May 14, 2015

Playing the Bard

Our 4th grade class in Much Ado About Nothing at CU
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”

Friends’ School 4th grade class was on the University of Colorado campus last week, in the indoor theatre of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Our students learned and recited these famous lines from the prologue of William Shakespeare’s Henry V. It was their inspirational introduction to the Festival’s Education Branch and their successful and popular Will Power Festival for elementary students.

Our 4th graders, under the direction and tutelage of their teacher Liz Richards, performed three scenes from the bard’s Much Ado About Nothing, doing their part to put on the full production, in conjunction with other Boulder area schools.

I was lucky enough to attend one rehearsal and the performance that our kids put on at school.  Mandy and others were even luckier and saw the performance under the lights at CU.

Many of you know of my extensive background in children’s theater.  I have usually avoided Shakespeare with elementary age students because of the complexity of the language and themes. 

These 4th graders blew that theory right off the stage!

I have rarely seen such poise, confidence and talent from such a young group of thespians.  They really understood this material, and the excellent script that was further adapted specifically for them by Liz.

One of my favorite lines from Much Ado, which is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, is this, so fabulously delivered by Alex Osofsky who played the male lead and ‘love interest’ Benedick:
“Ha. "Against my will I am sent to bid you come into dinner." There's a double meaning in that.”

No there isn’t!  And it is this sort of searching for entendre that guys like me have been stumbling over for centuries.  And yet Alex and these 4th graders really delivered on the subtlety and humor, the comedy and the nuance, in this play.

I, and everyone in the audience, was seriously impressed.  I can’t wait to work with this same group of kids on our big 5th grade production in the fall.

Their teacher Liz told me what a fabulous experience this was for her and her students – they knew their lines (and each other’s lines) so well, they would recite them randomly in class.  Some went as far as pranking each other’s lockers with Shakespearean words!

A big part of our language arts curriculum at Friends’ is our goal that our students become adept at both speaking and listening.  Strong participation in theatre helps us meet those goals.

Theatre taps into the instinct with which children are born, the instinct to explore by pretending - the

instinct that is all too often attacked by a world that pushes them to focus more on how they measure up than on who they truly are and can be.

Through theatre, all children are equal and free to explore. There are no wrong answers to fear and no competition to fall short of - only the chance to try on being someone else and, by doing so, to discover a little more of themselves.

At Friends’ we have also discovered that theater provides a wonderful opportunity to teach the importance of hard work, perseverance through failure and difficulty, a sense of accomplishment upon completion, and of course, provides opportunities to laugh, enjoy peers, and have fun learning.

Congratulations to Liz, to her TC Kristine, and to all of their students for a masterful performance.  Thank you to all the parents who spent hours sewing and creating costumes. Thank you to Christine Case who took these beautiful photographs. And thank you to our whole 4th grade class for shining their light, not only on our stage at school, but on a wider and brighter stage at the University.

Play on.

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