• EGR Middle School student Sarah VanFossen practices swordplay with school staffer and group founder Michelle Kastanek
  • Michelle Kastanek acts as a line prompter while Hannah Bodine, left, and Drew Huegli rehearse

'To Be Dramatic, Or Not To Be...'

Shakespeare Club to Keep Students Acting

by Morgan Jarema  

Middle school students can be so dramatic. That's especially true in the middle school's fledgling Shakespeare club.

Case in point: a recent rehearsal of a scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," when seventh-graders Drew Huegli and Hannah Bodine, as the ill-fated Pyramus and Thisbe -- or Nick Bottom and Francis Flute, in the bard's telling -- respectively, took their leave of this mortal coil.

Bill AtwoodSprawled on the choir room's floor, Drew reached up with one hand and delivered his final lines before his head hit the ground: "Now am I dead, Now am I fled; My soul is in the sky: Tongue, lose thy light; Moon take thy flight: Now die... die... die... die... die."

"Why so many 'dies?' " asked a classmate from the risers that ringed the rehearsal space.
"Who knows," answered Drew, momentarily resuscitated.

♥Keep Them Interested

Shakespeare club got its start this school year for grades 6 to 8, when Michelle Kastanek, administrative assistant to the principal, considered that the district has strong drama programs at both the elementary and high school levels, but not in middle school.

"You can lose so many students from elementary to high school, especially the boys," Kastanek said. "You've got to keep them interested."

One challenge to keeping them interested is getting middle-schoolers to understand Shakespeare's subtle, persistent humor and irony. An example: explaining to the cast of "Midsummer" the goofiness of the ever-changing position of the hole in the wall through which Pyramus and Thisbe communicate.

Nick Coles studies his lines as a skull prop for “Hamlet” waits to be used

"Remember, it's supposed to be silly," said Bill Atwood, a semi-retired theater teacher, most notably at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Atwood is working with Kastanek to coach EGR students on their Elizabethan thespianism.

Club members also practice stage direction, swordplay and memorization of 16th-century Elizabethan lines, what is known as going "off book."

"You know these kids are dedicated, because this stuff is hard," Kastanek said.

Plans are to perform a selection of scenes from various Shakespeare plays May 12 and 13 at the high school. For ticket price and other details, call the middle school at 235.7551. Kastanek said she will seek a grant to fund the club next year in order to offer a fall drama and spring Shakespeare performance.

Submitted on: April 1st 2016

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