Students put their own stamp on Shakespeare

June 9, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Juliet, played by Anna Banashak, lures Romeo, played by Patrick Frawert, to her balcony in the scene ‘parting is such sweet sorrow.’ By Adam Eschbach

Juliet, played by Anna Banashak, lures Romeo, played by Patrick Frawert, to her balcony in the scene ‘parting is such sweet sorrow.’ By Adam Eschbach

At Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus, students are bringing new life to William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

At the school’s third annual Shakespeare Showcase June 5, students acted in adapted scenes from the famous play, set in the Elizabethan era, the roaring 1920s’ era with mobsters and the 1950s’ era with “greasers” in front of their parents, friends and teachers. 

“It was fun to do after reading Shakespeare,” said Patrick Frawert, a student who played a traditional Romeo in the balcony scene. “But it took a lot of guts and skill to go out onstage.”

While the showcase is a voluntary event, students are required to perform adapted scenes from the play for their final, Shannon Henderson, a language arts teacher at the school, wrote in an e-mail to The Press.“Romeo and Juliet” is a required reading for ninth-grade students in the district, but performance is the best way to help students understand the difficult text, since performance requires close reading and deep textual analysis, she wrote. 

Henderson said she came up with the Shakespeare Showcase project during the 2005-06 school year. 

“I was really impressed with all the hard work students put into their performances, and it seemed a shame to me that they only got to perform once,” she wrote.

By the next year, the Shakespeare Showcase night was up and running, with help from language arts teacher Shona Campbell.

“It gives students a chance to try something that they might not normally ever do — get on a stage and perform Shakespeare to a live audience,” Campbell wrote in an e-mail to The Press. 

However, many students were more than a little uneasy at the thought of reading Shakespeare, let alone performing it. 

“I thought it was going to be horrible, just because of all the weird language,” said Sam Torresdal, a student who played Benvolio in the 1950s’ adaptation. “But it was really fun and I learned a lot of new dirty jokes.”

“I was excited, because I heard Shakespeare was hard, but I wanted to see if I could do it,” said Anna Banashak, who played a traditional Juliet in the balcony scene.

“‘Romeo and Juliet’ is perfect for ninth-graders, because it’s about all the same ‘dramas’ that fuel the daily lives of so many of our students,” Henderson wrote. 

“It’s pretty much how teens act,” said Calvin Antonetty, a student who played the nurse in the 1950s’ adaptation. 

“Like when your parents don’t approve of a boyfriend,” added Erica Schmidt, a student who played Mercutio in the 1950s’ adaptation. 

“The students can really connect to the play, because almost all of them either have been, or know someone who has been in a similar situation to the characters in the play,” Henderson wrote.

To help ease their nerves, students were able to watch both a traditional “Romeo and Juliet” film from the 1970s and the 1996 modern film adaptation. Teachers also brought in actors from the Seattle Shakespeare Co. to perform and help students learn the basics, like stage fighting, dancing and Elizabethan manners, Campbell wrote. 

Their hard work paid off in the end; students and teachers agreed the scenes and eras flowed into one cohesive play for audiences.

“It’s a huge thrill, especially watching students who are convinced they can never do it, get up there and perform, hear the audience gasp at a death or laugh, and appreciate a good comic performance of the nurse,” Campbell wrote. “They walk off the stage full of energy and delight about something they created.”

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