BATAVIA -- Pat Burk wasn't thinking long-term when he announced the inaugural Shakespeare in Springtime series a decade ago.
As he recalled that first opening night of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and the crowd's audible response, he relished the fact that it survived not only those first few years but 10 years and counting.
"The curtains opened and people made that awesome 'ahhh' sound. I was very excited at that time. And the standing ovation at the end ... it really came to fruition," he said Tuesday after a rehearsal at Harvester 56 Theater for this year's production.
"We wanted to bring quality theater to the community and bring Shakespeare aboard," he said. "I was shocked we had as many people as we did audition for it. I wanted to make it larger than life."
Batavia Players is reprising that first show -- setting it in a different time and place -- for its 10th anniversary "Shakespeare in Springtime" production, scheduled March 22 to 25 at Harvester 56 Theater, 56 Harvester Ave., Batavia.
The series has taken spectators to a carnival, colonial Japan, gangland Chicago, Las Vegas and a tropical island as each play stretched the confines of Shakespeare and the audience's imagination.
Burk had for years harbored a vision of offering unique Shakespeare theater. But with the challenge of getting a large enough pool of people to serve as volunteers and cast members, he didn't know if it could be sustained.
"I thought if we were lucky we would get something established to last for a few years," he said. "We wanted to get into a regular flow of things so people would know what's coming up."
How it all began ...
The first Shakespeare show was "physically gorgeous" featuring a carnival setting with cotton candy, weight lifters, flag twirlers, a giant carousel with party music and a functioning house of mirrors.
The cast had to rehearse at the Masonic Temple on East Main Street until they could get on stage at Elba Central School. Most of the elaborate and colorful costumes were handmade. Burk just wanted to get it off the ground.
The community embraced the idea, the show and concept. The debut, which has set the tone for future productions, was set in the 1950s with a lot of action and dance numbers. (This year it will be 1960s San Francisco with hippies and beatniks contrasted by demure and upscale society types.)
A change of hands ...
Burk directed the first three shows. His wife, E. Jane Burk, has taken the helm of the last seven including this year's bell-bottomed "Midsummer Night's Dream."
It doesn't really matter where or when the works are set in, she said.
"Shakespeare is timeless," she said. "Sometimes we choose to set a play in a particular time period knowing we'll have access to some costumes. Some will have to be hand made or we end up tweaking them."
She has a style that is distinct from her husband, daughters Caryn and Malloryann said.
Mom is "very character driven and focused on individual people" whereas dad "will have an overall look of the show and deconstruct if from there," Malloryann said.
Theater siblings ...
Likewise, each of the Burk siblings -- who appear in both versions of "Midsummer Night's Dream" -- have their own take on these last 10 years of theater. Caryn was 20 when she played Helena, a lovestruck, hopeless romantic. She's playing Helena again, but this time the character means something more profound, she said.
"I think I was also like that: I very much romanticized life," she said. "I'll strive not to make her as silly the second time around. I'm 30, I have gray hair ... I have learned a lot about life in general, that makes it more meaningful."
Malloryann was a college freshman when she first played Titania, a serious and angry queen of fairies character. Now at 28, she is living a different life with a husband and 20-month-old son, Gabriel, and has opted for the character of Puck. Thought by some critics to be the most important role in the show, Puck's quick-witted ways and magic often sets things in motion. It has helped Malloryann embrace her new part, she said.
"It is really hard to me not to play Titania. I remember a lot of the lines," she said. "I like Puck better. Puck is way more fun, mischievous, and I can do what I like. I can stick my tongue out at people if I want to."
And she does.
Both women remembered earlier times when they ran around a school in Caledonia while their folks prepared for a show. Now little Gabriel gets to have that same fun exploring back stage of Harvester 56, his mom said.
It sort of sums up that, despite the passing of time, there are still two types of people involved in dramatic productions, Caryn said.
"There are people who do theater and there are theater people," she said. "We're theater people."
Twirler to fairy ...
At 24, Colleen Hofmaster recalls herself as a "a little iddy biddy" high school freshman when she got the role of a flag turner. There were no words but she got to wear bright red pants with suspenders, red and white striped shirt and white shoes.
Fast forward through five subsequent Shakespeare shows, and she is playing Moth, a fairy, and is choreographing the show.
A lot has changed since graduating from Notre Dame in 2005 and Niagara University in 2009. She realized that her goal to be a math teacher didn't match her loathing to be in front of a classroom. She now tutors at Genesee Community College while she acts on the side. "I am really happy where I am," she said.
Challenges, rewards ...
As Mrs. Burk mentally walked back in time, she went to one of the most challenging plays so far. It was in the middle of the night when she woke up and realized that "A Comedy of Errors" has to be done in colonial Japan.
While that meant some hurdles for the cast, it also solved a major problem: finding four actors to play two sets of identical twins. Adding dramatic white face and make-p accents, plus long flowing garb, all akin to an earlier Japanese time period, helped create "the picture you wanted to create," she said.
"It's very difficult to cast four people that strongly resemble each other," she said. "That's asking a lot of the audience, to go along with a suspension of belief."
Other obstacles were asking the cast of the Kabuki-style show to not just look, but also talk, walk and act like those Japanese characters. Getting through that to a successful ending "made it that much more rewarding," she said.
"Taming of the Shrew" was another challenge. That show, set in Texarkana, asked actors to divvy up accents for some to speak with a southern twang, others a Texan drawl and Mr. Burk to perfect someone from Louisiana, and all set in the 1930s and '40s.
"Traditionally when we choose a show, we choose an alternate experience than what would be in our ordinary, every day lives," Mrs. Burk said. "Every single one has its own feel."
Those creative interpretations has "made it so genuinely interesting," Mr. Burk said.
And it hasn't altered the story one bit, he said, since the mean person is still a mean person and the drunk is still a drunk. He or she just may look and sound different.
Ten-year journey ...
The acting troupe has made its way from schools to churches before landing at Harvester 56 Theater -- its home for the two seasons.
They have gone from "virtually no set" at the church to a home of their own on the city's southeast side. Smaller than many school or college auditoriums, the Harvester stage has allowed the cast to give a more intimate performance, Mr. Burk said.
It is something he could not envision when first starting, but has been made possible by a generous community. It now supports eight productions a year, two movie nights, musical guest performances and youth education programs.
"Look where we ended up, it's proof that theater is loved and welcomed here," he said. "You can bring (the audience) in with you. It's like Shakespeare in your face. You can see every leg cross and every mutter."
The Burk couple has ideas for next year's show, but neither one is divulging. In fact, it has not at all been set in stone. All they'd agree to is that it will be a brand new Shakespeare work for the Players. "We're probably going to argue about the next one," Mr. Burk said.
A Quick Look
WHAT: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. March 22 through 24 and 2 p.m. March 25. WHERE: Harvester 56 Theater, 56 Harvester Ave., Batavia
COST: Tickets are $10 general admission and $8 for students and senior citizens.
A special dinner theater is set for 5 p.m. March 31 at Terry Hills Golf Course & Restaurant, Clinton Street Road, Batavia. Tickets are $30.
To order, go to www.showtix4u.com or call (866) 967-8167