groups in the summer and school being out, we provide that. Two years ago I was allowed to revive the theater program at Newaygo High School. Now that I'm with White Cloud, I would love to be able to do the same thing. It really depends on how much interest there is, but I would really love the opportunity to work with WC students.
"in the immediate future, I will be taking a little time to relax with my daughter before I start preparing for school. I have a new classroom to set up and college classes to prepare for. Beyond that, I plan to continue SYT for years to come.”
Parents, students and each person in this production have put their hearts and their time into their individual job in the performance. Whether you drive the actors and pick them up or learning pages and pages of lines the group is strong because of each other. The lessons learned will carry on in their lives and future endeavors.
“Theater connects to the importance of reading. A play has the ability to jump a story off the page and bring it to life. This can be a revelation to regular bookworms, but also a real boon to reluctant readers.” says Kim Peter Kovac, President of Theatre For Young Audiences/USA (TYA/USA), a national organization for professional children’s theaters.
Maybe next summer your child would like to audition? Time and dates are posted on the Dogwood’s facebook page.