“Shaking Up Shakespeare,” New Era, June 2006, 40–43
Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Frandsen watches helplessly as the choreographed battle between the English and the French deteriorates into a free-for-all, with soldiers thrusting their wooden swords at whoever is closest and dead men falling and lying still for only a second before jumping back up to join the fun again.
Of course, Chelsea knew this was one of the hazards of enlisting three-year-olds to play soldiers in her neighborhood production of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
“I was just laughing my head off,” recalls Chelsea, a Laurel in the Oak Hills Fourth Ward, Provo Utah Oak Hills Stake. She knows that on performance night, the real goal isn’t perfection—it’s having fun.
While it is fun, the Oak Hills Neighborhood Theater also means a lot of work for Chelsea, who has, so far, directed three Shakespeare plays put on entirely by children from her neighborhood.
More than 100 children from ages 3 to 13 have participated in the plays—building sets, doing makeup, finding their own costumes, and playing the parts of characters such as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The children have gained a love of Shakespeare and more self-confidence thanks to Chelsea’s positive attitude and patience.
“I’ve always loved theater, and I think Shakespeare teaches universal truths,” says Chelsea, who started the neighborhood children’s theater at the request of a 10-year-old boy in her ward. “Being in these plays increases the children’s confidence and has broken down a lot of social barriers in our neighborhood.”
Getting the theater off the ground was both frightening and rewarding for Chelsea. “It was scary to do because I’m not much older than a lot of these children, and I was afraid they wouldn’t listen to me or that they would quit, so it took a lot of prayer for me to put that first production together, and it strengthened my faith to have those prayers answered.”
Chelsea has found faith-promoting experiences in all aspects of her undertaking.
“I love Shakespeare’s works because I think they have a lot of layers; there are a lot of teachings. I think Shakespeare teaches us about life. Our road to the celestial kingdom isn’t easy, and I think Shakespeare makes you realize that a lot of the problems you have in life can be avoided by choosing the right.”
One of the biggest delights for Chelsea is helping the children she directs gain an appreciation for Shakespeare’s writing, as well as a better understanding of the gospel through the good things his works teach. She recalls one experience when she was trying to help a young girl understand her role as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew.
“There’s a speech that Katherine makes about how wives need to obey their husbands and how both need to be partners and work together. The girl playing Katherine had no idea what the speech was saying, so I was telling her how husbands and wives should love each other.
“Another girl was listening and said, ‘Isn’t that in the scriptures somewhere?’ and then this little girl’s face just lit up and she said, ‘Oh, yeah! I know that scripture!’ talking about the New Testament where it says, ‘Husbands, love your wives’ (Eph. 5:25). It was fun to watch her read the speech after that because I knew she understood it.”
Chelsea’s testimony has been strengthened not only by the stories told in Shakespeare’s plays, but also by her own trials in making the theater a success.
“Sometimes I would come home after a difficult rehearsal, and my mom would say, ‘Aren’t you glad you have Heavenly Father’s help?’ Every night I prayed for His help with the production and thanked Him for helping me get through it.”
Chelsea’s prayers and hard work paid off. In their second season, the Oak Hills Neighborhood Theater put on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Chelsea shortened and simplified for the children. The production went so well that the group was invited to participate in the Utah Shakespearean Festival’s Elementary Shakespeare Showcase in Cedar City, Utah.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to these wonderful, talented children,” says Chelsea.
She says her love of theater is a gift and that by sharing it with the children in her neighborhood she can help strengthen their confidence, their friendships, and their faith.
“If you have a righteous goal,” says Chelsea, “Heavenly Father will help you see it through.”