Category Archives: Theatre Under the Trees

Top 10 Best Moments of DreamWrights 2016

As we countdown the days to 2017, our twentieth year, we take a moment to relish our accomplishments and great memories from 2016.

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10. Our transition from a Youth and Family Theatre to a Center for Community Arts

In March we began to transition our identity from a Youth and Family Theatre to a Center Community Arts. Building characters for life became our mantra while putting growth center stage was identified as the inspiration behind our capital campaign. As a Center for Community Arts, a new Innovative Programming Committee was formed and wasted no time sponsoring DreamWrights’ first Open Mic Night. Budding comedians, talented musicians, and a friendly faced magician graced the stage of our relaxed and casual space. We had so much fun we are planning to do it again soon!

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Zombies in the elevator at DreamFrights

9. New camp and event programming

This year, DreamWrights offered a wider array of art and performance based camps as well as a few new events. Our first ever DreamFrights Haunted House was a huge success! With different fright levels, we were able to entertain young ones up through older kids and adults who enjoy the thrill of the scare. We hosted a tea parties during the runs of The Secret Garden and The Adventures of Peter Rabbit and we had cookies, cocoa, and caroling with Santa, Dorothy, and the Wizard in Oz earlier this month. Flippin’ Broadway, a cabaret of Broadway show tunes with a fun twist, was a crowd pleaser in February.

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As for summer camps, this year we offered 24 different exciting and creative camps. These included three Disney performance camps, 101 Dalmatians, Cinderella, and Aladdin. We also held art camps taught by local artists Rita Whitney and Karen Paust, a digital photography camp taught by Randy Flaum of White Rose Community TV, and a poetry class taught by York’s poet laureate, Christine Lincoln. We are planning equally innovative, clever, and exciting camps and classes again this coming summer. Spread the word and tell your friends!

8. Our beautifully designed sets

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The Secret Garden

This year, DreamWrights raised the bar with our set design by employing the talents of some amazing designers and builders. Fifteen year old first time set designer, Jacob Schlenker, gave a beautiful and sassy makeover to the set of Legally Blonde. The first ever DreamWrights raked (sloped) stage was designed by Billy Ferrell for The Adventures of Peter RabbitAllen Brenner brought us a beautiful two story set staged in alley configuration with the audience on two sides for The Secret Garden. Most recently, the illustrious Ray Olewiler designed a magical set that was over the rainbow.

7. The enthusiasm and energy that Guest Directors bring

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Guest Directors Andrea Unger and Chris Quigley

This year, DreamWrights benefited from the expertise of five guest directors: Andrea Unger (Our Miss Brooks and The Adventures of Peter Rabbit), Nic Ecker (Legally Blonde), Michelle Denise Norton (As You Like It), Kirk Wisler (The Beverly Hillbillies), and Jaci Keagy (The Wizard of Oz). In anticipation of the upcoming season, where we will be using six guest directors and three guest assistant directors, a formalized guest director process was introduced. The first introduction and kickoff meeting for guest directors was held in early December. Please join us in welcoming Guest Directors Rodd Robertson (directing Pride and Prejudice), Andrea Unger (Peter Pan and Mary), Michelle Denise Norton (The Taming of the Shrew), Timothy Storey (The Mousetrap), Chris Quigley (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), and Jaci Keagy (It’s a Wonderful Life) as well as Guest Assistant Directors Amanda Nowell, Kevin Alvarnaz, and Andrea Unger. We hope that our improved processes for these guest directors will make for an even better experience for our crews, casts, and audiences!

6. Our community celebration to kick off our capital campaign

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On June 30, to kick off the public phase of our capital campaign, we threw open wide our doors and invited the local community to meet our refreshed Center for Community Arts. Nearly 200 friendly faces joined us in the celebration. This exciting event featured performers and artists that included: YWCA’s Temple Guard Drill Team, Devix, Kingsfoil, Weary Arts Group, First Capital Drumline, Illstyle & Peace presented by Positive Energy Arts Foundation, and DreamWrights’ own Theatre Under the Trees and StAGEs troupes.

