West Middle School G&T class performing Shakespeare play outdoors Sept. 19“There's a skirmish of wit between them.”
- Line from Shakespeare's “Much Ado About Nothing”
Many secondary students cringe at studying William Shakespeare. England's Elizabethan Age can seem very ancient for kids who've never used typewriters, let alone quill pens.
But then there are the students in Deb Shipley's eighth-grade gifted-and-talented English class at West Middle School.
They chose a Shakespeare unit on their own.
The 20-some students are even preparing a public performance of his comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing.” It is to be held Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. on an outdoor stage they built themselves.
For the show, they plan to set up the stage - which they styled after the legendary Globe Theatre in London - on the infield of the track behind the West building at 1920 W. Pikes Peak Ave.
Admission is free, but donations are requested. Attendees are encouraged to bring food, lawn chairs and/or blankets.
Many of the students had already been exposed to the late 1500s/early 1600s British writer when they were fifth-graders at Steele Elementary. Then, last spring as seventh-graders, talking with Shipley about options for their eighth-grade year, “they got wrapped up in the idea of a Shakespeare play,” she said.
The students didn't wait for the 2017-18 school year to start. “They've been working on it all summer,” Shipley explained. “It's completely student-run.”
The work includes stage-building, fashioning sets, running rehearsals and making costumes. The production is supported by donations, not school funds.
Most of the effort as a group occurs during the one-hour morning class. “They work together really well,” Shipley said. “I won't say there are no disagreements, but it's never anything major.”
The students are clearly enjoying themselves. Delilah Tefertiller, who's spearheading the “Much Ado” publicity aspect, described the project as “something I'm really excited about. I'm not just doing it for a grade.” She said she particularly likes the way Shakespeare “hides jokes in the language.”
Adding to this sentiment were Lillian Parsons and Aidan Janney, who play two of the lead roles and have production duties besides. Learning his lines takes time, but “it doesn't feel like homework,” Janney enthused.
Another classmate, Henry Sheridan, said he designed the 8x16-foot stage layout using a 3-D engineering program. The backdrops are arranged with four separate sections, any of which can be changed out. There are 16 in all. He gets help from others in putting up the stage and taking it down.
Several of the eighth-graders are hopeful that they're starting a drama tradition for the gifted program at the school. Tefertiller's press release states that “the Gifted Magnet Program at West Middle School is proud to announce the first season of the Written In, Inc. theatre company.”
The students are using the original “Much Ado” play, which light-heartedly probes such themes as love, secrecy and trust. The running time will be an hour and 45 minutes, with about a half-hour deleted.
If the weather turns bad, the venue will move indoors, to the school auditorium, Shipley said.
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