About 100 kids from 10 high schools around Western New York gathered at Starpoint High School to prove that "Shakespeare Lives!" Monday night. The students put together a performance of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," with each school responsible for performing a small portion of the play.
The performance was only part of the Shakespeare Lives! project -- a program to help teachers use innovative techniques to introduce high school students to Shakespeare. Over the summer teachers from Lockport, Wellsville, Depew, Barker, Williamsville South, Frontier, Grand Island, Clarence, Lafayette, and Lakeshore went to the Globe Theater in London to study different ways to teach Shakespeare, and their students appeared in Monday's show.
The "Shakespeare Lives!" program was started by Patrick Spottiswoode, director of Globe Education for the Globe Theater in London. He began the project in North Carolina in 1999, and in 2002 the program was brought to Buffalo. According to Spottiswoode, the goal of Shakespeare Lives! is "to share practical approaches to teaching Shakespeare in the classroom so that teachers and students work with Shakespeare playfully and with pleasure." The Kenan Center of Lockport and Shakespeare in Delaware Park are also involved.
The kids involved with Shakespeare Lives! know that Shakespeare is much more than just words on paper. They got to meet many kids from around the area who also enjoyed acting without costumes, sound effects, scenery, or fancy lighting. In this production of "Much Ado about Nothing," all the characters wore simple clothing, with just colored shirts to identify their characters. No scenery was used on stage, and only a few props were employed.
The best part of the show was seeing each school's own interpretation of the play and its characters. Part of the purpose of "Shakespeare Lives!" is to show different ways that Shakespeare's works can be performed. Wellsville used multiple people to play one character at the same time, with each actor reciting a line or two to show different thoughts the character is having. Barker had a person who spent the entire time crouched behind various potted plants while listening to a secret conversation that revealed a plot to stop a marriage from taking place. Frontier had a lot of slapstick comedy, with characters being accidentally hit or knocked over by an overbearing general.
There were many wonderful monologues, including ones by a Depew actor as Benedick and a Clarence actor as Dogberry. Because Lakeshore had the last part of the show, Lakeshore students had to put on the traditional jig. (At the end of every performance at the Globe Theater, a jig or a reel is danced.) Lakeshore did an excellent job of dancing and incorporating the curtain call into its section.
"Much Ado About Nothing" is a comedy about two people who are supposed to get married and two people who don't want to get married. Hero and Claudio want to get married, but an evil prince attempts to stop their marriage by making it seem as though Hero is unfaithful. Beatrice and Benedick hate each other, but another prince, with the help of Claudio and Hero, tries to make them love each other. In the end, everything is worked out. Unlike "Romeo and Juliet" or "Macbeth," nobody dies in "Much Ado About Nothing."
All the performers loved acting with "Shakespeare Lives!" It gave them a chance to act out Shakespeare in a real theatrical setting. Laura Tysiac of Frontier says, "I loved being a part of something special that doesn't come around all the time."
Putting all the different parts together was also fun. There was one dress rehearsal for the entire group, and that was the first time everybody saw the show in its entirety. Jackie Neal of Barker said he best part of acting with "Shakespeare Lives!" was "the workshops, rehearsals, and seeing it all come together on stage." Andy Lapp, also from Barker, said the best part was "putting in all the time and getting close to the people who did it with me."
The performance wasn't easy, but it went very smoothly. With just one full dress rehearsal, it was hard for actors to get used to switching roles between schools and groups. While the floor microphones were easy to trip over, they allowed the audience to hear the lines very well.
Memorizing Shakespeare is not easy to do. Some lines were long or had hard-to-pronounce words. Meagan Elliot of Frontier says the hardest part of the performance was, "forgetting my lines -- which I did." Nobody seemed to notice though.
In the spring, students had a chance to go to workshops with their teachers to learn techniques for acting in Shakespeare plays. They practiced diction, stage combat, and other aspects of acting important for a performance with very few visual aids.
Saul Elkin, director of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, says the workshops were designed to "get Shakespeare out of the page, onto the stage, and to remind teachers that it's about doing the plays."
In starting the program, the "Globe wanted to change the way Shakespeare was looked at, not only in England but also around the world," says Spottiswoode. By teaching teachers how to make Shakespeare come alive in the classroom, Shakespeare Lives! does just that. At the end of the performance, the cheers on stage by all the performers proved that Spottiswoode is right: Shakespeare does still live. In our society today, with all the problems teenagers face, there is still room for Shakespeare.
Anne McCabe is a sophomore at Frontier High School.