In 1980, The Young Shakespeare Players began as a backyard summer project involving 15 young people doing one full-length Shakespeare play each summer. (What was YSP’s first production? Hamlet!) For some years, the program remained small, rehearsals were held in donated space, and performances took place in public parks. During the 1990s, several annual productions were added, and enrollment grew to more than one hundred young actors.
The Directors (founder Richard DiPrima and his wife Anne DiPrima), both psychologists, moved out of state to start their own clinical practice. However, at the request of participating Madison families, the DiPrimas continued to return periodically to Madison to direct the YSP projects. Local families incorporated the program as a not-for-profit (501c3) organization.
By the year 2000, also at the prompting of local families, the DiPrimas agreed to move back to Madison from their home in Charlotte, NC to make YSP a full-time project. Richard DiPrima ceased clinical practice to work on YSP full time. Anne DiPrima, while continuing to practice as a clinical psychologist in Madison, helps direct YSP and creates all its costumes.
By 2001, as the number of productions increased and enrollment grew to an average of 200 annually, it became clear that YSP needed its own dedicated space. Parents of YSP actors formed a not-for-profit support organization (the YSP Foundation) to help secure a suitable space. The building, 1806 West Lawn Avenue in Madison, now known as the YSP Playhouse, houses all rehearsals and performances.
By 2010, YSP had developed the instructional and performance materials for 16 full plays of Shakespeare, as well as major workshop scenes or segments from another 12 of his plays, and 13 plays by G.B. Shaw. In 2007, YSP also prepared for and performed a 9 ½ -hour, 2-day adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, Nicholas Nickleby (as first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980). In addition to 10–12 major productions a year, YSP also offers seminars (Focused Workshops) on critical, literary, and dramatic aspects of Shakespeare’s works, available to veteran actors and adults. The material taught in these seminars is the subject of Richard DiPrima’s book, The Actor’s (and Intelligent Reader’s) Guide to the Language of Shakespeare.
YSP has continued to expand opportunities for people of all ages. The Dickens Dramatic Reading Society, begun in 2008 in order to give staged readings of selections from Dickens’ novels and stories, includes veteran and adult actors. An original adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, modeled after the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby and written by Richard DiPrima, was staged at YSP in 2011 and included actors 10 and up.
Young Shakespeare Players-East is the very first YSP chapter outside Madison, WI. The New England chapter is committed to the mission and values of YSP, using the same materials and methods. With the help of YSP Founders, Richard and Anne DiPrima, YSP East-New England’s Director, Suzanne Rubinstein, and a group of talented volunteers, YSP East is inspiring young people in the region to fall in love with the works of Shakespeare, and through their immersion into classical theater find their voice.