 

5. Our StAGEs program winning a Nonprofit Innovation Award

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In February, DreamWrights was awarded a Nonprofit Innovation Award in the category of collaboration with StARTSomething by the Central Penn Business Journal for our work with StAGES, our creative improv class for folks 55 and older. StAGEs encourage active participation in the performing arts. Thanks to additional support from the Cultural Alliance Creative Impact Award, this year our StAGEs troupe has made new friends, new memories, and has had tons of laughs while enjoying the benefits of “creative aging.”

4. A successful internal transition

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This year we honored the career of founding member, Diane Crews, and we welcomed Hilary Adams, our new Director of Artistic Programming. Diane’s DreamWrights career was memorialized in the naming of our black box theatre. Hilary has hit the ground running as she is currently finalizing the crews and casts of her first DreamWrights production, Babe, the Sheep-Pig.

3. Being on TV and performing to sold out crowds

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We ended the year with a bang as we enjoyed our 4 minutes of fame on Fox 43‘s morning show on December 1. It was a great way to kick off our run of The Wizard of Oz as nearly every show was sold out. Our hearts, minds, and confidence was renewed as we remember that there’s no place like home – or your second home – as many of you call this place known as DreamWrights.

2. Community support of our capital campaign

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Executive Director, Ann Davis, with Mayor Kim Bracey and York City Solicitor and DW Board Member, Jason Sabol at Hats at the Hound fundraiser event

What began as a dream took a foothold in reality this year with the funds we have raised towards our capital campaign. We brought our message to the broader community through fundraising events like Hats at the Hound. Although we have not met our goal of $2.5 million dollars, we are standing strong at $1.8 million with phased construction plans and approvals from the appropriate local municipalities to begin moving forward with our construction this spring. We are excited for the opportunities the future holds with the new studio space, upgraded building enhancements, and expanded programming. We have received some amazing support from businesses and individuals alike. We thank you for your support. If you have not done so already, we graciously ask you to consider helping us get closer to our goal.

1. You walking through our doors

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Your involvement is what makes DreamWrights the amazing community it is. People of all ages, from all backgrounds and experiences are welcome to safely explore the arts, try new things, and be part of something bigger than themselves. DreamWrights builds characters for life. We look forward to working together with you again in the coming year to create our best, brightest, and biggest year yet!

Happy New Year from DreamWrights!

Announcing our 2017 Season Lineup and 20th Year Milestone

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Not only does 2017 offer what promises to be a highly entertaining year of theatrical programming for DreamWrights Center for Community Arts, but also marks the theatre’s 20th year anniversary. “2017 will be an exciting year for us at DreamWrights,” comments Ann Davis, DreamWrights’ Executive Director. “Especially for those of us who are founding members and have been involved since the beginning, it is great to see the organization grow and develop. Since the beginning, DreamWrights has been offering educational and mentorship opportunities across multiple generations, while constantly strengthening our reach and impact on the greater York community. The 2017 season is well positioned to continue this growth.”

With shows from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, to the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Hilary Adams, Director of Artistic Programming, says that this season will provide opportunities behind the scenes or on the stage for the seasoned DreamWrights participant as well as those thinking about trying something new. Adams explains, “We have comedies, dramas, and musicals. We have classic and modern text. On the technical side, we will be creating a diverse variety of theatrical worlds. We look forward to engaging the community and welcoming people to DreamWrights.”

This season, DreamWrights is proud to stage a world premiere by local playwright, Paige Hoke, Peter Pan and Mary or, the Girl Who Would Not Be a Lady, a prequel to J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. For anyone familiar with Hoke or her work, this anticipated event promises to be popular for crew, cast, and audiences alike.

In addition, the 2017 season brings to life theatrical adaptations of books and films, including Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, family favorite, Babe the Sheep-Pig, and holiday staple, It’s a Wonderful Life. Adams reports, “In terms of education, adaptations provide an opportunity to experience a story in different forms. You could see the stage version first then work backwards, for example, watching the movie then reading the book, and then compare and contrast the differences between the various art forms.” She suggests this season provides plenty of inspiration for launching a reading club. “These adaptations would be fun to read and study. It would an excellent educational opportunity to look at an age appropriate theatrical adaptation, ask questions about the differences in the forms of the story, and then play with adapting a scene from the book or film to the stage.”

