William Shakespeare's notoriously cryptic writing has finally hit the local stage, but not in its traditional fashion. Shakespeare in Paradise, a professional, nonprofit theater company comprised of both adult actors and student interns, will present its second production, "A Midsummer's Night's Dream," at Barron Collier High School beginning this Thursday.
The company was founded by John McKerrow in 2011 to help local audiences truly understand the genius of Shakespeare's writing, especially for students who study his work. He saw the need in Southwest Florida for this niche in drama and thought it would be a good business opportunity.
"People who read Shakespeare never know what it's really like because it was originally meant to be seen," said McKerrow. "It isn't as hard as you think. If the actors and directors do a good job, the audience will understand."
The idea of having interns stemmed from economic reasons, but McKerrow realized its educational value for students. They learn the stages of creating a production from concept to performance through various tasks — studying with actors, filling in play parts, behind-the-scenes backstage work, and even the business end.
Barron Collier High School has partnered with Shakespeare in Paradise to make its auditorium the company's permanent home. Negotiations were made with the help of Pam Grabczynski and Chris Johnston, who have both worked in the school's Drama and English departments for many years.
This year's current production is "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a comedy about the fickleness of love, directed by McKerrow. Ten student interns from ages 12 to 27 years old are working alongside six professional actors, learning the ins and outs of the field along the way.
Fifteen-year-old David Federman is a sophomore at Barron Collier and is in charge of the show's lighting.
"I prefer technology to acting," said Federman. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is his first show with Shakespeare in Paradise, but he also participates in his high school's drama program.
Luciano Marsalli fancies the stage instead. At age 12, he has performed in eight full-scale operas and multiple plays; for "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he will be playing Mustard Seed and the understudy for Puck.
"My favorite part is the director, John McKerrow. He's good at giving direction in a nice way and is easy to work with," said Marsalli. He plans to continue interning for Shakespeare in Paradise.
McKerrow studied Shakespeare at Southern Connecticut State University and at HB Studios in Manhattan, and has worked off-off-Broadway, on tours, in regional theater, and on television.
He found some of the best local talent to create his ensemble of actors, adults and students alike. McKerrow then chose Rhona Saunders and Paul Graffy as officers for the Shakespeare in Paradise board of directors to iron out the structure and organization of the company and ultimately make it a reality.
Now in its second season, Shakespeare in Paradise's first performance of the year was "Macbeth: A Love Story" at the Naples Botanical Garden. With only four actors, the show went mobile and performed at local high schools such as Lely, Gulf Coast and Barron Collier. After the performance, they held a one hour talk-back session when the students had their questions answered. The results were hugely successful.
"I love the mission — to bring understandable, professionally performed Shakespeare to the community and young people," said Saunders, who has been involved with theater in Naples for the past 20 years. "When I was a high school and college student, forced to study Shakespeare, it was difficult to comprehend and boring. Only after watching his plays performed did I begin to understand the brilliance of the writing."
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be performed at the BCHS auditorium on March 22, 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31. It starts at 8 p.m. and is roughly two hours long, including intermission.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, with 10 percent of all proceeds benefiting the Barron Collier Drama Department.
For more information about Shakespeare in Paradise, visit www.facebook.com/sipnaples.
McKerrow plans to carry out another full production next year with a different Shakespeare play, along with other smaller productions.
"It's very exciting to create a new company and bring something to Southwest Florida that is needed," he said.