One brave young man must disobey the only society he’s ever known and pursue what he believes is right, even if it causes him pain.
Another young man, this one more ambivalent, can’t bring himself to take action toward vengeance, even though he knows what duty calls him to do.
But what these two stories – “The Giver” and “Hamlet,” respectively – have in common is that they are both sure to resonate with students, and they’re coming to the Chesapeake Arts Center on October 1 as two-for-one touring productions by the National Players.
“It’s two opportunities to experience two different theater pieces,” explained Belinda Fraley Huesman, executive director of the Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC), who cited that this will be the third time the National Players have visited and the second time they will be working with students in the Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) magnet for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “We always want to bring in a program that will educate the kids as well.”
As Huesman explained, the National Players are the country’s longest-running touring theater company, one that has launched the careers of such well-known actors as Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon and “Man Men” star John Slattery.
And according to Kevin Hassler, the troupe’s general manager, this year’s company is an excellent one. “We've got a company member doing his third tour with us, and many new faces we're ecstatic to work with this year,” Hassler said, adding that the diverse group of actors represents “four different countries and all corners of America.”
As for the productions they’re bringing to CAC on October 1 – two productions which are open to the public, with the option of seeing both shows or just one of them – Hassler indicated that there are thematic similarities as well as aesthetic ones. “Aesthetically, these shows … have to travel together, so they are built to share resources, including set components,” he said. “This year, audiences will see a similar central figure but accented with different and vibrant costumes, lights and sound.”
In “The Giver,” which will begin at 10:30am, a boy from a dystopian future society inherits an unusual career: to receive and keep the memories of his community’s past. But as he learns from his predecessor, the Giver, about love, war and all of life’s unknown joys and pains, he must decide whether to keep these new secrets or upend his community.
Then in “Hamlet,” which begins at 8:00pm, the prince of Denmark returns home from school to find his family life in ruins – his royal father dead, his mother remarried and his uncle (now stepfather) ruling the country. When his father’s ghost appears and encourages Hamlet to seek vengeance, the prince struggles to take action, inadvertently hurting and undoing everyone close to him.
Hassler explained that although “Hamlet” will use Shakespeare’s original verse, the design will reflect more modern times. “The Giver,” which takes place in the future, calls for greater technological design, and the story will stay as true to the source material as a theater adaptation can.
When the cast of the National Players isn’t onstage, its members will lead workshops and classes for AACPS’ PVA students, which Huesman said was a well-received aspect of last year’s visit. “They’re very inspirational for the kids,” she said. “They help the kids realize they can be an actor if they want, and really pursue that. Any time you can encourage a student that way is really great.” Having the National Players visit, she explained, is made possible by grants from the Maryland State Arts Council, which helps cover part of the cost of bringing the professional troupe to the center.
Hassler described the relationship between the National Players and CAC as phenomenal. “The best part is learning what each community wants and aspires to accomplish; then we collaborate on how we can help achieve those goals,” Hassler said. “I know Chesapeake was looking to offer theater opportunities to nearby students, and we started conversations early on about corollary outreach programs as well. To be able to consistently grow the program each year has been a testament to the good work Chesapeake Arts does, and our collaboration as well.”
Huesman is also excited because the VIP reception before the performance of “Hamlet” will pay tribute to Joan Cadden, a former state delegate and the founder of the Chesapeake Arts Center. At 5:30pm, Huesman will join the National Players and arts supporters from the community for appetizers and drinks while they hear from guest speakers and get to watch the fight call for “Hamlet.”
To order tickets for “The Giver,” “Hamlet,” the VIP reception or all three events, visit www.chesapeakearts.org.
Huesman hopes that by seeing the National Players on the CAC stage, theatergoers will get a better sense of the Chesapeake Arts mission and what it has to offer local talents. “We want the neighborhood and the community to give us a chance to see what we’re doing,” she said. “You don’t have to go far for good theater or good art.”