For summer time programming, DreamWrights’ Theatre Under the Trees brings Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew free to York County parks. Since 1998, Theatre Under the Trees has provided classic Shakespeare with a modern twist to fans and families.

DreamWrights 2017 season kicks off with Babe, the Sheep-Pig which runs February 10 – 26, followed by Pride and Prejudice (March 30 – April 1), Peter Pan and Wendy or, The Girl Who Would Not Be a Lady (May 5 – 21), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (June 22 – 25), The Taming Of the Shrew (July 21 – 29), The Mousetrap (August 11 – 20), Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (October 6 – 22) and It’s a Wonderful Life (Dec 1 – 17). For further information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.dreamwrights.org.

Summer at DreamWrights

Meredith Singleton is embarking on her senior year at York Suburban High School. She is the President of the Trojan Theatre Club, plays violin with the York Youth Symphony Orchestra, sings with the York County Honors Choir, and represented her school last year at Regional Chorus. Her busy school and activity schedule doesn’t permit her to get involved at DreamWrights during the school year but for the past three summers, Meredith has participated with DreamWrights’ Shakespeare program, Theatre Under the Trees.

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Also this summer, she added something additional to her resume: Teen Camp Counselor.

As a rising senior, Meredith knows that she needs to soon decide what she will do after high school. With her interest in theatre, she decided to volunteer as a teen counselor at four DreamWrights summer camps. She explains, “I’ve been looking at colleges but I had no idea what I wanted to go into. Now I have a better idea.” Never having worked in a classroom before, Meredith confirmed her interest in teaching and theatre and recently has narrowed her college search to schools offering theatre arts and either early education, music education, and/or museum studies.

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Meredith remembers, “I liked working with the kids. It was a lot of fun. I had a good experience doing stuff with them.” DreamWrights’ Summer Camp Coordinator, Hannah Kohler recognizes that she has a knack for working with younger kids in a theater environment, “I was very impressed with her work ethic. She is very proactive and I could always count on her to ask about the next thing. At times I have to tell her to go home.”

Calm and effective, Meredith was exposed to a variety of age ranges of campers. She loved that she could really see a difference in the campers from the time they arrived on the first day to when they performed on the last. “When I was working with the really little kids, there was this one girl who was so shy she didn’t want to talk to anyone. She was crying the first day when her mother dropped her off. But then on the last day she actually got up on stage to do her thing. I was so proud of her. “

DreamWrights is lucky Meredith decided to spend so much of her summer at the theatre. The only regret she has now is having more time during the school year to participate at DreamWrights. “That’s the one thing I regret about my busy schedule. If I had the opportunity to, I definitely would do more.”

A Summer Institution: Shakespeare Free in the Parks

For its 18th summer, Theatre Under The Trees is adding a modern, musical twist to the classic Shakespeare comedy, As You Like It. Theatre Under The Trees has always brought unique, show-specific music to York County audiences thanks to co-founder, music, and voice director Gayle Eubank. Eubank will be composing original music for the five songs included in the play, taking inspiration from the late 1980’s. These songs will be performed by Strange Oaths, a five part band created just for the show.

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Band Strange Oaths, a band original to Theatre Under the Trees’ As You Like It. (left to right) standing: Johan Unger, Jesse Stagg, Gayle Eubank, seated: Andrea Hammond, Erika Broadaway

Shakespeare’s As You Like It begins with a bitter fight between brothers, followed by a wrestling match with a surprising outcome. Then banished cousins Rosalind and Celia travel to the very musical locale of Arden, where they are surprised to find love letters posted everywhere proclaiming Rosalind’s virtues. Once the mysterious suitor is revealed as Orlando, Rosalind takes advantage of her boyish disguise to educate him about the truths of women to the amusement of Celia and her jester, Touchstone. Rosalind’s banished father and his friends and a trio of shepherds are added to the Arden mix for even livelier entertainment.

