Shakespeare devotee Carli Ruggless, 13, (left) has enlisted her sister Izzy Ruggless, 12, (right) and a group of friends to stage a musical production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” next week at the band shell in Kiwanis Park in Brookfield. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

UPDATE, July 19, 2022

Due to a cast member contracting COVID-19, the performances set for July 20 and 21 have been postponed. The new performace date is now July 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kiwanis Park band shell.

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Carli Ruggless was only 6 years old when her parents took her and her sister, Izzy, to see a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in Columbus Park in Chicago. 

Even at that tender age, Carli was enthralled by the play and wanted to read and learn everything she could about Shakespeare and his plays. Now 13 years old, Carli has recruited Izzy and some friends, who call themselves the Green Bridge Troupe, to stage a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a free performance at Brookfield’s Kiwanis Park at 6 p.m. on July 20 and July 21. 

“I like the language,” said Carli when asked why she likes Shakespeare so much. “He has good female characters.”

On the car ride home from Austin to Riverside after seeing “Twelfth Night” in 2016, a then 6-year-old Carli announced to her parents that she wanted to read the play.

“She walked out of that just completely enthralled with what she saw and in the car on the way home she said, ‘Oh, I need to get that book; I need to read it,’” her mom, Elaine Ruggless, said.

By now Carli has read all but a handful of Shakespeare’s plays and she has inspired her family to attend more than 50 live performances of the bard’s plays. In 2019, the Ruggless family went to England so Carli could visit the rebuilt Globe Theater in London where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed and experience Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford upon Avon. They even stopped at the British Museum, in part so Carli could see and read from an original Shakespeare first folio.

“She has studied Shakespeare in depth,” Elaine Ruggless said.

Carli was so immersed in Shakespeare that Izzy, as a practical matter, had to get interested in Shakespeare too. 

“Carli has made her learn and memorize vast amounts of Shakespeare,” Elaine Ruggless said. 

But both girls are interested in theater beyond Shakespeare, and Izzy especially loves music and singing.

“Both of them are very interested in theater and have taken every theater opportunity that has come their way,” their mom said. “Izzy enjoys Shakespeare. She now is very well versed in understanding it and she has [the] great plots memorized, but she is much more a singer.”

Shakespeare devotee Carli Ruggless, 13, (left) has enlisted her sister Izzy Ruggless, 12, (right) and a group of friends to stage a musical production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” next week at the band shell in Kiwanis Park in Brookfield. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Carli and Izzy were both homeschooled for five years until last year, when they attended Hauser Junior High on a part-time basis.

Carli played the Wicked Witch of the West in Hauser’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” this spring while Izzy played a number of ensemble roles.

Last summer Carli, who like her sister and others in the play also are part of the Riverside Children’s Theater Guild, came up with the idea of putting on a play. Since Izzy is a talented singer and very interested in music, they decided to do a do a musical adaption of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and added songs from a variety of sources including “Frozen,” “Aladdin” and Garth Brooks. 

“It’s probably the easiest Shakespeare, it’s the most popular Shakespeare and it’s a lot easier than Phantom of the Opera which was my original idea,” said Carli of the decision to stage “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

While Carli is the show’s creative director, Izzy is the show’s music director, and the cast of eight actors range in age from 12 to 19, all playing multiple roles. The cast includes 13-year-old Henry Backus and 14-year-old Claire Shadduck who all attended the Riverside Presbyterian Church preschool with the Ruggless girls. 

The veterans of the cast are two 19-year-old college students, Adam Backus and Jovanis Prodanich, both veterans of many productions at Riverside-Brookfield High School.

The others in the cast are 13-year-old Angelo Burke and 12-year-old Elizabeth Kansa, who is the pianist and an actor. Eden Kohnke is the stage manager.

“We’re basically all friends or siblings of friends” Izzy said.

Adam Backus and Prodanich said it has been interesting working with younger actors. 

“They’re definitely energetic, it’s fun,” said Adam Backus.

Although admission to the play is free, donations to defray costs are welcome. Elaine Ruggless said that they are shelling out approximately $3,000 to rent a sound system and pay someone to run it.

The play will be staged at the band shell in Kiwanis Park, located at Arden and Brookfield avenues in Brookfield.