BEEBE — For three weeks, eight children have been completing their summer vacation on campus at Arkansas State University-Beebe with set design, costumes and Shakespeare.
The ASU-Beebe Star Children’s Theater will present Macbeth on Friday evening, and this year’s show will be performed in honor of former professor and administrator Ruth L. Couch, who died earlier this summer.
Sandra Williams, ASU-Beebe instructor of speech and theater, said she has directed the Star Children’s Theater for several years, and she believes the children she directs through the program teach her at least as much as she tries to teach them.
“They give you energy,” she said. “Every teacher should do it.”
In years past, the program hosted upward of 30 children. This year there are eight, which Williams said is a result of the voluntary reduction of spaces available for the program and the fact that this year’s program is taking place later in the summer than usual.
With preteens and teenagers delivering the lines of Shakespeare, Williams said, their trust and acceptance of her direction is invigorating and refreshing.
“They are fearless,” she said. “They’ll try anything. … We often teach kids to be afraid to fail when it should just be a part of living. You fail, you learn, you move on. These kids get that.”
For 11-year-old Jared Humphrey, learning seven roles for the show is no big deal, even if it is in Shakespeare’s old-fashioned rhetoric.
“Once you know what the words mean, it’s actually pretty easy,” he said. “I did have to work on how to say some of them.”
Jared has performed in four other shows, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In this year’s production of Macbeth, Jared said his favorite part of the show is the scene where Banquo is killed.
Jared’s sister Emily, who is 12 years old, is playing the title character Macbeth, and she said it has been interesting studying the partnership between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who is played by 14-year-old Mary Claire Durr.
“One of the things I like best is the relationship dynamic between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth,” she said. “She spurs him on through the show. It’s been fun.”
Mary Claire agreed, but also added that the inner turmoil of her character has provided a challenge she is glad to accept.
“The transition from this conniving, treacherous woman to this crazy lady who lost it has been fun to play,” she said.
The children have also had their hands in costuming and set design for the show, and Williams said Mary Claire took a special interest and assumed leadership in creating the backdrops.
Sixteen-year-old Seth Wyatt plays Macduff, and he said he has been in 27 plays. This is his first time acting in Macbeth, and Seth said he is particularly proud of the costumes for the show.
“It’s just so neat that we get to perform in these costumes,” he said, referencing his fur-trimmed robe.
This year’s summer production is dedicated to the late Ruth L. Couch, emeritus professor of English and former vice chancellor for academic affairs, who initiated the original Star Children’s Theater program.
Couch died July 26. She spent 32 years at ASU-Beebe in various positions. Couch was the first full professor at ASU-Beebe and the first woman on the faculty to earn a doctorate. She was also the first female vice chancellor for academic affairs and served longer in that position than anyone else.
After her retirement from ASU-Beebe in 2003, Couch served as director of the Beebe Chamber of Commerce and stayed active in the ASU-Beebe Development Council, the Adult Education Advisory Board, the Shepherd’s Center Board and the Beebe Economic Development Commission.
“Dr. Ruth Couch was an excellent teacher. Because she cared about people and wanted to help them, she was a workaholic, whether she was working for her church, her community or her university,” ASU-Beebe Chancellor Eugene McKay said in a press release. “Although she had no immediate family living nearby, she had a large family of friends who loved her dearly because she was a true friend with a positive outlook on life. She was an intelligent, successful, witty person with a great sense of humor who, even at the end of her life, encouraged others to be positive and keep the faith. Her many friends will miss her wit, charm and positive encouragement.”
The performance of Macbeth will take place at 7 p.m. Friday in the Owen Center Theater at ASU-Beebe. The play is free and open to the public.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.