Sponsored in party by the Hall Foundation, As You Like It opens on July 22, 6:30 pm at Gifford Pinchot State Park. 7 performances follow. Bring a blanket and some friends and come to the park nearest you. All performances are free, but donations are gratefully accepted. For more information, please visit http://www.dreamwrights.org/2016-season/as-you-like-it.

July 22 6:30 pm Gifford Pinchot State Park
July 23 5:30 pm Brown’s Orchards & Farm Market
July 24 6:30 pm Cousler Park
July 26 6:30 pm Rudy County Park
July 28 6:30 pm Sam Lewis State Park
July 29 6:30 pm William Kain County Park
July 30 6:30 pm Codorus State Park
July 31 2:30 pm DreamWrights

Directors’ Advice: Proudest Moment

DreamWrighters recently turned to our resident and several recent guest directors to hear about what makes them most proud. As we get ready to launch a capital campaign, we notice that like the campaign, these wonderful directors are proud about Putting Growth Center Stage!

DreamWrighters: Thanks for taking a few moments to share your thoughts with our audience. As a director, as you reflect  on your directing experiences, what makes you most proud?

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Diane Crews in 1997 with Youth Theatre Director of the Year Award

DIANE: This one is easy … I love to watch people grow!  And growth is not exclusive in any way.  The magic of the theatre is love, according to William Saroyan, and I agree.  All the world is a stage and we are all players, but only in live theatre do we have the opportunity to work and create together, not to win anything or beat the other team, but to share that creation with others the audience. You come together as strangers and depart as family.  Everyone has the opportunity to grow his/her responsibility, self-confidence, interpersonal communication, knowledge, and emotional levels/skills. The results are huggable!!  And often make me cry – good tears – of pride and happiness at being allowed the chance to see the multiple metamorphoses!!

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Paige Hoke directing rain forrest critters

PAIGE: What makes me most proud is watching people grow and discover things about their characters and themselves. I love seeing the world of the show come to life fully! And I love seeing people from all walks of life come together and create a show!

RODD: I’ve worked solely with kids and teens. I am most proud of my casts and crews.  It have been a joy and privilege to watch them blossom during rehearsals and shows.  When I get a thank you note at the end of a show and the kids thank me for casting them in a role that they didn’t think they’d ever get, or they thank me for helping to grow their self-confidence.  Man! That is beyond any hassle that may come with putting together any production. That’s goes way beyond being proud, that touches me and encourages me. It builds me up and pushes me to want to be better for the next cast I direct.

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Michelle Denise Norton with cast and crew of The Tempest

MICHELLE: I am proud of the relationships people continue to have even when they’re no longer involved in Theatre Under The Trees or DreamWrights.  Last year, my brother Beau’s best friend (who he met during Comedy of Errors) was in town for his father’s funeral and when we were talking afterwards, he mentioned that he’d left his car in Los Angeles for another friend (he met during Much Ado About Nothing) to use.  Earlier this year, two people who had played villains in one production were swapping stories about both Much Ado and their respective children on Twitter.  It really brought home to me that one of the most important things about DreamWrights is the connections you make and the conversations you have.

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Kirk Whisler inspiring his cast and crew with a purple hair challenge

KIRK: I find pride in the end of rehearsals each day, seeing the work that was accomplished, and knowing that the cast and crew are making me look good.

About the Directors

Diane Crews: Artistic Director and Playwright-in-Residence at DreamWrights. Diane is currently directing Young King Arthur. Having directed well over one hundred shows at DreamWrights, Young King Arthur will be her last production as she is set to retire in the Fall of 2016.

Paige Hoke: Paige Hoke is 2010 graduate of Arcadia University’s BFA in Acting Program. She has experience directing, teaching, and acting in the York and Philadelphia areas. She most recently directed Seussical at DreamWrights.

Michelle Denise Norton: Founder and Director of DreamWrights’ Theatre Under The Trees program.  Along with all of her theatrical endeavors, Michelle is also a writer, artist and cartoonist.  In Summer 2016, Theatre Under The Trees will be bringing As You Like It to local parks

Rodd Robertson: Director and actor, Rodd most recently appeared in the Flippin’ Broadway musical revue at DreamWrights.  He has directed a handful of productions including To See the Stars and Nancy Drew: Girl Detective at DreamWrights and elsewhere.

