If Shakespeare had written about football

It's a good bet that Shakespeare never envisioned football, at least not the American kind.

Beginning this week, however, 28 students from across Cabarrus County will set the great playwright's script amid green grass with white yard lines and cheering fans in a youth production of "The Comedy of Errors" at the Old Courthouse Theatre in Concord.

Students ages 12-19 will entertain audiences with a story about two sets of long-lost twins who are unaware that they have unexpectedly run into each other.

"As I went through the script, there was just a lot of places where I could see the football game parallel going on," Director Andy Rassler said. "So I wrote some original stuff for a couple of football-type announcers, and we're just going with that."

Rassler said the football theme helped overcome the difficulty of casting two sets of twins.

"We're taking a little different spin on it. Everyone is going to be wearing football jerseys," she said. "It's a weird football game, but when I read the script I didn't know how I was going to do the identical-twin thing."

Matthew Ensley and Justin Moody, both 18 and from Northwest Cabarrus High School, will be the game announcers throughout the play, adding side commentary and humor.

The two first heard of the opportunity to be cast in the roles from the director, who is their drama teacher.

Rassler crafted the announcer's scripts herself. Both cast members said they were excited to fill the roles and not have the pressure of memorizing Shakespeare's lines, as the rest of the cast must.

"The cast is working really hard, and they're a really good group of kids," Moody said.

On Monday, cast members began rehearsal with a stretching exercise to calming tunes onstage with Rassler.

The cast members opened smoothly, tackling Shakespeare's lines one by one. A constant banter buzzed among characters on stage and the stage manager in charge of lines, sitting in the front row.

Several times, a character was speaking the Shakespearean dialogue with ease, then abruptly shouted "line!" to the stage manager, who would jog the character's memory with first few words of the next line in the script.

The chatter went on as cast members called up memorized lines and polished their acts for this week's performances.

Regarding Shakespeare's language, Matt Verner, 16, of Jay M. Robinson High School said he threw himself into the role and just went for it.

"If everyone works hard, we can get it together really well," said Verner, cast in a twin role as Antipholus of Ephesus.

His character is the twin brother of Antipholus of Syracuse, played by Gyo Gamble, 19, of Central Piedmont Community College.

"We were actually studying Shakespeare in my acting class, so it was a perfect time for me to try out some Shakespeare stuff," Gamble said. "This is a very modernist style of Shakespeare, so it's very fun and it's easy to follow as well."

Gamble said he has enjoyed Shakespeare's style and looks forward to opening night.

Cast member Jennie Mayfield, 18, of Concord High School plans to major in theater at UNC-Wilmington. Cast as Courtesan in the classic farce, she said she, too, was eager to perform the play.

"I love being a part of the production," Mayfield said. "I started my theater endeavors at Old Courthouse Theatre at age 12, and it's nice to have started and ended here."

"They are the cream of the crop of the youngsters in Cabarrus County - that's my suspicion," Rassler said. "To take this on as an extra thing - to not be paid for it and do all of this extra work to entertain the community - just floors me, that they are willing to do that."