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Posted 06/13/03, by Serena Chang '05
Residence program ends in June performance
The average student's first exposure to the works of William Shakespeare is probably in the realm of high school. However, thanks to the Dartmouth Shakespeare Project, 40 fifth graders at the Bernice A. Ray School in Hanover are ahead of the game, having already read and performed Macbeth.
Twice a week during Spring Term, 16 Dartmouth students enrolled in a theater class taught by James Rice, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theater, led pupils from the fifth-grade classes of Paula Ceranowicz and Jack Wildein in a nine-week residency program called the Dartmouth Shakespeare Project. A fusion of theater and education classes, the first four weeks were geared towards teaching the art of acting, then gradually integrating elements of the plot, characters, language and poetry of Macbeth. The remaining weeks were spent rehearsing for the June 6 performance.
"This class has seriously changed how I view the work of Shakespeare and what I think elementary students are capable of," said Maggie Berthiaume '05. "These students have dissected the language and could tell you what any single phrase in the play means. That, I think, is a great accomplishment for them no matter how well the final production goes."
Another undergraduate, Tamaki Kataoka '05, an exchange student from Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, explained that as a political economy major, she was unable to take theater and art classes at home. She has always been interested in outreach activity and art management, however, so she came to Dartmouth. Since fall term, she has taken four theater classes, including Theater 10, called Shakespeare in the Schools.
Kataoka was in charge of designing the show's lighting, as well as joining the rest of the class in leading various activities and directing scenes. As a non-native English speaker, Shakespeare's text was an additional challenge for her.
"I ended up finding a Japanese translation from a website. So I read from the Japanese - that was my solution. And there was only one ESL student in our Ray School classes, Joon Mo, and I think he really improved. He is 11 years old, and he has much ability to learn language ... and for me it isn't that easy. I took part in this project but unfortunately my English didn't improve as much as his did," said Kataoka.
One of the most striking experiences for her and the other Dartmouth students was the quality of the Hanover elementary school teachers and students.
"It was a really good experience to know how teachers work. Hanover is different from other schools in New Hampshire, but I could see how Hanover elementary schools are great," Kataoka said. "The teachers are demanding and hard working, and the kids are really eager and honest. Especially compared with adults, I didn't feel awkward with children because they understand my [language] handicap. The children I worked with were really cooperative and really interested in Japanese culture as well. They would ask me questions about Japanese culture, which was great."
Fifth-grader Sean Gemunden, who played the character Macbeth in a few scenes, said he hadn't heard of Macbeth before the project started.
"I wasn't sure of what it was," he said. "I was thinking that it would be boring because it was a play that nobody had ever heard of. But now I learned that people had heard of it, and that it was a lot of fun. It's better than normal school because you don't do work, but instead you learn to participate."
Fifth-grader John Chobanian, who played the character Macbeth in one scene, said he "wasn't really a play person," but that's changed now.
The Dartmouth Shakespeare Project is based on an in-school residency education program of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. The program, tailored to suit the specific needs of the students at the Ray School, is supplemented by writing exercises and discussions about the play, led by classroom teachers, to help support the work done in rehearsals.
The overall emphasis is on process over product. The student directors incorporated exercises adapted from Shakespeare & Company's rehearsal techniques, focusing on "exploring the meaning of Shakespeare's words, the actor-audience relationship, movement, and games that teach commitment, confidence and working together as an ensemble," according to information from the organization's website.
Rice said he hopes the Dartmouth Shakespeare Project expands to other Upper Valley elementary schools in the spring of 2004.
- Serena Chang '05
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