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Theatre Under the Trees to stage Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' in York County parks

SAMUEL FROST
YorkDispatch

Theatre Under the Trees will return to several York County parks this year with a modern take on William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."

The comedy tells the story of a shipwrecked woman who enters the service of a duke disguised as a man — things get mischievous when identities are mistaken and several love triangles are formed.

To compliment the confusing mood, the theater set the adaptation in the lull between World War I and the roaring '20s.

"I like to set the scene with costumes and music, but I leave the Shakespeare as it was originally written," said Michelle Denise Norton, founder and director of Theatre Under the Trees, a program of DreamWrights Youth & Family Theatre.

The idea for the setting came last summer when a cast member wondered what the play would be like if it were set 100 years ago.

"My costume designer found these dresses from the Woman's Institute, and in the 1920s, Scranton was a hotbed of fashion," Norton said.

"They had dresses you could sew in an hour, because women would hear about a tea party at 3 p.m. and have to sew their dresses at 1 p.m. — that's how 1920 became the year."

Keeping it lively: "Twelfth Night" is a favorite because it's one of Shakespeare's most entertaining plays, she said.

The production will feature an original soundtrack in the style of early jazz, complete with love songs, bar sing-alongs and a funeral song.

"This is the show that Shakespeare has written the most lyrics for," she said.

"The main character thinks he's in love with Viola — he likes being in love without actually having the girl, in the modern day it's what you'd call 'emo' — he just sits around and listens to sad songs."

The troupe prefers to keep things lively, she said, partially because Shakespeare is often perceived to be slow or inaccessible to some modern audiences.

"A lot of people just read it, but Shakespeare's much better to see performed because it was written for and with actors," Norton said.

"Shakespeare's very musical ... if you read it and don't listen to it, that's part of the problem — plus, everyone grows up thinking all the characters have to die," she joked.

New faces: The troupe is pleased to welcome several new actors and actresses along with returning cast members.

"We've got a really good mix of people who've done it before and a lot of new actors," Norton said.

"The woman playing Feste (the jester) has done a lot of singing, and she came specifically because Feste is one of her favorite characters, so she's having a lot of fun."

The cast sings so well, she said, that many of the script's drunken bar songs actually sound tuneful.

Having newer members helps to keep things fresh and creative while the returning cast members bring their experience, she noted.

"I think it's also good to get teenagers coming back year after year, and to see older actors do what they can do with bigger parts — it's a nice mixture."

After 17 years of performing Shakespeare every summer, Theatre Under the Trees is still finding creative ways to present the bard's lighter material.

"I've done 'Twelfth Night' before, I stick to comedies — comedies are perfect for summer nights," Norton said.

"'Twelfth Night' is one of my favorites to direct because it has a smaller cast and a lot of slapstick — it appeals to my inner prankster."

Performances will be held Friday through Aug. 2 and begin at 6:30 p.m., except where noted:

July 24: Gifford Pinchot State Park

July 25: Brown's Orchard, 5:30 p.m.

July 26: Cousler Park, Manchester Township

July 28: Rudy County Park

July 30: Sam Lewis State Park

July 31: William Kain County Park

Aug. 1: Codorus State Park

Aug. 2: 2:30 p.m. matinee at DreamWrights, 100 Carlisle Ave.