Kirk Wisler: Kirk made his directorial debut at DreamWrights this past summer, directing The Mouse that Roared. He has taken part in over thirty plays from 2001 until the present day. He hopes to continue directing and acting at DreamWrights for many more years to come.

Twitter Talk

At DreamWrights, you know me as Michelle Denise Norton, Founder and Director of Theatre Under The Trees, apprentice costumer and yawner through 8 am meetings. On Twitter, I am @mdnightmaverick, insomniac, enthusiast, conversationalist, In the Bleak December author, artist, animator, camera ace, director of Shakespeare (+ shorts), @blinkkittylove, etc.. Twitter has enabled me to collaborate with people across the country, make friends internationally and have a community of support I might otherwise be lacking as a freelance writer, artist and theatre professional.  I have heard people express puzzlement and dismay over social media, but it can be a valuable tool to have available.

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The first thing to remember is that Twitter, where I spend most of my internet time so my focus will be there, is talk.  #justtalk if you want a hashtag. It is you interacting with other people, in shorter snippets perhaps than if you were interacting over tea in the same room, but it is still conversation. The rules of common courtesy still apply. Trusting your instincts is still essential.  But so is having some fun and finding like minded spirits who may inspire you.

People may try to sell you industry jargon and there are those using social media who are more corporate bot than individual, but the people you want to connect to are the ones who will talk to you.  Because whether you meet someone in person or on line, it’s talking and shared experience that create a connection and those connections can be a strong part of your network as an artist.

I have gotten paid jobs via Twitter.  I follow theatres, actors and directors in places other than America.  I read reviews of shows being done in places like China and add that to my general theatre knowledge and inspiration pool. I am currently researching the all female Takarazuka Revue in Japan to add some texture to how I approach Rosalind in As You Like It this summer. I share the things that I find interesting and enjoy when others do as well.  When I have a free Thursday afternoon, I participate in the HowlRound* weekly moderated Twitter discussion.

So, here are my guidelines:

  1. Stay Safe. If someone makes you uncomfortable, block them. Immediately.
  1. #hashtag. They’re fun.  Every show I direct, I create a specific hashtag so people can follow the progress on Twitter or my blog.  It started with Merchant of Venice aka #merven.  For As You Like It, I’ll probably stick with the short and simple #ayli.  My favorite so far was #EPHvSYR, which represented our soccer mad take on Comedy of Errors.  It’s a good way to organize thoughts.  It’s also a good way to find people to follow.  I sometimes read through #theatre or #Shakespeare posts to see if anything interests me.
  1. Don’t just promote your projects. Interact. Retweet someone else’s project every once in awhile.  Share things about what you’re doing, watching, reading…yes, even eating.  Behave like yourself while remembering that Twitter especially is a public forum.Don’t be afraid to talk to people — or ask for help.  I read somewhere that Twitter is like a party where you could walk up and talk to anyone. I think that’s a good analogy.
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    And if you’ve built a connection with someone, asking for help is the same as asking any other friend or colleague.  Part of why the dance in The Tempest worked so well was that I asked @KristynBurtt, a Los Angeles based entertainment reporter and dance aficionado for advice about choreographers who might work with a jazzy score.  She suggested Bill T. Jones and my research into his career and life gave me the vocabulary to have the conversations I needed with Kim Greenawalt, my choreographer — I’d kept in touch with her on Facebook after she performed as Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream…double social media score.

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  1. Pictures boost interest.  Take a shot of rehearsal or the script you’re working on or a half built set.

Have fun. Be yourself.  Find organizations and people who interest you and follow them.  Talk.  Learn. Laugh.

*HowlRound is ‘a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community’ based at Emerson College in Boston.

Michelle Denise Norton, Creative Engine

Directors’ Advice: Character Development

DreamWrighters recently caught up with our resident artistic director as well as a few recent guest directors for some advice. Here is the first installment of wisdom and guidance from these esteemed directors. Today’s question is on the topic of Character Development.

DreamWrighters: Thanks for taking a few moments to share your advice and experiences with our audience. Hopefully this advice will benefit new actors, experienced actors, as well as directors. As a director, how do you inspire and motivate an actor to embody his/her character?

