The Rhode Island Youth Theatre is back and in person.
Auditions for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will be staged Friday, Aug. 13, at Toll Gate High School, were held Monday at the school.
After a year and a half hiatus due to COVID-19, the theatre is in full swing and Ann O’Grady couldn’t be happier.
O’Grady, who was a teacher at Aldrich Junior High School at the time, founded the youth theater in 1987.
She hadn’t slowed down since. More than 17,000 campers have attended her camps. Now that many of her former students are adults with families of their own, their children are RIYT members.
O’Grady recalls 14-year-old Elisa Padula, who was in O’Grady’s first performance, and went to Broadway to take part in “Beauty and the Beast.” Padula eventually passed on her passion for theatre to her 22-year-old son, Mitchell Cardone, who is now writing his own performance called “A Rock Show.”
This is Cardone’s third full musical and he is also receiving help from his 20-year-old brother, Cooper Cardone, who is the writing the music and lyrics for “A Rock Show.”
O’Grady said, “It’s a joy to keep on doing this, and I don’t want to retire … You find the thing that you absolutely love and it’s such a delight.”
O’Grady attributes the success of this year’s camp to her staff. On stage with her this summer are Chelsea Cook, Marcos Mendoza Cabrera, Rebecca Malachowski, Norma Malachowski, and intern Lilliana Faherty.
Chelsea Cook has been, “absolutely amazing and a pleasure to have over the years,” O’Grady said. Cook is now a full-time employee for RIYT.
Cook has been with RIYT since 2017.
She said, “It’s been a great experience working with Ann and new campers each year.”
O’Grady said Cook is always coming up with creative and new ideas for the camp. Thanks to Cook, performers will use props to create music for the play. Cook has also been creating a fun and welcoming environment in the camps as she asks the campers to sit in a circles and limit phone use. This way the campers in the programs will get the most out of the experience.
Not only does Cook invest her time within RIYT, Cook mentioned she tries to get to know each and every camp attendee. Even on the first day of the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” camp, Cook asked the campers where their “headspace” was.
This comedy by Shakespeare was written in the mid-1590s. The play is set in Athens and contains several plots that revolve around the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. One main plot that will be presented in the performance involves conflicts between four Athenian lovers, Demetrius, Helena, Hermia and Lysander.
O’Grady chose to showcase this performance for the first show in over a year and a half because there is no singing. She explained singing with masks might serve as a challenge. Another reason why this adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is going to premiere first is because this summer all of RIYT shows are all original adaptation pieces of domain work or completely new musicals and writing.
Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 restrictions, O’Grady said ticket sales would be limited for the moment. Another issue that COVID is giving the camp is the choice to go with or without masks. One of O’Grady’s plans is to rehearse in masks and then perform in clear masks with microphones underneath. However, she would prefer to rehearse and perform maskless for the campers who are fully vaccinated and for those campers who are unvaccinated to wear a clear mask during rehearsal and performance.
The issue of camp capacity is also another problem that the pandemic is creating. The camp usually has 50 to 85 campers and about 10 staff members. There would be a minimum of 500 guests at the performance. However, this year the camp can only run with 26 campers and six staff members. The number of parents and others guests will be at a limited capacity and is still under consideration on how many people are going to be allowed to the Performance.
Tickets cost $12 and can be purchased via the RIYT website, riyt.org. O’Grady explains that helping people with ticket prices is part of what they do at RIYT.
“We make sure we don’t exclude anyone because of financial circumstances and to include everyone, regardless of talent,” explained O’Grady.
Twenty-six campers will perform in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with their ages ranging from 12-16. Some of these campers have been in previous theatre camps and some campers are brand new to theatre. All 26 campers will have an important role within the play and all campers will get enough time on stage, or as O’Grady calls it, “TOS.”
The two-week summer camp costs $425 per attendee.
Following this performance is the sold-out camp for “Fractured Fairy Tales,” which features kids ages 7-11. This camp takes place Aug. 18-20 at the Warwick Public Library. A few days later on Aug. 23, the sold-out “Pinocchio” camp starts and goes till Aug. 28 for ages 7-14 at North Kingstown Town Beach.
To get more information about upcoming and future performances, contact Ann O’Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org.