Salisbury Academy students dive into Shakespeare

Published 12:03 am Thursday, March 31, 2022

SALISBURY – Salisbury Academy students took to the stage last week to perform plays that debuted a few hundred years ago.

English teacher Megan Smith said Shakespeare is part of the curriculum. On Friday, fifth graders took on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and sixth graders were assigned “Julius Caesar.”

Smith said the goal is to make the classic English plays as relevant and exciting to the students as possible, so she decided a performance was in order.

“I’m biased,” Smith said. “I really enjoy his stories and I enjoy reading his plays and watching his plays, but I do believe, especially for people that don’t love Shakespeare, the best way to experience it is to bring it to life.”

She wanted students to get into the minds of the characters and understand the lines as more than iconic speeches.

They did it outside at the school’s amphitheater, in a venue Smith said may not be far off from how the playwright’s work would have been performed during his lifetime.

“It was awesome,” Smith said.

Both plays were abridged and adapted for younger audiences. Some central characters kept Shakespeare’s lines but others spoke in contemporary language to make the play more digestible for younger students. Smith said she thought it gave the sophisticated orators in the story a chance to stand out the way Shakespeare intended, but the plays as a whole were more digestible.

These were still long plays. Smith said “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was a 45-minute production.  The students filled out surveys to get assigned roles, they brought in costumes and spent more than a week rehearsing.

Nasir Jones, a fifth grader who played Demetrius in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” said this was the first experience he has had with Shakespeare and he enjoyed it.

“It was really fun to be on stage and make people laugh,” Jones said.

Fifth grader Anelise Roy was in charge of sets and props. She also had a few minor roles and said she had no earlier experience with Shakespeare except for knowing a few famous lines from his plays.

She said she loved saying her lines and seeing the production come together.

Sixth grader Jillian Towns, who narrated “Julius Caesar,” said it was good to be able to understand the plays and she knows there will be more plays in higher grade levels.

“I’m excited to read some of those other plays and see how he interpreted those other stories,” Towns said.

Towns said the collaborative part of the project was fun. They had to figure out issues like where to place the chair for the death of Caesar so everyone could kneel around him in limited space.

Smith said the students will keep interacting with Shakespeare as they move up through the middle grades.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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