Lincoln students step on stage, step back in time with Shakespeare play
LINCOLN — Renaissance Italy came to life last week at the Lincoln Community School with a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” this year’s annual play put on by the school’s fifth- and sixth-grade students.
“It’s a really fun play,” said sixth-grader Lizzie Nault, shortly before the first performance on Wednesday. She played Hero, one of the play’s female protagonists.
“It’s going to be fun to perform. And I think the audience will really enjoy seeing it,” Nault added.
The annual play is integrated with the fifth- and sixth-graders’ study of the Renaissance. Sixth-grader Matt Furtsch said that he and his classmates drew upon their studies to make their own costumes, break down Shakespeare’s old-fashioned and often figurative language, and learn historical lessons.
“I play the friar, who is kind of like the priest. He works for the pope,” Furtsch explained. He said that what he had learned in class came in handy when learning his lines. “Even though it takes place only about 400 years ago, the words have changed a lot since then.”
For those students who have been at the Lincoln school for some time, watching the annual fifth- and sixth-grade plays has been a tradition. Actually performing in the plays was a fun next step.
“I thought (the earlier plays) were really inspiring. I really enjoyed them,” said fifth-grader Lucy Guy, who played Margaret, Hero’s gentlewoman. “I thought it’d be hard to know what they were saying and what all the weird words meant. Now that I’m doing it I know what it means.”
Some of the young thespians said this project has inspired them to continue in the future.
“Next year I’m going to the North Branch School where they write a play every year, so I’m excited for that,” said sixth-grader Grady Brokaw, who played Don Pedro, one of the protagonists of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Brokaw said he had prepared for his role by practicing his lines and blocking at home, and drawing on his coursework to assemble his costume and understand his character.
“I used my knowledge to understand the lines instead of just reciting them,” he said.
For director and 5/6 teacher Alice Leeds, the play is always one of the year’s highlights.
“We always do a comedy,” Leeds said. “It’s wonderful to do something lighthearted that also goes deep.”
Every student had a role in the performance, though not all were onstage. Students took on responsibilities from backstage tech to costume design to traditional acting. Lincoln school staff, including artist and 5/6 teacher Donna Wood, led the students through a variety of creative exercises to get to the heart of the material. For example, Wood led a visual art exercise where students created a visual interpretation of a part of the text. Afterward, students did writing exercises and reflected on the experience.
“It’s really a literary curriculum. Every kid, whether they’re tech backstage, lighting, or acting knows this story. By the end, they’re all quoting Shakespeare,” Leeds said.
This year, LCS welcomed guest artists from around the community to add creative flourishes to the production. Choreographer Joe Schine created and taught a Renaissance dance, infused with a modern twist of hip-hop. Puppeteer Peg Jarvis guided four students through the development of four puppet scenes, to be performed between acts.
“(The puppets) comment humorously, Punch and Judy style, on the action in the play,” Leeds said. “The puppet characters are William Shakespeare and his family.”
“They have big heads and noses so people can see them,” said fifth-grade puppeteer Shamus Hayes. “We do both the movements and the speech.”
On the morning of the first performance last Wednesday, Hayes said that morale was high, though he and his classmates had missed a key tech rehearsal when school was canceled on Tuesday because of the snow.
“I’m feeling good, but I wish we had more than just three days (of performances),” Hayes said. “I’m probably going to miss doing this show a lot.”
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