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Romeo and Juliet cast

The cast and crew of ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Romeo (Calvin Diamond) sword fights

Romeo (Calvin Diamond) sword fights

Maddie Steenbeke

Maddie Steenbeke of Dowagiac

Baylee Bauman, Brandywine

Baylee Bauman of Brandywine

Nikki Thompson

Nikki Thompson of Dowagiac plays Juliet

Jayden Bishop, Edwardsburg

Jayden Bishop of Edwardsburg

ETS Presents ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Beckwith June 23-24 for Two Free Shows

Published on June 20, 2023 - 2 p.m.

Southwestern Michigan College’s Educational Talent Search (ETS) and Dowagiac’s Beckwith Theatre teamed up to present a free two-week Summer Youth Theatre that attracted 23 participants from across the area.

Camp culminates with free public performances June 23 at 7 p.m. and June 24 at 2 p.m. of Craig Mason’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

A low-stress theatre introduction, the camp aims at students entering grades 6-12, though the youngest cast member, Maddie Steenbeke, 10, will be a Kincheloe Elementary School fourth grader.

Steenbeke plays Messenger. “He’s a really enthusiastic, funny guy,” she said. “I’ve made connections with a couple of really nice, funny people. I’m definitely glad I tried out. I would like to do this until 12th grade. I like being creative and outgoing.”

“Any kid who likes acting should definitely join this,” Steenbeke added. “They’re great people.”

One of the crew staging props, including soft blades for a fatal sword fight, is Baylee Bauman, 13, of Brandywine Middle/High School.

“I’ve taken theatre classes and have always liked theatre” from her vantage point backstage. “I like building sets and giving actors their props,” said Bauman, who reads scripts as a hobby.

Jayden Bishop, 12, Edwardsburg Middle School seventh grader, has “always wanted to act.” He portrays Mr. Capulet, Juliet’s father and the patriarch of the Montague’s rivals.

“I like pretending I’m someone else,” Bishop said. “I want to become an author, but none of my books are finished yet. Some are close. I write action, mysteries, adventure. I’ve always written stories, and they turned into chapter books. One has 19 chapters. I also write sheet music.” He plays clarinet and, soon, a saxophone a neighbor gifted him.

“I like being around these people, they’re nice,” Bishop said.

Dowagiac Middle School seventh grader Nikki Thompson, 12, plays Juliet alongside Dowagiac Union High School junior Calvin Diamond, who appeared in “UnMurdered” in 2019 and in last summer’s “The Complaint Desk” and “Lemonade.”

Thompson appeared in the ensemble for the high school production of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

“I was surprised” to be cast as Juliet,” Thompson said. “I expected a smaller role. You have to be confident. I want to be an actor.”

Cast members also include Damian McLeod (Tybalt); Maxx Simpson (Prince); Gwendolyn Lucas (Nurse); Elyzabeth Davis (Friar); Amaria Gaston (Mrs. Capulet); Tessa Miltroka (Benvolio); Brady Frazier (Mercutio); Alanna Crago (Mrs. Montague); Steven Solarek (Newsie); and narrators Jeorgia Vann-Mincey, Donna Babler, Lily Babler and Annie Babler.

“We’ve done basic entry-level plays the last few years and wanted to increase the challenge because the kids have done so well previously,” said Ryan Murray, directing with Jack and Peggy Gannon. “I’ve wanted to do ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for some time and it worked out well to do it here.”

“Partnering with ETS helps us get students from a wider area than Dowagiac,” Murray said. “They indicate whether they want to act or be in the crew. We have a stage crew (Baylee Bauman, D’artagnan Colburn, Malcom Poorman, Aaron Gregg, Lexie Howell, Avayiah Dodd)  to help build sets and move scenery for the first time this year, which is great. They will also be in the tech booth doing sound and lights. We want students to try as many things as possible.”

Helping out from the federally-funded ETS are Director Bethani Eichel, advisors Ally Harris and Ross Tidey and tutor Peytin Lee.

Staff members also include 2020 SMC graduate Sophia Stockwell as backstage and props manager, April Kerber, Sage Salas and Nick Saltzman.

Four volunteers are past participants, like 2020 SMC graduate Christianna Schommer, Jon Brooks from Cassopolis, Zach Weller and Caleb Wolfe, 23, who holds a 2022 bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Grand Valley State University. He works at SMC’s Carole A. Tate Teaching and Learning Center as a writing consultant.

“I think the first one I did was when I was 16,” said Wolfe, who graduated from DUHS in 2018 and started as a GVSU theatre major. As an acting coach, he helps the budding thespians develop their characters, add depth to their acting and memorize lines.

Wolfe did his first play as an adult last October with a small role in “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” and participates on Beckwith’s improv team.

“The first week can be chaotic,” Wolfe said, “so I’m always amazed at the end of the second week by how these kids always pull it together and put on a heck of a show.”