It isn’t truly summer without outdoor Shakespeare performances — and when admission is free, that’s even better. When Stephanie Marrinan was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in theatre arts in the ’90s, SUNY New Paltz presented wonderful Shakespeare under the Stars programs on campus every summer. Missing those days, the Kingston City School District teacher decided to revive the tradition and, in 2012, founded the Rondout Repertory Theatre Company. With a mission “to provide a solid theatrical education to our young actors and a strong foundation for higher education,” this day camp program for kids age 9 to 16 has been bringing free outdoor Shakespeare back to New Paltz ever since.
Rondout Rep will present two free productions over the next two weekends at Water Street Market: The Comedy of Errors this Friday through Sunday, July 25, 26 and 27, with Marrinan’s actor husband Sean Marrinan directing, and The Tempest, helmed by Stephanie Marrinan, on Friday through Sunday, August 1, 2 and 3. All performances begin at 5 p.m. in the plaza at the south end of the market, in front of the Antiques Barn, and make creative use of the site’s multiple levels of walkways and staircases.
Officially, the Rondout Rep campers are divided into two age groups, each mastering a different Shakespeare play, with the Junior Troupe of 9-to-12-year-olds responsible this year for The Tempest and the Senior Troupe of kids aged 13 and older tackling The Comedy of Errors. But in practice, there’s a lot of crossover, with quite a few ambitious campers — especially veterans of past years’ productions — taking on multiple roles in both plays.
Savion Hastings-Ward, a sophomore at Rondout Valley High School, is one example: He’s playing one of the lead roles in Comedy of Errors, Antipholus of Ephesus, but will also undertake the part of the drunken steward Stephano in Tempest. Hastings-Ward notes that he has the requisite experience for such a role, having already portrayed “a bishop, a sailor and a drunk” in Anything Goes in his high school Drama Club. “I’m loving it,” he says.
Bailey Ryan, an incoming freshman at Kingston High School, will play his twin, Antipholus of Syracuse. A Rondout Rep veteran who tries to balance competing interests in theater and sports, he will also be a stage manager for Tempest. “I like that some of the kids are taking on stage management,” says Stephanie Marrinan. “They work in a mentor position, and they make a little money at it as well.”
Both the errors and the comedy in Comedy of Errors derive from repeated instances of mistaken identity when a long-sundered set of twin noblemen and their equally identical servingmen arrive in the same city unbeknownst to each other. To provide more roles for the girls in their troupes, the Marrinans cast the twin servants as female for this production, with Kingston High School student Katie Marrinan — the eldest of the Marrinans’ three daughters — playing Dromio of Syracuse and New Paltz High School student Maddy Leitner playing Dromio of Ephesus, as well as doing some stage management.
The young participants in Rondout Rep come from public schools in three different districts, with one, Garrett Tanis, recently graduated from the Hudson Valley Sudbury School in Zena. The son of the graphic artist who does Rondout Rep’s posters and programs, Bianca Tanis, Garrett is clearly eager to get his teeth into his two roles as Egeon in Comedy of Errors and Prospero in Tempest, for the latter of which, he says, “I have an obscene amount of lines.”
Adriana, the love interest for one of the Antipholi, will be played by incoming New Paltz High School freshman Kelly McElroy. Other Comedy of Errors student actors include Azalea Rusillon of New Paltz Middle School as Balthazar and the Abbess; siblings Thea and Victor Kobaleski of Bailey Middle School as Luciana and Angelo/First Merchant, respectively; Deana Savelson of New Paltz High School as the Courtesan; Jamie Newell of Lenape School as Dr. Pinch; and Sasha Gannon — a former student in the New Paltz schools who now attends IS 259 in Brooklyn — as the Second Merchant. Of the Marrinans’ two younger daughters, Maggie, who attends Bailey Middle School, says, “I only have six lines, but I get to yell at people!” as Luce, the maid; and Lizzie, a student at Robert Graves Elementary School, plays an Officer.
“It’s an interesting blend of kids,” says Stephanie Marrinan. “Some have been in every show since we started. Others are just trying it out to see if they like it.” And after four weeks of rehearsing their parts at the Water Street Market, the Rondout Rep campers will definitely be ready, she says. “Some of these kids are playing with so much stuff right now that I think, when we open in a week, they’re just going to explode!”
No tickets or reservations are necessary to attend the performances the next two weekends; just stroll on in. “We have a lot of foot traffic that turn out and watch,” reports Marrinan. For more information about the troupe, including how to get the aspiring young thespians in your household involved next summer, visit https://rondoutrep.com or check out the Rondout Repertory Theatre Company Facebook page.