To appreciate Shakespeare, play’s the thing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 3, 2013

This is addressed to a Rowan County high school English teacher, the parent of a Rowan County high school student and a Rowan County high school student. (I didn’t want to embarrass you by printing your names here.)

Dear teacher: Piedmont Players Theatre is presenting a production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” Oct. 4 and 5 at the Norvell Theater. One of the reasons we do this each fall is to assist you. A poem read in class is a poem. A short story is a short story. A novel is a novel. But a play is just the blueprint of a story and characters and settings that are intended to be fleshed out on a stage. That’s what Piedmont Players does. If you are teaching “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “Julius Caesar” or “Macbeth,” please encourage your students to come experience Shakespeare live on stage. Better yet, come with them. On Monday, when someone says they didn’t understand something, help them. Many people spend a lifetime seeing these plays to understand all they contain. That is one of the things that makes them great.
Please, inspire some curiosity in your students and see where that leads.

Dear parent: When the Norvell Theater was built, we asked a simple question — do we advertise to the kids to make them want to come to shows, or to the parents who have the money and the keys to the car? You may not even know there is a play at the Norvell Theater this weekend.
Your kid has the opportunity to see Shakespeare onstage here in Salisbury. Please. Encourage them. See what their potential is. You may be surprised what they can understand. They will be surprised that some kids from their school are in it. Your kid is a student growing up in Rowan County — a community that values live theater. Help them see what this means. It should be as much a part of school as math, science, soccer, choir or football.
Education takes curiosity. Please encourage it.

Dear student: I want to invite you to come to see Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night” at the Norvell Theater Friday or Saturday. It’s probably not high on your radar right now, but consider this: Orlando Bloom is playing Romeo on Broadway this fall. There are also productions of “Twelfth Night,” “Richard III” and “Macbeth” on Broadway. Anne Hathaway played Viola in “Twelfth Night” a year ago in New York (currently played by Summer Hall of North Rowan at the Norvell Theater). Helena Bonham-Carter (Beatrix LaStrange in the Harry Potter movies) played the beautiful Olivia in the recent movie of “Twelfth Night” (the part currently played by Carson High’s Amery Barton at the Norvell Theater). In other words, Shakespeare is not some strange, boring thing your teachers make you suffer through. These plays and characters have been around and valued by humans for over 400 years. Just because you don’t understand all of it immediately, please don’t reject it.
Besides, you are missing the fun of watching your friends’ talents grow. Remember the elementary soccer team that could barely kick the ball that grew up to win the state championship a few years ago? The same thing happens in theater. Alana Koontz was a “young lady of Milan” in “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” who became one of the lovers in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and then was Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet.” Jonathan Matthews was a little kid when he first started doing Shakespeare. Now, he is the much-abused Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” one of Shakespeare’s great characters. Keaton Brewer, who was Benedick in last season’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” is now at the North Carolina School of the Arts. You are growing up with some very talented people. Enjoy their talents. You probably have talents they enjoy in you. It’s called a community.

I hope the three of you recognize whom this letter is intended for and take a few moments to consider visiting the Norvell Theater this weekend. All I am asking for is to let curiosity be your guide.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
— Hamlet to his friend Horatio

Reid Leonard is resident director of the Piedmont Players Theater.