by ALEXANDRA RETTER
With masks on and hand sanitizer ready for use at the side of the stage, members of the Winona Youth Shakespeare League, a local student-run theater company, are in the final stages of rehearsing for their production of William Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” amid restrictions related to the pandemic.
The original plan was for the production, which includes cast members from Winona Senior High School, Cotter Schools, Bluffview Montessori and Jefferson Elementary, to take place in May, Founder and Director of the Winona Youth Shakespeare League Emma Bucknam explained.
“We pushed back production a little bit in hopes that some of what was happening would calm down a little bit,” Bucknam said.
The first read-through of the play and work done on understanding Shakespeare’s language were completed over Zoom. When Governor Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order expired, cast members began to meet at the Lake Park Bandshell with parental permission.
“Our general rule is that yes, you need to be wearing a mask to be at rehearsal, and hand sanitizer is of course a huge priority,” Bucknam shared.
At this point in the rehearsal schedule, cast members are off-book with their lines memorized, Bucknam said.
“We have a group of tech people who’ve been putting together all of the costumes and props, and later this week, we will be adding in the hair and makeup element of things … And originally, were were going to set it a little more strictly in the 1970s, but it is very difficult to procure accurate costumes on a budget, so it’s ‘70s-inspired, summertime ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’” Bucknam stated.
Cast member Madison Bell has enjoyed seeing fellow cast members and acting on stage during rehearsals. Cast member Hazel Mihn has found it fun to be on stage and is feeling confident about the upcoming performances.
Cast member Addy Krase has appreciated getting to know how rehearsals and productions work, as her sister has acted before, as well as being around her fellow cast members. Cast member Willa Krase said Shakespeare is a passion of hers, and she enjoys building community and developing characters with fellow cast members.
Cast member Viva Graff has appreciated applying what she knows about analyzing Shakespeare’s plays to being part of a production of one of his works. Cast member Hannah Graff has found developing a character to be interesting.
Last year, the company performed “Romeo and Juliet,” one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, so Bucknam thought producing one of his comedies, such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” would be fun this time around.
“It [‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’] also has such a great ensemble cast,” Bucknam noted. “It’s not like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ where there’s two main characters and everyone else doesn’t have as much of a chance to shine. This one, every character has an opportunity to have their moment.”
Comedies are great to perform amid the pandemic as well, Bucknam said, “just because there’s so much darkness in our world, and it’s important to be able to take a break from that and just enjoy a little bit of humor and a little bit of coming together as a community as much as you can with all of the limitations right now.”
Bucknam has been involved with Great River Shakespeare Festival youth programming for many years.
“The Great River Shakespeare Festival has been a huge help and support to our group,” Bucknam stated. “I know pretty much everything I know about Shakespeare thanks to them.”
The Winona Youth Shakespeare League grew out of Bucknam’s enthusiasm for the Bard and wish to share his work with others, she said. She wanted to try directing to supplement the acting she had done previously, she explained.
“I’ve always thought it’d be great to have some sort of student group outside of school to do Shakespeare specifically, because Shakespeare is such a passion of mine, and I think his plays really sum up the human experience,” Bucknam noted. “I wanted to bring that to more people in a way that was free and really accessible.”
Bucknam saw her first Shakespeare play at the Great River Shakespeare Festival when she was eight, and she plans to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting from a collegiate program with an emphasis on Shakespeare.
“I love his humor and his wit and the way that he can so accurately represent a person with his language, from the difficult parts of the human experience, but also the humor and the brightness of life,” Bucknam said.
She said she will continue to help and support the company in any way she can.
The Winona Youth Shakespeare League’s performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be live streamed on Facebook and YouTube at 7 p.m. on June 27 and 28. The group aims to keep in-person attendance to family members and friends of cast members for the most part, Bucknam explained, and those in attendance will be social distancing and wearing masks. Others who attend in-person are asked to wear a mask.