Starring in Shakesepare in the Park: All the world's a stage to Columbia teen

News-DemocratJune 1, 2014 

Many teenagers think Shakespeare is boring or weird, but not Dan Haller.

The 14-year-old Columbia boy is having a blast performing in "Henry IV" and "Henry V" this spring.

"If you actually see a Shakespearean play, it's so much better (than people expect)," he said.

"If the actors are doing it right, you can understand what they're saying. There's music and sword fights and action and romance. It's not that much different than a movie or a TV show."

This year for the first time, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is presenting two rotating plays on its outdoor stage in Forest Park.

"It's a chance for people to come back and watch a set of actors continue a story," said Executive Director Rick Dildine. "Both shows cover 20 consecutive years of British history."

The run ends June 15. Admission is free. People can bring lawn chairs or blankets, get food on site or pack picnics.

Dan is an eighth-grader at Immaculate Conception School in Columbia. He plays Sir John Falstaff's page in "Henry IV" and an unnamed boy in "Henry V."

The page scuffles with Mistress Quickly, a tavern keeper trying to have Falstaff arrested for unpaid debts. Dan has only one line in "Henry IV," but it's memorable.

"Away you, scullion, you rampallion, you fustillarian," he tells the mistress. "I'll tickle your catastrophe."

The page also pulls her off Falstaff's back and bites her ankle.

In "Henry V," Dan delivers two monologues and about 60 lines. He wears a drab, loose-fitting costume with a tunic, rope belt and boots, rounding out the period look with his curly mop of brown hair.

Dan has performed in several plays at Immaculate Conception, Columbia Middle School and The Actors' Attic, a non-profit theater organization. "Henry IV" and "Henry V" are his first professional productions.

"I like acting," he said. "This is what I do. So doing it with this amazing cast of actors and this amazing material is just great."

Dan is the son of Jim Haller, a Belleville attorney, and his wife, Jane, a college student.

Twin brother James is more interested in music than theater. He plays bass guitar in the band All Tuned Up.

"Dan was a baby when we started with 'Romeo and Juliet' (at the Shakespeare festival)," said Jane, 47. "I brought the twins in their little double stroller."

Mainly, she thought they'd enjoy the "green shows," which are opening acts such as jugglers, musicians and fire breathers.

Dan first performed as a fifth-grader in "Beauty and the Beast" at Columbia Middle School. He was a fish monger and member of an angry mob.

That began his three-year association with MaryBeth Scherr-Babcock, drama adviser for local Catholic schools and founder of The Actors' Attic. She immediately recognized his talent.

"Very few kids take a small role and make it their own and run with it," she said. (As the fish monger), Dan had this fake fish, and he was swinging it around and loving every minute of it.

"He just naturally understands what to do. He has that X factor."

Dan later enrolled in MaryBeth's summer camp and starred as Sky Masterson in "Guys and Dolls."

"He is joyful in every role, whether it is teeny weeny or huge," said MaryBeth, 47. "And that's a delightful quality in an actor, especially someone so young."

Dan also has attended the Shakespeare festival's summer camp and performed with its Shakespeare Squadron youth ensemble.

"Henry IV" and "Henry V" have 22 cast members. The simple set consists of a wooden plank backdrop, iron gate and stone foundation.

Dan tried out for his parts with directors Tim Ocel and Bruce Longworth.

"It was a good audition," Bruce said. "He gave a good reading, and he made good adjustments when he came for his call-back."

The directors were looking for a skilled actor but one who would come across as a kid on stage. Dan fit the bill.

"He's very talented," Bruce said. "He's a very sharp young man, and he's just really good to work with."

Dan's parents see the Shakespeare experience and training as invaluable because it's more challenging than most theater.

"If (Dan) continues this, and he really decides he wants to be an actor, he won't be afraid," his mother said. "It will be like he grew up swimming in it."

At a glance

What: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Where: Outdoor stage in Forest Park, across from St. Louis Art Museum

When: "Henry IV" at 8 p.m. today, Wednesday and Friday and June 8, 11 and 13 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday and June 14; and "Henry V" at 8 p.m. Monday and Thursday and June 9, 12 and 15 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday and June 14

Green Shows: Opening acts roam or take the stage an hour and a half before 8 p.m. performances and between Saturday double features

Admission: Free

Concessions: Food and drink available

Bring: Lawn chairs, blankets or picnic baskets, if desired

Information: Call 314-531-9800, visit sfstl.com or email info@sfstl.com

***

Dan's Favorites

Subject: Science

Movie: "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

TV show: "Doctor Who"

Music: Pop and bluegrass

Band: Maroon 5

Hobby: Soccer

Sports team: Manchester United

Food: Mac and cheese

Restaurant: Thai House in Columbia

Color: Blue

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