Shakespeare comes alive for West Lenoir fifth-graders

Apr. 12, 2013 @ 04:51 PM

A modern version of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," spiked with slang and layered with tongue-in-cheek references, hit the stage at the old Lenoir High School Friday.

The original play contains dense, Shakespearean language in verse and song.

Friday's featured couplets such as, “O-M-G / The countess has fallen for me.”

And a duke's plea to a woman: “Do you love me? Check yes or no.”

Which makes more sense when you consider that the actors were fifth-graders at West Lenoir Elementary. The school produces a remixed Shakespeare play each year.

"Night," one of Shakespeare's handful of comedies, tells the story of the shipwrecked Viola and her twin brother, Sebastian. Thinking her twin has died at sea, Viola takes the name Cesario and disguises herself as a man to work for Duke Orsino. The play's a web of false assumptions and unrequited love: Orsino is in love with the beautiful Olivia, who's in love with "Cesario," who's in love with Duke Orsino.

On Friday, new lines were coupled with a healthy dose of physical comedy.

Taken together, the irreverent take on Shakespeare’s comedy had one noticeable result: The kids in the audience realized it was a comedy. Students from near (the actors’ West Lenoir classmates) and far (Morganton) ripped into giggles during almost every scene.

The rewritten show was the result of a collaboration between four fifth-grade teachers: Susan Terry, Mallory Garnes, Ann Matthews and Melissa Jaroszewski.

It’s safe to say the annual fifth-grade play is their baby (though that baby is now 3 years old – previously, they picked "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" and "Macbeth").

“It’s Susan’s passion,” Matthews said at a rehearsal Thursday, launching into a story about how long students have studied Shakespeare in Terry’s fifth-grade classes.

The show blends various pieces of the curriculum, and every student is involved in some way. Some have an onstage role, some paint sets, some run sound and lights, others serve as ushers and greeters.

On Friday, the show was long, and the kids in the audience were kids, so they did some whispering and seat-wriggling.

But they also clapped the way kids do (arms swung out to capacity, palms smacking – the opposite of a golf clap) and laughed the way kids do (deep belly-laughs, not just-to-be-polite snickers).

Thanks to its facelift, "Twelfth Night" wasn’t dead, old British theatre. It was comedy.