When Jeff Forst began preparations to mount Nelson Youth Theatre’s outdoor staging of Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman from Verona, a comedy believed to have been written somewhere between 1589 and 1592, he wanted to find a way to make the work accessible to his preteen actors. Then he had an idea: change the play’s primary settings from Verona and Milan to Vancouver and Victoria.
“As much as anything it was for fun, and to give these guys an idea of where things are geographically because if you say Milan and Verona most of them can’t relate to that 100 per cent,” said Forst, while rehearsing in the woods in the quarry area of Gyro Park at the apex of Vernon St.
“A lot of these kids think of Shakespeare as this complicated, highfalutin thing. But this setting justifies us having the Canadian accent, and that naturalizes it so they realize ‘this is basic’. They realize this is similar to what they’re going through at this time in their lives and realize these emotions and these feelings have been going on forever.”
Forst’s two leads, Luther Perry and Liam Brown, play Proteus and Valentine respectively. Much of the play hinges on their chemistry.
“At the beginning of the play they’re really good friends, and then my character Valentine ends up going away to Vancouver. Proteus starts to become a bit cruel and tries to steal my girlfriend,” said Brown.
Perry said he enjoys the darker side of his role.
“Proteus is supposed to be a good guy, but secretly he’s pretty mean. He talks about love all the time which annoys Valentine, but Proteus never wanted him to go and it makes him sad. Near the end he gets really mean to the point he’s almost the worst character in the play.”
Perry, who played Oberon earlier this year in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, said he’s learning to love Shakespeare.
“This is my second time doing Shakespeare. I think the language is really cool and unique. It’s hard to learn but as you go along it gets easier and kind of turns into regular English.”
The pair love one particular scene where they wittily argue with each other, verbally battling back and forth. Brown shared his favourite line from the exchange: “That’s on some shallow story of deep love: How young Leander cross’d the Hellespont.”
“From my perspective my character doesn’t care about Proteus,” said Brown. “He’s in love with Julia and my character feels like there’s no more friendship.”
But Perry’s character bars the way.
“I keep annoying him by talking about love and we’re arguing. He says I want to see the world and stuff and I start getting sad, thinking love is like yuck, because it ruined my friendship with him.”
Both Perry and Brown have ambitions to continue with their acting careers, while Brown is currently working on a book. He wants to grow up to film his stories.
“I would say my future ambition is I want to become an actor in movies, like Leonardo DiCaprio,” said Perry.
And Forst said these kids have the chops.
“For one thing, I think it’s amazing that these kids would use their summer time to do Shakespeare in this day and age. But the other thing is we only have three weeks to do this, 45 hours, and the fact they can put it together in that amount of time is amazing.”
And they’re having fun.
“As you can see right now, they’re sword-fighting, doing fairy villages. That’s the advantage of being in the woods is you have actual trees, actual sunlight. They can be kids.”
The show will be approximately two hours long and will be held at 2 p.m. on August 28.
Forst said picnics are welcome.
“We encourage people to prepare like they’re on a day hike. People can bring their own thrones, blankets, chairs. You’re encouraged to bring a dinner or lunch,” he said, reminding audiences to come up Vernon St. from downtown rather than driving to the main part of Gyro Park.
Admission is by donation.