Greencastle students 'play Shakespeare'

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Rosalind (Naomi Farkass) begs her friend Celia (Reilly Anderson) to tell her a secret in a scene from Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Farkass and Anderson are among the 16 young actors from Greencastle schools who will be presenting their scenes at Saturday's "Will Power" event at DePauw's Moore Theatre at 2 p.m. "Naomi and I get to do a lot of actions," Anderson said. "I'm really glad we got this scene."

How do you get kids into Shakespeare? Get to them before they know it's supposed to be tough.

"They cannot get enough of the language. They don't know they're supposed to be intimidated by it, so they're just not," said Amy Hayes, coordinator of "Will Power: Shakespeare in the Schools."

The program, which began in early February with kids from Greencastle Middle School and High School, allows students to experience William Shakespeare's work on stage, not simply reading it in a classroom.

"They're playing. They play Shakespeare, so that's what we're doing," Hayes said.

The 16 students have been working on learning Shakespeare's language and on learning specific scenes. On Saturday, 16 kids will take to the stage at 2 p.m. in DePauw's Moore Theatre for a "festival of scenes," in which eight pairs of students will perform scenes from a number of Shakespeare's plays.

The event will also feature an air broadsword fight, Elizabethan dance, an Elizabethan round song and food. Scenes will be drawn from "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Twelfth Night", "Romeo and Juliet", "A Comedy of Errors", "Hamlet", "Henry VI, Part 1", "As You Like It" and "Much Ado About Nothing."

Hayes described the program as "two-tiered traning." Not only are the middle and high school students learning to speak, move and act the lines, but a group of DePauw students are instructing them, teaching them how to do Shakespeare.

"It's classes like the that made me change my major from biology to communications," said Marycruz Baylon, a DePauw sophomore from Chicago. "I really want to work with children. I think somewhere going into education is my calling. It's challenging but it's fun at the same time."

For the students, the challenge came in simply getting their heads around the language. GMS seventh grader Kat King, who plays Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", said the language was the biggest challenge.

"It was difficult at first because I didn't know what half the words were, but as I learned more about what my scene was about, I started to figure out more of the words," King said.

Sixth-grader Megan Matthews plays Hermia in a different scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream." In the scene, Hermia and Helena (Emma Taylor) are in a fight.

"Once we understood it, it was really easy because It's just everyday emotions -- we're angry at each other," Matthews said.

Hays said the language really isn't as challenging for young minds as people make it out to be.

"Kids know instinctively how to do Shakespeare when you get them in the language," Hays said. "It's so important that they get it in their bodies. They just love the language. They're swimming in it like ducks."

Will Power is funded by a Ball Venture Grant, and is based on a program started by Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. The Massachusetts program has been wildly successful in its more than 20 years of existence and has even been the focus of an intense study be Havard University.

Following the study, the researchers made the unprecedented recommendation that the program be instituted in every high school nationwide. They found it increases the ability to study any complex text, including physics and math.

Although the local program is in its pilot year, Hayes is hoping it can eventually be in all four county high schools. She's also hoping to do a full production next year.

"We're not sitting and reading Shakespeare. We're experiencing the language in a very visceral way," Hayes said. "They learn it and understand it in ways they don't get to sitting at a desk."

For one DePauw senior, working with the younger students has acted as a sort of capstone to her DePauw experience, challenging her in ways she did not expect.

"I took the class because I thought it would be easy. It turns out it's been one of the most challenging experiences I've had at DePauw," said Taryn Stark, a senior from Maui, Hawaii. "These kids are great -- they're brilliant.

"You learn so much about yourself and them and Shakespeare. These are the kinds of experiences people seek out, and at DePauw, we're lucky enough to have them just presented to us on a whim."

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