Burbank youth theatre takes on the Bard

After just three weeks, nearly 20 Burbank children and teens have memorized most of their lines and are making final tweaks to their performance on Thursday of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

It's only been a handful of years since the Burbank Youth Summer Theater Institute has performed Shakespeare's plays. However, this summer, during the same year on what would have been the classic playwright's 450th birthday, the young performers will take the stage at Burbank's Starlight Bowl for the first time.

Since 2009, the parent-run institute has performed for audiences on Woodbury University's quad, where the attendees had grown from about 30 the first year to 200 last summer.

Identical 12-year-old twins, Shayna and Jaden Gerard, have been attending the camp since they were in the third grade, having performed in "Macbeth," "Comedy of Errors," "Hamlet" and "Romeo and Juliet."

“I love performing,” Shayna said. “That’s just something I’d like to do. It’s part of my dream — to pursue Broadway and star as Elphaba in ‘Wicked.’”

The sisters said their confidence with friends and others has grown over the years, as their acting abilities have improved.

"It's different than what you can get in school," Jaden said. "This, you can't get in school. They teach you more here."

The institute's artistic director, Lisa Dyson, said the students are immersed in movement, voice, acting and improvisation, and the goal of the production's co-directors — David Prather and Crystal Robbins — is to make Shakespeare "user friendly" for the kids, who range in age from 8 to 15.

"We always tell them these are universal stories we use today that you see on TV and in the movies — two girls fighting over one boy or mistaken identity," she said.

Robbins said that with just three weeks to learn the play and build new props — with help from Burroughs High art teacher Beth Morrison — the young performers always step up to the challenge.

But what Dyson enjoys most perhaps is how they finish the camp with new relationships that will last for many years.

"Every show you do, you build a family," Dyson said. "Even through some of them go to Burroughs or Burbank High, they're really close."

That sentiment was confirmed Tuesday when Shayna said moments before rehearsal that "the friendship that we have here is more than anything."

This summer, it's 12-year-old Louie Zekowski's first time at the camp, and he stars as Lysander.

The soon-to-be eighth grader is already plotting his high school courses, hoping to fill his schedule with as many acting classes as possible.

"Because this is my first year, I don't really know how it feels to be up onstage," he said. "I feel like I'm going to [lose track] in the middle of my lines. And it scares me, but I'm so determined to prove to myself that I [won't] do that," he said. "Before this, I had really, really terrible diction. You could hardly ever tell what I was saying. They taught me to slow down and enunciate it better."

What: Burbank Youth Summer Theatre Institute presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Where: Starlight Bowl, 1249 Lockheed View Drive

When: 6 p.m., Thursday, doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Admission: Free. Picnics are welcome.

More info: