In the 1910s and '20s, Vaudeville was all the rage. Singers, dancers, comedians and minstrels toured the country, going from theater to theater to entertain audiences in variety shows. For the first time, women and people of color were allowed to perform on the same stage as white men. It was a time of change.
And now, Center Stage Youth Summer Conservatory is bringing vaudeville back and uniting it with an even earlier art form Shakespeare. This summer, a cast of 16 local youths, ages 10 to 20, is presenting Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona" with elements of vaudeville. The performers dance, sing, fight, mime and do sign language, all while tackling the difficult Elizabethan language.
"I appreciated the vaudeville-like dialogue that happens in ('Two Gentlemen of Verona') and it seemed like a good opportunity to create acts that would make it more of an ensemble show,"says director Traci Sprague. "Vaudeville really came from the text."
But what is vaudeville, anyway? Vaudeville is a type of talent show that rose from the variety shows of the late 1800s and consisted of a roster of acts that changed every night. You could see singers, lecturers, excerpts from plays, acrobats, minstrels in blackface, magicians, impersonators and ventriloquists all sharing the same stage. One famous act, the Cherry Sisters, consisted of three women competing to have the most tomatoes thrown at them by the audience.
This is not the first time theCSYSC has done an unusual production of classical theater. In its inaugural year, it presented "A Comedy of Errors" with a circus theme, and last summer, the participants wrote their own Commedia del'Arte play. But this is the troupe's first time with its own theater. Earlier this year, the CSYSC moved into an old courtroom in the basement of the City Center in downtown Modesto, and it has spent the past months turning it into a black-box theater for rehearsals and performances.
According to its mission statement, the CSYSC strives to empower and educate students about the arts through the performance of classical theater. Over the course of the summer, participants have learned about Shakespeare, vocal technique, vaudeville and, most important, themselves.
"I've gotten more confident, more out there, more imaginative. I have a voice now, so I'm able to say the things I want and I'm able to say my ideas and I won't be scared to say them," says participant Alexandria Gonzales, 17.
"This whole summer's been a complete awakening for me," says Travis Blansit, 20. "Everyone is there for each other. Instead of having your own back, you have everyone else's back, which makes the performances so much better."
Catch the final weekend of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or two for $15 in advance, and the performance will be held at Center Stage Conservatory's Lower Level Studio, 948 11th St., Modesto. For more information, call (209) 846-0179.The cast of Center Stage Youth Summer Conservatory's production of Shakespeare's 'Two Gentlemen of Verona.' The production features a cast of local youth ranging from age 10 to 20 and incorporates elements of vaudeville.