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Eighth Graders Take Shakespeare From Page to Stage

Lake Forest Country Day students present 'The Tempest'.

 

Nearly 400 years after his death, the words of William Shakespeare continue to influence the lives of eighth-grade students of

The class will split into two casts to present two productions of The Tempest at 7 p.m. May 23 and 24, in the LFCDS Performing Arts Center. The performances will be the culmination of an entire semester's work on the play, and are open to the public.

Manon Spadaro, LFCDS's drama instructor, has been teaching Shakespeare at the middle-school level for many years. Each year, she selects two of Shakespeare's works for the LFCDS eighth-grade class to produce, one for
each semester. This year, Spadaro decided to focus on two of Shakespeare's "problem plays": The Merchant of Venice, which the eighth-grade produced this winter, and The Tempest.

The idea to stage these particular works came from two separate inspirations. The first was a two-week Shakespeare workshop Spadaro participated in last summer at the prestigious Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif.

Called "Shakespeare at the Huntington," the program is designed primarily for secondary teachers of English and drama, and focuses on the pedagogy, text analysis and performance of Shakespearean work. The other inspiration was A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare's Plays Teach Us About Justice, a book by celebrated legal scholar Kenjo Yoshino.

"The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest are among the texts he cites in the book." Spadaro said. "The time just seemed right to tackle these plays." 

Work on The Tempest began at the beginning of the spring semester, where each LFCDS eighth-grade student was assigned a role as well as a production task. These jobs range from acting as assistant director of the production, to set and costume design, to designing programs and handling publicity.

"Giving the students dual tasks teaches them about both sides of the theatre, that it's more than simply memorizing and reciting lines," Spadaro said. "That said, the least important thing in Shakespeare is the language. The most important thing is the impulse that precedes the language. In other words, as the students learn to play their character's objective, they gain insight into the language."

One of Shakespeare's later plays, The Tempest is a story about revenge and forgiveness. Set on a mythical island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Prospero, the main character, comes up with a plan to avenge a disservice that has been done to him, reclaim the title his brother Antonio stole, and in the process help his beautiful daughter Miranda find true love.

"We've spent a lot of time in class talking about Shakepeare's metaphors and humor," said student Allie Patenaude, who plays Antonio in addition to her assistant director duties for Cast A. "Because we're acting it out and not just reading it, you really start to understand what you're saying."

"You get to experience how these characters feel in certain situations," said student James Rozsypal, assistant director for Cast B, who also takes on the role of the servant Caliban. "It's cool — you get the chance to be a person that you wouldn't be normally."

Spadaro said there couldn't be more perfect words for eighth-grade students to engage with.

"Shakespeare's work includes every visceral emotion," she said. "Love, jealousy, mercy, ambition, forgiveness, a desire for freedom—it's all there. These are emotions we all experience and recognize."

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