Some years ago my child Asa, who is 13 now, fell in love with acting. As such, we tried out a few of the local summer drama camps in our town, and while Asa pretty much enjoyed them, they were decidedly ho-hum. We thought Asa needed a theater experience they could really dive into. We thought we could do something ourselves that would be better. We had cardboard and tape. And so, we assembled a handful of Asa’s friends, selected a play (in our case, based on a movie), hammered out a script, and Front Yard Productions was born.
The first year we staged The Princess Bride: papier-mâché stick horses, cardboard pirate ship, pretend poisoned wine, the whole thing. The kids got their scripts ahead of time, and then we spent a week putting it all together. It was great fun and the audience loved it, and Asa, as Inigo Montoya, had a role they could sink their teeth into. The second year we did Young Frankenstein—an age-appropriate version, with the humor adapted accordingly. That one required more elaborate props and sound effects, but you can do pretty much anything with stuff you find lying around your house.
This year we have our biggest cast by far—11 kids, ranging in ages from nine to 15, and a more ambitious drama: Pride and Prejudice. The actors have been cast in their (sometimes multiple) roles, they are learning lines, and we are starting to think through the many details. The really fun part for me is adapting the play and dialogue in funny ways, and finding places to embellish the staging: bits of narration supported by pantomime, or instead of a kiss at the end (Darcy and Elizabeth are 13 years old, after all) we will have a free for all dance scene in pajamas.
Besides the fun of it, the kids get to co-create something themselves with no money needed. They have an in-depth acting experience, and it’s something that we share with friends and family. As a parent, it’s a great way for me to spend time with my kid. We go through all the steps together, brainstorm and problem-solve, paint props, etc. and then celebrate at the end with the show. Not least, I appreciate modeling the fact that sometimes the DIY approach is the best one, and that it can be done virtually for free.
We also get to provide acting opportunities that support the various abilities of our actors. One of our cast is in recovery from a brain injury, and though a brilliant and talented kid, memorizing lines is difficult, and since we are in charge of the script, we just make it how we want. Our star this year, in the role of Elizabeth, is a fine young actor, but is a somewhat shy and soft-spoken person, and finds the usual audition scenario intimidating. We prefer invitations to auditions, however, and we know she will be stellar on our front-yard stage, as she has been in our previous plays. And of course, Asa gets their pick of roles. This time, it’s Mr. Darcy, which will be an interesting challenge in subdued intensity, after flamboyant roles like Inigo Montoya and Igor.
So, if I may, I recommend this recipe for summer fun: get some friends together, dig through your neighborhood recycling, and put on a play in someone’s yard. A really good time is guaranteed for all.
Jenny Jaeckel is the author of House of Rougeaux, recently published and available in print and audio.
Publishers Weekly called House of Rougeaux a “rich tapestry of a novel” in their starred review.