Students tackle Shakespeare

The Barefoot Players will be touring across the region this summer

Barefoot Players during rehearsal of Play On!, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
Barefoot Players during rehearsal of Play On!, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

It only takes 20 minutes to understand how much Jackie Omstead loves her job.

Omstead, ArtSci '14, is one of five Queen’s drama students who make up the Barefoot Players, a summer theatre company and day camp for children, based out of the Vogt Studios in Carruthers Hall.

As one of two returning members, this is Omstead’s second summer in the company.

This summer, the company, which has done adaptations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Macbeth in past years, will be taking on the playwright’s Twelfth Night in a production they have named Play On!.

Adapted by drama professor Kim Renders, the comedy follows a woman named Viola after an island shipwreck leaves her separated from her twin brother.

“We want to make Shakespeare accessible, so when [kids] encounter it again in high school, it’s not this super scary thing,” Omstead said.

She said she wants children to recognize Shakespearean literature as fun, rather than a curricular necessity.

The Players spend almost three months — from June to August — touring the eastern Ontario region.

Last year, the company put on just under 50 shows, with hopes to break that number this year. The park and library shows are free to the public and last about 30 minutes.

“We add lots of music to make things fun,” Omstead said.

She said the actors keep the script lighthearted, with added physical comedy to keep the attention of the youngsters.

When the group of six isn’t touring, they’re running a day camp based out of Carruthers Hall.

In July, a two-week tour hiatus makes way for the Barefoot Players theatre camp, a program that lets children develop their own show that’s later performed for friends and family. The opportunity allows for creativity — campers help write the script and develop their own characters.

“The camp is for kids ages six to 12 so we have people who haven’t even seen a show coming and experiencing theatre for the first time,” Omstead said.

But children aren't the only students here.

The cast members also get a feel for running a company.

Although Barefoot Players has two faculty advisors, the goal is to teach the students what it takes to run a theatre company. The six of them are paid — they’re hired for the summer as part of the Student Work Experience Program. For them, the month of May is devoted to administrative tasks and planning. In the mornings, they work on bookings, and in the afternoons, they rehearse.

One of Omstead’s co-cast members, Meghan Froebelius, ConEd ’15, has found that at Queen’s, arts programs such as the Barefoot Players often fly under the radar, especially to fellow students.

“There are so many talented people here,” she said. “I think what’s cool about Barefoot is that because we’re in the summer, we kind of keep art at Queen’s going throughout the year.”

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