The Florence-Carlton Shakespeare Company is presenting a live, in-person play this year overcoming pandemic and remote learning hurdles while featuring beautiful handmade costumes and professional-level acting in the comedy “Love's Labour's Lost” on May 7, 8 and 9.
Drama educator Derk Schmidt, who started the Drama Department 10 years ago and then formed the Florence-Carlton Shakespeare Company, said this year has been the most challenging and the most rewarding.
“From masks to social distancing to remote learning, it’s been an ordeal that these students have overcome with professionalism and fortitude,” Schmidt said.
The plot of Love's Labour's Lost is that three men take an oath to promote their court by fasting, sleeping only three hours a night and not seeing any women. In true Shakespeare style, ladies arrive, romance ensues, and the play produces a hilarious and layered plot.
The FCHS production features an original score written by Schmidt, based around the late renaissance and early baroque periods.
“I chose to create some flamboyant Spanish guitar work for the Spaniards balanced with a chamber-style combination of instruments for the French women that includes the cast's very own Hannah McLean on flute and her mother, a member of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra, on bassoon,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt recorded the guitars, some harpsichord and buffalo drum, Amy Smart, choir teacher at FCS, recorded the difficult harpsichord pieces and her husband, UM’s Dr. James Smart provided the trumpet work.
“This music has been the most challenging and rewarding we have done thus far,” Schmidt said. “I believe that the original music written especially for this play sets our company apart from other high schools.”
The cast consists of 10 prepared and dedicated actors playing 19 roles.
“To paraphrase the Bard, ‘though we may be but little, we are fierce,’” Schmidt said.
The cast is Nathaniel Gale as King Ferdinand and Don Adriano de Armado; Hannah McLean - Berowne, Holofernes; Abby Binder - Longaville; Kinsey Church - Princess of France, Sir Nathaniel; Delaney Lawrence - Rosaline; Nevaeh Otteson - Maria, Jaquenetta; Sarah Craun - Boyet; Nyreec Adams -Costard, Musician; Madison Fowler - Moth; and Alexa McLean - Dull, Mercade, Forester, Musician.
Schmidt said performing Shakespeare exclusively is unique for high school students.
“It’s rare to gather a group of teenagers who see the beauty in Shakespeare and embrace it and take great pride in it,” he said. “These students develop a deep understanding of the language and characters. Their passion flourishes in their performances.”
Senior Kinsey Church agreed.
“As the only exclusive high school Shakespeare Company in Montana, we pride ourselves on being a student-run company,” Church said. “Working with Shakespearean language allows us to make it more accessible to our community.”
Sophomore Delaney Lawrence said the students are passionate about performing Shakespeare’s works.
“We all love to work with the language and learn about how words can be used for different purposes,” Lawrence said. “This makes our company unique in how we portray the plot of the play. The best part is that Shakespeare allows us to connect with our characters.”
All costumes were designed and handmade by senior Hannah McLean who taught herself to sew to reflect the special production.
“It is the first time our company has performed a period piece, set in the late renaissance and I knew that to make the costumes reflect the time period accurately, they would have to be handmade,” McLean said.
She used color psychology, choosing colors for each character based on their personalities.
“For example, the Princess of France's character color is pastel purple because she is royal, delicate and light-hearted,” McLean said. “It was challenging to learn the skills needed to complete the costumes, but it was absolutely worth it. It brought me great joy to bring finished items of clothing to my fellow actors and see the excited smiles on their faces.”
After high school, McLean will study theater design and technology.
Schmidt said the costumes are true to the era and beautiful.
“Her work is truly a feat of impressive magnitude,” he said. “In the ten years I have directed here, these costumes are exponentially the most impressive.”
The crew is Derk Schmidt - director, musical director, set design and sound engineer; Kinsey Church is the student director, technical director, property master and set design assistant; Hannah McLean is assistant director, assistant musical director, wardrobe master and dramaturg, ensuring historical accuracy; Jackson Schmidt is the director of lighting; Abby Binder is stage manager and makeup designer; Nathaniel Gale - assistant stage manager; Wayne Schmidt - set engineer; Delaney Lawrence - director's assistant and set design assistant; and Brock Elam is the playbill designer.
Senior Kinsey Church said the FC Shakespeare Company has enriched her life.
“It has brought me so much joy and I couldn’t imagine working with a better group of people,” Church said. “It’s been an honor to be able to pass on my knowledge and experience while also getting to watch their enthusiasm for our program grow.”
Junior Abby Binder said working on the play during a pandemic was challenging.
“With masks, we couldn’t see each other’s faces, which made it hard to express emotion,” Binder said. “We all felt nervous and stressed about our play being canceled at any moment, but throughout all of that, we kept working hard and stayed positive and now we have made a production we are all proud of and can’t wait to perform in front of an audience.”
Junior Nathaniel Gale said the most difficult challenge was having half the cast as remote learners, unavailable to rehearse in class each day.
“We already have a relatively small group without a proper place to rehearse which is quite difficult, especially during COVID when we needed excessive space,” he said.
Junior Sarah Craun, a remote learner, said preparing for the production was “different.”
“It does mean that everyone in drama this year is extremely dedicated to what we’re doing,” Craun said.
Sophomore Maddie Fowler said she loves everything about the play.
“It is so well cast, and it’s so fun to see my friends take on these roles with such pride and enthusiasm,” Fowler said. “A few of my favorite things are the sassy characters, and the jokes and gestures that cause us to laugh so hard our stomachs hurt.”
Sophomore Nevaeh Otteson agrees.
“I love how everyone fits his or her roles perfectly and manages to play them so well,” she said. “It’s because of this and all the hidden jokes that we’ve been able to make the play come to life.”
FCHS performances of Love's Labour's Lost are 7 p.m. on Friday, May 7, and Saturday, May 8, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 9, in the old gym. Tickets are available at the door only and cost $4 for general admission, $2 for students and faculty. On Mother’s Day, all moms are admitted free.
Junior Nyreec Adams encourages community members to attend the performances.
“It is a unique experience that many people in this area do not encounter and it’s sure to leave a lasting, positive impression,” Adams said.
Freshman Alexa McLean said the play “brings the community together.”
“Live theatre incorporates laughter and tragedy, and ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ involves both,” she said. “While including the audience in the performance, guests are bound to have a good time.”