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Diane Crews: It is the actor’s job to find out as much as they can about their character.  The script offers a good deal of information via what you say, what other say about you, and to you. I often supply a character questionnaire, which encourages the actors to delve deeper and create some back story for their character as well.  They need to know how the character is different and the same as they are, and what they want and how they think.  I find asking questions that allow the actor to ‘think’ is the best and most helpful tool.

Paige Hoke: Think about what your character wants in a scene and in the overall show. Does it change? How does your character try to achieve their wants? Do they achieve what they want? What do other characters say about your character? What do you say about yourself? Who are your character’s friends, enemies, family members? How does your character feel about the other people in the world of the play/musical? Observe people in real life. See how they move and interact with each other.

Michelle Directing

Michelle Denise Norton: First, I start with a good script — that’s the foundation of everything. Then I tell actors: learn your lines.  Listen to the other characters on stage and what they are saying about your character.  Try to see the director’s overall vision and then find ways specific to your character that you can add depth to that vision.

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Rodd Robertson:  I ask the actors to think about whom their character is; how does he/she walk, talk, look? Then, I ask them to consider how they are portraying that character.  Is their portrayal a portrait of the actor’s mannerisms, speech patterns, or look?  If they’re just walking through a scene as themselves and aren’t trying to transform themselves into their character, I ask them to stop and change things.  If they can’t come up with anything, I’ll help them work it out.  I don’t want to see Johnny Depp up on that stage; I want to see Captain Jack.  And, I praise the heck out of them each step of the way during their transformation. Praise and encouragement is a powerful motivator.

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Kirk Wisler: Positive reinforcement. Build up your actors. For every negative give them two positives.  Keep open lines of communication.

 

 

About the Directors
Diane Crews: Artistic Director and Playwright-in-Residence at DreamWrights Youth & Family Theatre. Diane is currently directing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Having directed well over one hundred shows at DreamWrights, Pageant will be her last holiday production as she plans to retire in the Fall of 2016.

Paige Hoke: Paige Hoke is 2010 graduate of Arcadia University’s BFA in Acting Program. She has experience directing, teaching, and acting in the York and Philadelphia areas. She most recently directed Seussical at DreamWrights.

Michelle Denise Norton: Founder and Director of DreamWrights’ Theatre Under The Trees program.  Along with all of her theatrical endeavors, Michelle is also a writer, artist and cartoonist.  In Summer 2016, Theatre Under The Trees will be bringing As You Like It to local parks

Rodd Robertson: Director and actor, Rodd lists “Leo” from Leading Ladies and “Prof. Koknitz” from The Mouse That Roared as two of his favorite roles.  He has directed a handful of productions including To See the Stars and Nancy Drew: Girl Detective at DreamWrights and elsewhere.

Kirk Wisler: Kirk made his directorial debut at DreamWrights this past summer directing The Mouse that Roared. He has taken part in over thirty plays from 2001 until the present day. He hopes to continue directing and acting at DreamWrights for many more years to come.

An Interview with Theatre Under the Trees Director, Michelle Denise Norton

Director Michelle Denise Norton sat down with DreamWrighters to answer some questions about Theatre Under the Trees. You won’t want to miss a performance. There are three performances left! July 31 @ 6:30pm William Kain County Park, Aug 1 @ 6:30pm Codorus State Park, and Aug 2 @ 2:30pm at DreamWrights Youth & Family Theatre. Admission is free!

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DW: What is Theatre Under the Trees?  

MDN: Theatre Under The Trees is a branch of DreamWrights that tours the comedies of William Shakespeare in local parks.  Admission is free.  

DW: When/How did it get started?

MDN: In 1998, I wanted to direct an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the DreamWright’s Board agreed to support it.  The first year was a success and we have continued evolving over seventeen years.  I like to say I want to direct a show I’d love to sit in the audience for.  We aim to show people why Shakespeare still draws audiences after more than 4 centuries.  And to remind the world that Shakespeare wrote comedies as least as well as he wrote anything else.  I am amazed and very grateful that so many people have volunteered their time and talent for a program I feel so strongly about.

