As many of you know, on a Friday back in November Ms. Biljetina and I took a group of eight Grade 8 KCS students to Stratford, Ontario to take part in the Student Players Festival: the fourth and final stage of Stratford’s incredible Teaching Shakespeare program. Our students performed a 10 minute scene from Romeo and Juliet on the legendary Studio Theatre stage in front of peers, parents and professional adjudicators from the Stratford Festival.
Since the students had also been studying S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, we decided to set our scene in the 1960s – the Capulets became Soc’s and the Montagues turned into Greasers. What happened on that stage was truly magical. Working with a professional stage crew, the kids learned about blocking, sets, timing, and all the other behind-the-scenes machinations that go into a professional stage production. But what they really learned went so far beyond that. Call it The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Thespians:
- Take responsible risks: Putting themselves out on the stage to be adjudicated was a huge risk – not only for the kids, but for us directors!
- Seek collaboration: The students not only had to work with each other and their teachers to plan the scene, a professional actor from Stratford also stepped in to offer advice and direction.
- Think creatively: Benvolio wearing hair gel and a leather jacket? The kids truly had to open their minds to combine these two works of literature.
- Find humour: A bumbling police officer introduced the two warring houses of Verona. Hilarious.
- Strive for accuracy: The students choreographed a stage combat scene that required precision and planning to ensure that it looked realistic and no one got hurt.
- Persist: Memorizing 10 minutes of Shakespearean dialogue. Need I say more?
- Adapt: Two minutes before we were about to perform, we discovered one of our props was missing. The students improvised and adapted like pros.
I could not have been more proud of our students, and the way they rose to the challenge. In the words of Bette Davis, “Without wonder and insight, acting is just a business. With it, it becomes creation.” That day on the stage of the Studio Theatre, those eight students learned lessons that were wonderful, insightful and deeply creative, and I was so privileged to have been able to share the experience with them.
Drama teacher, Arts Coordinator