William Shakespeare’s classic play “Romeo and Juliet” has long been a staple of school drama departments, but it’s not usually the type of play you’ll find 4th ad 5th graders performing. At the Fell Charter School in Simpson, however, an adaptation of the play was recently presented quite skillfully to an appreciative audience of family, faculty, and friends.
After students read one of five different plays by the Bard, they put on a Shakespeare play at those grade levels every year.
According to 4th grade teacher Jill McGurgan and 5th grade teacher Jeff Swartwood, the students read the whole play first, then put the script together. While addressing the audience at the March 22 performance, Ms. McGurgan emphasized the fact that the children read the original play, not a watered-down version, in order to gain an appreciation for the language.
According to the teachers, the best thing about reading any of Shakespeare’s works is that the students are able to read and comprehend far more than they expected they could. As they read the play aloud, the teachers and students discuss literary elements, figurative language, character development, and other important aspects of the work.
The teachers mentioned that this early exposure to the works of Shakespeare is beneficial to students, and said that former students often tell them that Shakespeare is not difficult for them to read in high school thanks to their 4th and 5th grade introduction to his writings.
All told, the process of reading the play and putting together their own performance usually takes the students about two months from start to finish.
This year, with so many weather-related interruptions, the students practiced their parts in the play on and off for two weeks. In addition to learning their lines, the students are also very involved in all other aspects of the dramatic production, such as creating set decorations, putting their own costumes together, and finding props.
The performance began with Shakespeare-inspired compliments and insults, which the students had learned about in class. The stage set was simple, yet colorful, with a real balcony for Juliet to stand on high above her beloved Romeo. The costumes, like the dialog, were mostly modern, with the liberal inclusion of Elizabethan era phrases in the actors’ lines and fashion motifs to the actors’ costumes.
The students’ performances seemed effortless and flawless, with good timing and voices loud enough to carry throughout the school gym/auditorium even in the absence of microphones.
The dialog and action contained enough humor to elicit a chuckle from the audience from time to time, but was direct enough to move the performance on at a brisk pace. The students clearly enjoyed and took pride in performing “Romeo and Juliet,” and that resulted in a well-organized, entertaining, and fun production.
Cast members for “Romeo and Juliet” were Gabriella Dennis as Juliet, Thomas Nally as Romeo, Randy Bentler as Balthasar, Ethan Fleiger as Benvolio, Adrienne Titley as the Apothecary, and Annabella Tayoun as Tybalt.
Additional cast members included Angelica Edwards as Lady Montague, Alexis Black as Lady Capulet, Chris Hopkins as Lord Capulet, Collin Hollis as Mercutio, and Jason Rodney as the Prince. Playing the role of the Friends were Alannah Perry, Eric Loomis-Weller, Peyton Lord, and Sean Manley.
Aryonna Casteneda played the part of the nurse, with Lily Pashkow and Lucas Webb playing Friar John and Friar Lawrence respectively. Servants were Caleb Liuzzo, Adan Hares, Jon Galati, and Conrad Depew.
Julianna Drake, Alyssah Bonk, Savannah McGuire, and Arianna Conrad gave the Introduction, while Ashlynn Ward and Adrienne Titley recited the Prologue. Narrators were Jaclyn Nally and Leila Maldonado. Set crew for the production were Ashlynn Ward, Julianna Drake, Alyssah Bonk, and Savanna McGuire.