The Burbank Youth Summer Theatre Institute (BYSTI) takes audiences into the Forest of Arden with William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It for two performances, Thursday morning, June 25, and Friday evening, June 26, at the Starlight Bowl.
For the past three weeks, the 26 BYSTI players have been learning lines, blocking and choreography to an edited version of the play, after first auditioning for roles. The primarily middle and high school-age kids have also taken headshots and written bios, participated in regular improvisation classes and lent artistic efforts to the production of scenery and props.
Headed by Artistic Director/Director Lisa Dyson, Associate Directors David Prather and Crystal Robbins and Production Designer Beth Morrison, BYSTI has proven a popular local option for summer theater programs in the area, with many campers returning year after year. While most students hail from Jordan, Luther and Muir Middle Schools and Burbank and Burroughs High Schools, some kids who are homeschooled or from other school districts join in the summer experience.
Brothers Adin and Jonah Ring, both 15-year-old sophomores at Burbank High School, are some of the original BYSTI players from the program’s inception in 2009.
“I enjoy Shakespeare and acting,” commented Adin Ring, who plays Jacques (Jaqueez.) “Not only is it fun to be part of the whole process learning lines and performing, but it’s also fun hanging out with a great bunch of people. ”
The friendship and camaraderie factor is something several BYSTI players mentioned as a big perk of the program.
“My favorite part about the BYSTI summer camp is that you get to meet new people and make new friends,” said first-year player and eight-year-old Ella Morris, who attends Emerson Elementary. She has been enjoying her role as one of the Merry Women in the performance.
“It has been a lot of fun,” said another first-year BYSTI player, Abby Griffith, who plays lead character Rosalind. “Everyone has been so nice.”
Griffith, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Muir Middle School, has done some acting before but never performed Shakespeare. She had to learn 120 lines in little more than a week after being assigned the role.
“It was hard to learn so many lines,” she added, “but I practiced every day.”
“Since the first year of camp, the plays have gotten a lot more complicated and I think the directors have figured out how to get the actors to step up to the challenge through the warmups we do and blocking the scenes,” commented Jonah Ring, who portrays lead character Orlando. “The quality of the shows has increased and I’m exited to see the end product.”
BYSTI was created in 2009 through a collaboration by Dr. David Rosen of Woodbury University, BUSD Visual & Performing Arts Coordinator Peggy Flynn and Dyson, an actor and parent.
“For five summers, BYSTI was held on the Woodbury University campus as Burbank’s version of ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ for kids,” explained Dyson.
In 2014, BYSTI partnered with the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department and now calls the Starlight Bowl their summer home.
“All students learn the basics of acting, movement, voice, improvisation and all while memorizing and preparing to perform a Shakespearian play,” commented Dyson. “All in three weeks! A different Shakespeare play is performed each year [adapted and edited by Dyson] and given our special BYSTI twist.”
“I chose As You Like It this year because we’ve never done one of Shakespeare’s true romantic comedies,” continued Dyson. “I felt the BYSTI players were now at the maturity and experience level to master this genre and I believe it’s enjoyable for all ages.”
“My original vision back in 2009 was to have the BYSTI players take over the program as they get older,” she added. “This year saw the very beginning of that vision come to fruition.”
“This summer, three original BYSTI players [Harry Miller, Emma Shannon and Maddie Seiffert] returned as interns – teaching their own improv workshop rotations, helping with set design, teaching master classes and choreographing musical numbers. Watching them take on the responsibility of helping a program they have pride in, which they helped make successful, makes me extremely happy.”
“We also have been extremely lucky over the years to have Susie Miller, a very recent BHS graduate, as our prop mistress extraordinaire!” added Dyson.
“It gives me a chance to do art, which I love, and the whole BYSTI group is like a family,” commented Susie Miller, who will attend UC Berkeley in the fall focusing on media studies.
“I could not ask for a better group of adults to spend my summers with,” added Dyson. “They are among the most professional, caring, talented and creative teaching artists around today. It is a dream team!”
BYSTI’s two presentations of As You Like It are free and open to the public. An “invited”dress rehearsal will be held on Thursday June 25, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Hats, umbrellas, sunscreen and water are recommended for those attending the dress rehearsal.
The evening performance of As You Like It will begin Friday night, June 26, at 6:00 p.m. Picnics are welcome. Free parking will be available in adjacent Starlight Bowl parking lots. There is no intermission and the show is expected to conclude by 7:30 p.m.