NORMAN — Most K-12 students study Shakespeare in high school, but thanks to a troupe of McKinley Elementary thespians, the school has not only been introduced to the bard’s stories but also gets to see them fully staged.
After successfully producing “As You Like It” last semester, the McKinley Elementary Young Shakespeareans will perform this semester’s opus, “Romeo and Juliet,” at 1:30 p.m. May 10 in the gymnasium for the student body and visitors.
Shakespeare’s Early Modern English might seem a bit ambitious for second through fifth graders, but the Young Shakespeareans have spent four months memorizing and practicing excerpts from the original text, as edited by director and artist in residence Cynthia Hudson Reed.
In addition to the text, Reed also incorporated theatrical symbolism in her stage directions, costuming Montagues in blue, Capulets in red and neutral characters in neutral colors, directing the opposing families to enter from opposite sides of the stage.
In the interest of keeping the performance appropriate for young viewers, the play’s tragic ending has been revised with something more light-hearted.
In spite of its challenges, students agreed that the benefits of participating in Young Shakespeareans are many and varied.
“Shakespeare Club is one of the best experiences I have ever had because it gives me a chance to act in front of an audience,” said Sami Barker, who is working as the play’s student director and appears onstage as a watchman and Verona citizen.
Cast members Jonah O’Hara-David (Paris) and Gwyneth Atkinson (Lady Capulet) agreed.
“I think it’s a great challenge to be a person you aren’t and also memorize lines,” O’Hara-David said.
“(Studying Shakespeare in elementary school) builds good vocabulary and exposes kids to literature,” Atkinson said.
One advantage of gaining a Shakespearean vocabulary, the group said, is to tease or insult their peers without their understanding, using names such as “applejohn” or “knave.”