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Jaffrey-Rindge School District

Learning to love Shakespeare

Jaffrey-Rindge: Students as young as 8-years-old take on Shakespeare’s works for annual Shakespeare Festival on May 30

Everyone has to read Shakespeare in high school. It’s practically a requirement. But how about those at the middle school level? Or those at the elementary level? Why not? At least, that’s been the attitude at the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District for over 20 years now. Each year, students not only read Shakespeare, but put together a performance for the district’s annual Shakespeare Festival — and all four of the district schools participate. Groups put on the best of the Bard’s works, to put on a celebration of the legacy of the famous playwright and encourage a love of reading and raise confidence levels.

And while Shakespeare can have a reputation for being a slog to get through for even high schoolers, the young students that attend the lower grades at Jaffrey-Rindge can put that idea to rest. During a recent rehearsal at the Rindge Memorial School, the 10-year-olds that star in teacher Susan Crotto’s version of “The Tempest” not only know the story, but have strong attachment to the characters they play. Garrett Somero, 10, of Rindge, plays Prospero, the magician who is the center of the play, and loves the “bossiness” of his character. And Lilly McCarthy, 10, of Rindge, who plays Ariel, an air spirit that does Prospero’s bidding, loves the fact that her trouble-making character is an invisible prankster in many of her scenes.

And for the outgoing, the chance to get up on stage and perform some Shakespeare is a big confidence boost, commented two of the other “Tempest” mains, Braeden Nelson and Kayla Bishop, both 10, of Rindge, who play the story’s romantic leads, Ferdinand and Miranda.

“I like being Miranda,” said Bishop. “She’s a main character, so I get to go up and be on stage a lot. It’s fun being a main character — everyone is looking at you!”

The kids also said they liked the humor inherent in the play, and doing the physical scenes. “Every school should do this,” said Nelson of the festival.

Shakespeare’s language is kept in tact, but the stories are trimmed down to save time and to allow the younger students to learn the material in the short amount of rehearsal time — only about a month’s worth — before they go on stage at the Jaffrey Meeting House to perform it for real. Crotto uses a revised edition of Shakespeare developed for children, while Jerry Holmes, who runs the Shakespeare Club at the Rindge Memorial School, does his own trimming of a selected work for the festival. This year, the club will be performing “Richard II.”

And in the higher levels, there’s also sometimes a reinterpretation of the work, rather than just an abridgement. Last year, when the high school contingent had just finished a block learning about musicals and showed an interest in pursuing that during the Shakespeare Festival, their teacher, Grant Love, put students into scenes from four different Shakespeare plays. At the end, characters from all of the works came together for a full musical number.

The 22nd annual Shakespeare Festival will take place on May 30 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Jaffrey Meetinghouse, and is as open to the public.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com.

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