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To act or not to act? no question

Royal city teens take to the stage in teen production of hamlet - with a gender twist

Given that it's a sunny Friday morning in July, you might expect to find these teens somewhere else.

Lounging at the beach. Tanning on a patio. Sleeping in.

Where you probably wouldn't expect to find them is at Performance Works theatre on Granville Island for an all-day rehearsal of Hamlet.

Then again, you probably wouldn't expect to find a female Hamlet, either.

It seems wise to expect the unexpected when it comes to Carousel Theatre's Teen Shakespeare Program.

For 23 summers, the program has been providing preprofessional theatre training to teenagers in a six-week program that ends with a fully staged production.

This year's choice? A steampunk version of Hamlet - with the added twist that all the major roles are gender-reversed.

In a star turn as the melancholy Dane herself is New Westminster's own Sofia Bunting Newman.

Also joining the cast, with multiple smaller roles apiece, are Royal City locals Emily Armitage, Isaac McAndless-Davis and Daisy Hulme.

The four took time out from their Friday rehearsal to chat with The Record about their experience.

It's Sofia's sixth year with the Teen Shakespeare Program, and she's thrilled with the chance to play the angst-ridden princess.

"It's a chance I wouldn't really get otherwise, and I'm immensely grateful for it," she says. "It's a challenge, but a very fun challenge, and one I am hoping to rise to."

Because Carousel productions are geared to young audiences, the play is abridged - but even at that, it runs an hour-and-a-half, and Princess Hamlet still has a vast amount of stage time.

"I talk a lot, I never shut up really," Sofia says with a laugh.

The 17-year-old actor is one of the company veterans this year.

"When I joined (the Teen Shakespeare Program), I was 12 years old, and the people that were in it made it for me," Sofia says, recalling how much she looked up to the older actors and how they served as mentors for her. "Now I guess I'm that person."

She brings to the stage an acting resumé that includes the New Westminster Secondary School production of Grease and a couple of projects with her father, veteran actor Richard Newman -

She acted with him in a production of Runaways and was directed by him in Saltwater Moon.

By coincidence, it so happens that the elder Newman is appearing in Hamlet at Vancouver's Bard on the Beach festival this year - playing Polonius - so the father-daughter team can compare Hamlet notes at the end of their respective working days. Sofia has her sights set on pursuing an acting career.

At me away," she says with a grin.

Her three castmates, by contrast, come to the program with little stage experience.

Isaac, at 14, has just finished up at Glenbrook Middle School and is set to enter NWSS in September along with classmates Emily and Daisy - both of whom got involved in Carousel Theatre at his suggestion.

Isaac's brother had been involved in the Teen Shakespeare Program for three years, and Isaac has seen all the productions.

"I really enjoyed watching them," he says, so he decided to audition to be part of one this year - a first for him, he says, since he's never had a chance to be in a production before. "It's been so much fun. It's been a great insight into that world."

Emily, at 13, is the youngest cast member and, like Isaac, is a newbie to the performing world.

She has found the Teen Shakespeare Program immensely rewarding.

"It's amazing. It is so much more than theatre," she says. "It's not just a show, it's kind of like a little family. Everybody helps each other out."

Fourteen-year-old Daisy is equally enthusiastic about the experience.

"It is super-fun. Everybody's been awesome. The costumes are in .CHECK IT OUT

What: Carousel Theatre Teen Shakespeare Program's production of Hamlet Where: Performance Works outdoor stage, 1218 Cartwright St., Granville Island at When: Monday to Saturday, July 26 to Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: Free, or reserve a bleacher seat for $5 ($6 with blanket and cushion). Call 604-685-6217 or see

awesome, the sets are awesome, it's just - awesome!" she gushes. "Meeting all the people has been really cool. Everybody here is really fun."

The teens all hope to see people turn out in force for the show, and they're quick to offer up reasons why seeing their production of Hamlet is a good idea.

"It's probably the only chance you'll get to see a gender-swapped Hamlet," Sofia points out.

"You get to see people go insane, that's always fun," Emily notes.

And, as Daisy points out, it may be abridged, it may be outdoors, but, after all, it's still Shakespeare.

"It's just good," she says firmly. "It's just a really, really good play."

. Hamlet takes place on the Performance Works outdoor stage at 1218 Cartwright St. on Granville Island. In case of rain, the show moves inside. Bring a blanket or sweater, as the evenings can be cool.

It runs Monday to Saturday from July 26 to Aug. 10, with nightly shows at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but with limited bleacher seating, reservations are recommended. You can reserve in advance for $5, or $6 with a blanket and cushion.

For more, call the box office at 604-685-6217 or see