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William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is the reason that director Michelle Denise Norton fell in love with his work decades ago, she said during a dress rehearsal Thursday.

That's among the reasons her York County-based nonprofit performing-arts troupe, The Upstart Twilight Theater, chose the popular Shakespeare comedy for its admission-free string of performances that kicked off Friday night and runs through Sunday, July 28.  

"This (play) is the reason I fell in love with Shakespeare when I was 10," said Norton, who described herself as the "creative engine" of the group. "It's the perfect play to do outdoors, it's a perfect moment of theater. It's very, very funny. But there's some pretty serious stuff, it's not just pure farce."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" revolves around the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta. The story unravels into the adventures of four Athenian lovers and six clumsy, amateur actors who are tinkered with by fairies in the forest.

Actresses lauded the play's comedic nature during a dress rehearsal in West Manchester Township on Thursday, where after stretching and acting exercises they ran through their performance.

Several of them play more than one character and switch costumes while offstage.

"I like the new takes that some of us have taken on the characters," said Paige Gross, who plays Demetrius, one of the Athenian lovers. "For Demetrius, he can be seen as a jerk, and we decided we were going to rebrand him, if you will. We've made him more of an awkward dork. It ended up working out so well."

The physical comedy and moral component of blind love are especially appealing, Gross added.

"I love the comedy, especially the players who are trying to put on a play for the duke and aren't very good at it," said Gina Wagner, who plays Egeus, father of Hermia, one of the Athenian loves, and Peter Quince, a carpenter. "It's just a lot of fun. I like the fact there's not really any villain. It's all fun and games."

Upstart Arts, which was previously known as Theatre Under the Trees, has been performing in York County for more than two decades under Norton's guidance.

The group allows Norton to spread her love of the performing arts to those who may not be able to afford it while giving unique outside performances, she said. The troupe runs solely on donations.

The group kicked off its weeklong series of the Shakespeare comedy at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Gifford Pinchot State Park in Warrington Township. 

The remaining shows will also take place at 6:30 p.m., unless listed otherwise:

  • Tuesday, July 23: John Rudy County Park.
  • Thursday, July 25: Sam S. Lewis State Park.
  • Friday, July 26: Cousler Park.
  • Saturday, July 27: Codorus State Park bandshell.
  • Sunday, July 28: 3 p.m. matinee at St. John Episcopal Church.

Disclaimer: Director Michelle Denise Norton is the wife of Dispatch editor Gayle Eubank, who is also an actress in the performance.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to show the correct location for the performance on Saturday, July 27.

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