Much Ado About Nothing gets a makeover as Carousel Theatre's Teen Shakespeare production is set in the electric 1970s. Photo by Faye Campbell.
Much Ado About Nothing gets a makeover as Carousel Theatre's Teen Shakespeare production is set in the electric 1970s. Photo by Faye Campbell.

Now into its 26th year, the Carousel Theatre’s Teen Shakespeare Program has been a breeding ground for the next generation of theatre makers. No better example is Carousel’s artistic director, Carole Higgins, who got her start in the program.

“It was my first introduction to Carousel, and I fell in love with it,” says Higgins, who received her first professional theatre role with the company that she would one day lead.

Higgins uses her theatre trajectory as a lesson for the 13-18 year olds who give up their summer to study Shakespeare, under the tutelage of instructors from Vancouver’s professional theatre community.

“It’s funny because that is usually what I say to the teens who join us each year in the program: one day you could be me,” she says.

Higgins also provides some sage advice to the young actors, encouraging them to follow their hearts, be passionate, and explore the work.

“There is always so much to discover, challenge yourself,” are Higgins’ advice to the young cast as they explore the Bard’s works. “Shakespeare wrote such incredible stories, with amazing characters that go through these amazing arcs, and as actors, that is the real meat.”

With director Mike Stack returning to helm this year’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, Higgins says that the choice of play is made by the teens themselves.

“We always empower them as to what they choose,” says Higgins who provides the simple guidance that each year should alternate between a tragedy and a comedy.

With last year’s production of Henry V that meant 2016 is to be the summer of the comedy. The choice of Much Ado came largely from the teen actor’s desire to do something they hadn’t had much exposure to in the past.

“Many of us hadn’t done Much Ado before, and our director Mike stack had said he hadn’t much experience with it either,” says actor Noah Heyl, one of the returning students the program sees year-to-year.

“It’s also really hilarious,” adds Isaac George-Hotchkiss, one of the new members of the group this season.

Chatting with the two young actors by phone, it is amazing to hear them speak so eloquently of their passion for theatre, and more importantly, their excitement for Shakespeare. Heyl, who appeared as King Henry V in last year’s 25th anniversary season, has a practical grasp on the Bard’s work that seems more fitting to those twice his age.

“Henry was an interesting role, but I never dealt with that much text and it was hard because I would concentrate on one speech and the others would fall away,” he says, explaining how he has used last years’ experience to prepare for this new production.

“In previous productions I have focused on the words, and hadn’t looked at it as a bigger picture,” he continues. “I was focusing on the individual lines and scenes, and not how it all came together. Even though my role isn’t Henry-esque in size this year, I can see now how all the pieces fall together in an arc.”

Having just graduated from high school, Heyl is on his way to study computer science at the University of British Columbia this September. But that doesn’t mean he is abandoning the theatre altogether.

“I’m going to be doing a Bachelor of Arts, with a major in computer science and a minor in acting,” he says. “They have such a great theatre program at UBC though, so I’m looking forward to getting involved with that as well.”

For newcomer Isaac George-Hotchkiss, it was Heyl’s enthusiasm that brought him to the program.

“He said it would be a great opportunity to see what professional acting would be like,” says George-Hotchkiss, who has plans on making a career of acting.

Calling theatre a great stress reliever, George-Hotchkiss finds pleasure in getting out of his own skin and becoming someone else. “To go on stage and embody a different character and personality, and become them is exciting.”

Asked what they were most excited about in performing Much Ado About Nothing, the two have very different takes.

“I love the Shakespeare comedies, they are my favourite branch of his plays, with the double meanings, as Benedick would say, and the great juicy material,” says George-Hotchkiss. “And in discovering the dialogue that is funnier than it appears on paper.”

“It’s written mostly in prose and I haven’t had that much experience with prose versus verse,” adds Heyl. “And the character I’m playing this year is very different from what I have done in previous years.”

Much Ado About Nothing runs July 29 through August 13 at the outdoor stage at Performance Works on Granville Island. Visit http://carouseltheatre.ca for tickets and information.