LilShakes1A cast and crew of teens from local schools rehearse A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, the annual “Little Shakespeare” production  that presents four public performances this weekend. (Photos courtesy of Two River Theater Company)

They hail from Red Bank Regional, Markham Place Middle School and Rumson Country Day School — and they meet by moonlight in the enchanted woods outside Athens, as conjured by William Shakespeare in his most kinetic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Actually, the forest faeries, passionate young lovers and amateur actors of the Bard’s most magical mystery tour will assemble inside the “black box” performance space at Two River Theater this week. And when the imaginary curtain goes up on this Midsummer Night for 10 performances between April 23 (Shakespeare’s birthday) and May 1, it will mark the latest in a new series of annual productions presented   under a program entitled “A Little Shakespeare.”

ShakespeareBCCThe Bard’s birthday – Thursday, April 23 –  is also the date of the fifth annual Shakespeare Read-A-Thon at the Performing Arts Center of Brookdale Community College, during which community members are invited to dress as their favorite Shakespearean villain and join BCC student actors (such as Anthony Holiday, Juliana Marron, and Cody Goold, pictured) and faculty in reading from the Bard’s works for a full 90 minute program that begins at 6 pm. For more information contact Professor James Cody at or call (732)224-2681. (Photo courtesy Brookdale Community College)

Created by Two River Theater Company director of education Kate Cordaro with TRTC artistic director John Dias, the program “snowballed from the idea of helping to make Shakespeare accessible to teenagers,” with the aim of allowing local theater-arts students a chance to work with a professional director, designers and technicians — as well as with the words of the formidable (but not at all fearsome) Bard.

This is the second Little Shakespeare offering, following a 2014 high-school cast version of As You Like It that ran simultaneously with a “grown-up” production of the same script on the Two River mainstage. With no Shakespeare plays on this season’s schedule, Cordaro and Dias opted to revisit a Dream that was memorably put forth by a professional cast in 2009 — and that formed the basis for Now Are Frolic, a TRTC Summer Ensemble project that “escaped the stage” in favor of a “site-specific” approach that commandeered hallways, wings and window ledges throughout the Bridge Avenue building.

Returning to supervise the cast of 15 young performers is actor-playwright-director Jason McDowell-Green, a professional who took on the task of condensing Shakespeare’s 400-year old classic into an action-packed hour and a half — and wrangling a real commitment from a group of students (nearly all of whom reside in Monmouth County) who had to balance a heavy rehearsal schedule against their evenings, weekends, spring break and school studies.

“This is something different from anything else these kids have done,” says Cordaro of her actors and student crew members, all of whom currently attend grades 6 through 12. “It’s a heightened experience, compared to a school production.”

Five of the actors in the Dream cast — Raquel Diaz, Patrick Monaghan, Max Portman, Alyssa Rogers and Zack Sabat — attend the Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) program at Red Bank Regional High School, while others are students at Colts Neck High School, Howell High School,   Biotechnology High School (Freehold) and St. Mary of the Assumption High School in Elizabeth. For the roles of Queen Titania’s faerie servants, the casting was opened up to include middle school students Maeve Gearty, Tess Hintelmann (both of Markham Place School in Little Silver) and Julian Sarin (of Rumson Country Day School).

“The kids are really excited about this show,” says Cordaro of her young actors and technical assistants. “When they come to rehearse here in this professional theater, with our wonderful team, they get how serious it is.”

In addition to six matinee shows for school audiences, the Little Shakespeare production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers four public performances on Friday (7 pm), Saturday (2 and 7 pm) and Sunday (2 pm). Take it here for tickets ($20 adults, $15 age 12 and under) — and here for information on this year’s Summer Theater Camp program at Two River, a three-week schedule of master classes, student-crafted “Playback” presentations and more.