Teen Playreaders, which meets weekly at the Berkeley Public Library to read aloud from plays and monologues, have invited the whole community to their free show of Bizarre Shorts, featuring short plays, musical numbers and monologues (some original), “something for everybody, from Shakespeare to Sondheim to Stoppard,” 7:30 p.m., this Saturday at the Willard Middle School Metal Shop Theater, 2425 Stuart St. (off Telegraph).
Debbie Carton, who organized Teen Readers eight years ago as a program of Teen Services and Friends of the Library, noted the free price tag at the door “wasn’t a case of getting what you pay for.”
“It’s good!” she said. “That’s my role: I play the Roman emperor the night before the show, thumbs up or down. I’m ruthless! The kids start out ambitious—when you get a bunch of them together, they want to put on a show—but we don’t want to hurt the audience, so what doesn’t work gets nibbled away.”
Even if “there’s no torture, there’s a tortuous piece” from Sweeney Todd, “and the kids can sing!” Then there’s “the catfight scene” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“teens can relate to it—like high school romance!”) and “the ‘Dead in a box’ scene” from Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern. There are two original monologues, one from a poetry slam that starts with prose and goes into rap, and “a surprise finale, ‘I’m So Glad to Be a Girl,’ with the girls dressed as men, singing the chorus, while the boys mince out onstage in drag!” All the pieces performed are “no more than 10 minutes, no more than six people.”
Andy Cantor, a Berkeley High student who has been into theater since age 9, started going to Teen Playreaders “about eight months ago. I heard about it from Libby Vega, who I met in the summer program of the California Shakespeare Conservatory, assistant-directing a production of King Lear.”
Cantor was “kind of nervous” going to Playreaders, but “everybody was so sweet, so accepting,” she felt a part of the group.
She characterizes it as “a bunch of kids, some really talented, putting on characters, playing all the parts to the hilt, getting goofy—but even when it’s quieter, we’re still getting together to have fun.”
Everybody plays all the roles—they often switch off at the punctuation in a line—and even “very quiet kids, with little voice” that Cantor has observed “really enjoyed themselves and kept coming back.”
There’s been hard work—“a lot of singing lessons, tons of rehearsing,” said Cantor, but “every single person is so committed. It’s fun because we all know each other. We’re determined to make it a really good show. What strikes me about Playreaders is that we can do that with hardly any adult involvement. It’s inspired me to go off and do my own stuff, to direct.”
“It shows what happens when you empower kids. I hate that word!” laughs Cantor. “They participate as much as they like. Teens like to gender-bend—so let ’em!”
And she promises the audience won’t be “just warm bodies in folding chairs.” There’s some audience participation, which she calls “the hat trick—but it involves only those who want to participate. The others get let off the hook. But there’s always an element of chance. There’re no ringers in Teen Playreaders!”
Presented by Teen Playreaders at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 20, at the Willard Middle School Metal Shop Theater, 2425 Stuart St. Free admission. 981-6236. berkeleypubliclibrary.org.