DW: How has it changed over the years?

MDN: Well, I took a year off, only to discover I missed it terribly and everyone still talked to me about Shakespeare anyway. <wink> Each year is really different.  I have learned to plan just enough ahead that I am ready to see who auditions and build the show from there.  Some years have different needs. The last time we did The Tempest, I knew I wanted to create a storm with dancers so I started discussing the show with a choreographer several months in advance.  But what we were able to do started from the people who showed up at auditions to share their talents. 

DW: What is your favorite performance and why?

MDN: I have two. One was a dress rehearsal of the original production of Twelfth Night and it was just a beautiful night outside, listening to one of Shakespeare’s best plays, done well by people enjoying the challenge. The actors had responded to every note I’d given them. Everything clicked.  It was perfect. The other was sitting in the grass at Sam Lewis Park watching Merchant of Venice.  One of the actresses had missed the previous performance due to a family emergency. I’d had to perform in her stead and when she came back, the entire cast had a new energy.  It was amazing.  Plus, I could sit in the grass in casual clothes rather than being onstage in a sweater, skirt and pantyhose.

DW: How is Shakespeare challenging and rewarding?

MDN: It’s rewarding for me because I get to see some of my favorite characters, vibrant, on stage, having new dimensions thanks to the actors who make them live.  The challenge is taking a random group of people and merging them with a play I’ve picked far in advance.  It can be a little scary the night between audition days.  

MDN: From a directing standpoint, I try to forget a lot of what I’ve done before so I can discover things again with a new cast.  It’s a group challenge to work out the meaning and dynamics of each play and relationship, as well as the physicality required by comedy in the Theatre Under The Trees style. With Shakespeare, we have to pay a lot of attention to the language, but the reward is the wonderful pictures Shakespeare created that the actors get to paint for the audiences.  

DW:   How is performing outside different then in a traditional theatre setting?

MDN: Performing actually started outside, with the Greeks and their theaters with seating cut into the sides of hills for better acoustics.  And in Shakespeare’s time, theaters lacked roofs and were open to wind and weather.  For our actors, we spend a lot of time building our voices and becoming aware of the mechanics of projection.  Changing locations for every performance brings unique challenges.  We learn to be flexible. We rehearse outside as much as possible and have tech and dress rehearsals in people’s backyards, weather permitting.

DW:     How can/ does weather play into your performances?

MDN: We stop for lightning.  The rest we mostly adjust to.  Everyone who has done Theatre Under The Trees has at least one good weather story. It’s always fun to hear people recalling their rain/hail/wind adventures for newcomers.  

DW: What’s the best thing for you about Theatre Under the Trees ?

MDN: The people I’ve met.  

You Could Be Part of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Summers are a busy time at DreamWrights.  The theatre is always bustling, with camps and shows nearly every daylight hour and many of the evening ones.  Theatre Under the Trees is my contribution to that activity and I’m very excited about this year’s show: Twelfth Night.  Twelfth Night tells the story of shipwrecked twins, focusing on Viola as she searches for a safe haven and falls in love with the Duke Orsino, who she has come to work for.  Viola finds herself disguised as a boy, running errands for Orsino, trying to convince the Lady Olivia that Olivia should listen to Orsino’s pleas of love, when Orsino’s love is what Viola wants to reserve for herself.  Once you mix in the other members of Olivia’s household:  her cousin, his gullible friend, the steward, servants and Feste, the fool, who sings both merry and melancholy tunes for both Lord and Lady, you get a play that catapults you from one silliness to the next.

Twelfth Night may well be my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays to direct.  The story is straightforward, there aren’t a lot of extraneous characters and the mischief and misunderstandings have so much comic potential.

If you aren’t familiar with Theatre Under The Trees, we are a touring show, taking our performances to local parks.  It’s really a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.

Auditions will be held Tuesday, May 26 and Wednesday, May 27 at 6:00 p.m.  Ages 7-Adult may audition, and there is no advance preparation required. We need actors, singers, musicians and crew. Performances will be held July 24th through August 2nd.  Check the DreamWrights website for locations.

Michelle Denise Norton

Founder and Director, Theatre Under The Trees