Left to right, Christina Gotcher as Maria, Isabella Fojut as Sir Andrew, and Michael Becker as Sir Toby rehearse for the play “Twelfth Night” Jan. 8 at St. Charles Parish, Hartland. Performances were staged by members of the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Home Education group. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

HARTLAND — The early January cold provided an opportunity for 75 playgoers to spend a Sunday afternoon indoors watching Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” staged by “Campion’s Men” at St. Charles Catholic Church.

Unlike in Shakespeare’s day, when actors were all men, this was a mixed group of 15 teen boys and girls from the Milwaukee area – from Franklin and Racine to Milwaukee’s North Shore to Oconomowoc  – who enjoy putting on a performance once or twice a year as part of their studies. As homeschoolers in the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Home Education group, they had been reading and discussing a number of Shakespeare’s plays. In addition to writing projects, the two weekend performances – a larger crowd attended the Saturday performance – were the culmination of that semester course as they enlivened Shakespeare’s ideas and characters.

“This is a unique project. A lot of the students enjoy performing and it’s a nice opportunity to create for them,” said director Therese Gotcher. “Having the opportunity to work with this incredible, passionate group of young scholars and artists has been a delight.”

Paul Fojut, 17, a member of the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee, who played the duke Orsino, said, “This production was sort of a capstone to the course Therese (Gotcher) gave us where we could discuss and really get steeped in Shakespeare. We worked on the scenes as part of this class.”

They brought the expected lightness to a slightly abridged version of the production, originally written to celebrate the end of the Christmas season.

Most of the actors had previous experience in front of an audience, as their stage presence, projection and enunciation were well pronounced in most cases. A low budget dictated that students provide costumes and they worked with a minimum of props. Rehearsals were held in their homes starting in early November.

As in many of Shakespeare’s plays, the obvious theme of mistaken identity was developed with a minimum of words and a maximum of laughter.

This wasn’t the first time Gotcher had worked with the students. Some of the older teens were involved in “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” a production directed by Gotcher several years ago after she taught a summer Shakespeare course at a park in Franklin. A homeschooled child herself, she has been involved with acting since she was young.

The homeschool families are well represented with two of Gotcher’s brothers – now students at Notre Dame University – and a sister, Christina, also in the play. Some of the younger actors are siblings from other homeschool families. Gotcher’s brother, Nate, composed the music for the show and in his role as jester, he played his guitar. Emily Gordon provided a violin accompaniment.

Jacinta Van Hecke, 16, a member of St. Charles Parish, Hartland, who took the role of countess Olivia, has participated in other home group plays like “Alice in Wonderland,” “Emma” and “Midnight Dancers” with Gotcher.

The cast also included Michael Becker, Michelle Bridge, John Paul Burke, Isabella Fojut, Susan Gleason, Timothy Gotcher, Clare and Jack Miller, Matthew Van Hecke and Angelyn Von Reuden.

Gotcher graduated from Marquette University in 2007 with an English major. As a student, she acted in a number of performances at Marquette University. At 15, she was impressed with the Door County Shakespeare production of “Twelfth Night” and also had an internship with the (now defunct) Milwaukee Shakespeare Players to her credit. She also works with the Acacia Theater, in addition to her day job at the Milwaukee Center for Independence.

Many of Campion’s Men’s – named after St. Edmund Campion, English martyr and a contemporary of Shakespeare – prior plays have been performed at the Schoenstatt Center in Waukesha. St. Charles was a last-minute location when their expected venue became unavailable and they had to scramble for a new theater setting. When a couple of the girls who were members of St. Charles approached their pastor, Fr. Ken Omernick, he was delighted to have the facility available for them. In response, the admission charge became a contribution to the food pantry at the church.

Last spring the group performed ”Midnight Dancers,” based on Retold Fairy Tales series by Catholic young adult author Regina Doman. They were honored when the Virginia-based author was able to attend.