Be their guest, be their guest.
Brooklyn welcomes a modern-day spin on a traditional fairytale at Act-Out! Acting School’s Youth Summer Camp world premiere of “Beauty and the Beast,” opening at Bensonhurst’s Block Institute this month.
“In this case, it was very important to me to focus in on physical image,” said John Stillwaggon, artistic director of Act-Out! Acting School on the revamp. “Physical image is important to everyone as an adolescent but it’s so much more important to girls; it seems almost insurmountable to them.”
Stillwaggon wrote and directed the modernized version of “Beauty and the Beast,” switching up the roles.
The traditional tale will undergo a modern makeover, trading in the trees and forests of rural France for the halls and classrooms of a Brooklyn high school. There, a student named Bess is the show’s “Beast,” as she is repeatedly called by cruel classmates.
Bess overcomes endless bullying while struggling with her own self-image with the help of the show’s male “Beauty” character, Bill. Bill is the tall, handsome captain of the basketball team, who uses his popularity to do good for others. This time around, it’s Bess this beauty hopes to save from her street-fighting ways.
“She’s a fully human 18-year-old girl,” explained Stillwaggon of Act-Out’s Beast, “but she was a victim of a fire that burnt part of her face. She’s been ostracized, called a monster and so she lashes out.”
The modernization of classic curtain-calls isn’t new to Act-Out.
“We recently redid ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” said Stillwaggon. “It was set in rival high schools – Montague High and Capulet Prep. We’ve done that with a number of productions. We often like to modernize it to make it immediate and relatable.”
This season’s production has a full cast of 22 starlets, from as young as four years old to seniors in high school, and although this modern fairy-tale tackles a very serious theme, Stillwaggon assures some comic relief.
“There’s acting, singing and dancing,” he said, “and while it deals with finding your identity, there are some comic characters.”
According to Stillwaggon, the production’s characters are some of the most in-depth Act Out has produced. The modern-day Gaston even comes in the form of a modern-day-mean-girl named Jiselle.
“I’m very proud of it,” he said. “It could very well be the best show we’ve put on yet.”
Despite the Brooklyn-spin’s distinct similarities to the original story, Stillwaggon promises an ending that may shock the audience.
“Besides the sort of new elements, the ending is sort of a surprise,” he said. “It’s not your typical ‘Beauty and the Beast’ ending.”
Curtains rise at the Block Institute (376 Bay 44th Street) on Friday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. and Saturday Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. for a ticketed price of only $10.