Bringing Shakespeare into the high school classroom has its many pitfalls, but professor Melanie Blood of the theater department and Geneseo theater students have bridged the gap between the Bard and the bored.
Students in the service-learning class taught Avon, York, Geneseo and other high school and middle school students different scenes from "Twelfth Night" using the theory that Shakespeare is best learned through example.
"It's far more accessible if you try to put Shakespeare on its feet than if you get bogged down in language that's so archaic to us," Blood said.
Group learning activities were used over three weekend workshops to help younger students overcome the difficulties inherent in Shakespearean drama and focus on the spirit and action of the play. The process culminated in a warmly received showcase for parents.
The course was Blood's response to what she saw missing in Livingston County's student theater.
A lack of non-musical plays and theater classes in the schools, coupled with an absence of faculty-directed acting courses on campus this semester formed the impetus behind the class.
Senior Jake Roa, a theater major who worked with the Geneseo middle school group, was impressed with how quickly the students picked up the language and moved on to character analysis. "You should expect all the kids to be bright, but I didn't expect them to be that bright," he said.
Senior Britt Faulkner, a psychology major and theater minor agreed with Roa. "I thought I was going to teach them," she said. "It's cool when you can learn from 12-year-olds, and it makes you think, ‘Wow! They have a different perspective.'"
Though the show is over for the kids, it's just beginning for the Geneseo students. Their own production of Twelfth Night will demonstrate what they learned by teaching others.
"The main thing I learned is that it's such a collaborative effort," Faulkner said. "Acting sometimes has the possibility of becoming too self-involved."
She added that teaching younger students and relying on fellow cast members solidified the feeling of teamwork – something she believes will lend itself to the final performance.
The cast has been practicing intensely – about four hours per day to get ready. Roa said the entire class has been a great experience. "It's been kind of a baptism by fire for anybody who hasn't done Shakespeare before," he said.
The performance will begin Sunday, May 1 at the Theatre 101, located at 101 Main Street in Mount Morris at 6 p.m. It will continue on May 6 and 7 in the Black Box theater at 8 p.m. All shows are free.