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STARPOINT ENGLISH TEACHER LIVES OUT MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM IN LONDON

PENDLETON -- Call it the summer of his contentment.

Starpoint English teacher Al Franco is continuing his apostleship to William Shakespeare at London's Globe Theater, working as a guide on the Globe's "Shakespeare Lives" staff.

He's assisting the experts who are showing other teachers the most effective methods of teaching Shakespeare's plays. He also is monitoring some classes and soaking up a little Shakespearean knowledge before he was to return home Saturday. Last summer, Franco was a student in that program.

Interviewed before he left on the two-week pilgrimage, Franco, who teaches 10th and 11th graders, said he became involved with the Globe to learn how to run a "Shakespeare Lives" program for Starpoint students.

Last fall, he started the program in an unofficial capacity. The effort resulted in the abbreviated student production of "The Life and Death of Richard III," one of Shakespeare's history plays. Because of his effort, Starpoint Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan said the school district will help fund the new student club, which will produce a Shakespeare comedy in late November.

While he has always loved Shakespeare's works, Franco said he got into the Globe program by accident when a flier ended up in his school mailbox. He figured the program was for drama teachers. But a colleague persuaded him to apply, and he was one of 22 teachers from Western New York to be accepted.

Jackie Flynn, a Starpoint Middle School English teacher, also was selected to participate last summer.

Franco said the program is "an English teacher's dream."

"I got to take courses from the most knowledgeable Shakespearian practitioners in the world and perform in a play on the Globe stage. This year, I'm a guide. But I'll be observing classes, taking notes and bringing back whatever I can use to help our program," he said.

He said it was a thrill "to walk in London from the site of the Old Globe Theater -- - now it's a parking lot -- to the Rose Theater (the Globe's rival in Shakespeare's day) just 76 steps away. To see the River Thames flowing by, walking in places Shakespeare walked. It's an unbelieveable experience. And to have experts teaching you about Shakespeare, his works and the history surrounding him and his plays, it just brings everything together."

The new Globe is a reproduction of the old theater where Shakespeare's plays were performed 400 years ago.

In the first week of "Shakespeare Lives," Franco said he studied everything from voice and movement to acting and historical background. He also was able to see a half-dozen of the Bard's plays.

"You get all the background from experts on what the history was like at the time. You have physical acting classes where you not only are coached in theater but learn how to project your voice and how to move your body on the Globe stage."

But the main object is to return home "and get our students involved." Last fall, he said, he and the other area teachers who attended the Globe each had their students take one scene from "Richard III" to present the entire play,at the University at Buffalo.

"The kids loved it. They loved the character of Richard III and how devious he was. Many of them knew nothing about the history of Richard III before that," Franco said, adding that any student will be able to sign up for the club this fall and participate in the production of "Twelfth Night."

Franco said he uses performance to make Shakespeare's works more interesting to students.

"Shakespeare was not meant to be read in a classroom, line by line by line. He wrote his plays to be performed, to be spoken aloud to each other as characters. By giving students that sense of performance, they come to understand the characters' actions and the story line so much better. It brings Shakespeare to life."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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