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Richmond Academy Shakespeare Festival brings scribe's words to life

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Angel Combs was skeptical when she was introduced to Shakespeare this year in ninth-grade English class.

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Anthony Salva (left) dances as music plays over loudspeakers during a break at English teacher Ken Stephen's seventh annual Shakespeare Festival at Academy of Richmond County.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Anthony Salva (left) dances as music plays over loudspeakers during a break at English teacher Ken Stephen's seventh annual Shakespeare Festival at Academy of Richmond County.

After the Academy of Rich­mond County freshman got over words such as “thou,” “whilst” and “ere,” however, she could see some relevance in Romeo and Juliet.

Like Juliet, Angel, 14, has been in love.

Like Juliet, she has seen that love be tested.

“Love, it can be a horrible feeling,” Angel said. “Especially if somebody interferes with it.”

On Wednesday, she and the rest of the Richmond Academy freshman class got to see Shakespeare’s words come to life outside of what they’ve seen in their textbooks. For the seventh year, English teacher Ken Stephens presented the school’s Shakespeare Festival, at which students took turns reciting monologues, soliloquies and original plays.

Their theater was the school football field, where the students spent the day together on a sort of in-house field trip. They sat on the grass on towels and folding chairs, some wrapped in blankets against the morning’s chilly wind.

One by one, the students stepped on a portable stage with a microphone and performed memorized lines and plays.

Some dressed in Golden Age costumes. Others, such as Patrick Bolick, 15, did his best Henry V recital in a Guy Harvey T-shirt and shorts.

“He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart,” Patrick said, his hands stuffed in his pockets. “His passport shall be made, and crowns for convoy put into his purse.”

Stephens said he created the Shakespeare Festival in 2007, his first year at Rich­mond Academy, as a way to get students out of the classroom. He requires freshmen to read Romeo and Juliet and watch two movie versions of the play, but acting out the words in their own voice adds another element, he said.

“When students see other students who get up there, learn their lines and perform, it’s rewarding,” Stephens said. “They see there’s more to it than just the grade.”

Stephens said the festival has grown in support over the years, with more faculty members and parents stopping by to observe. They also have had lunch donated by Sconyers Bar-B-Que every year.

Dittilio and Brenda Shep­herd brought several church friends to see their daughter, Tashyria, perform a Juliet monologue.

“Doing something outside of sports, getting excited about something intellectual like this is great,” Dittilio Shepherd said. “Everybody going through school has done Romeo and Juliet, but this is really something.”

Stephens recruited Rich­mond County gifted teacher Ann Beth Strelec and A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Mag­net School history teacher Michael Wilson to judge the performances and award trophies to the top six.

Strelec said that although Shakespeare is important to the high school curriculum, getting teenagers interested in the verse and prose can be tricky. Putting the works in their own voice and on stage can help.

“Students get up on stage and learn about presence and articulation and eye contact,” Strelec said. “It’s a skill they’ll have for life, so pairing that with Shakespeare is the perfect marriage.”

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Young Fred
Young Fred 04/03/13 - 11:36 pm
The Bard's English may be

The Bard's English may be difficult for some to relate, but given a chance, the timelessness of his plots are something most can relate to.

avidreader 04/04/13 - 05:29 am
A Refreshing Story!

What a wonderful, refreshing story. Shakespeare is a tough sell to a lot of kids, and Mr. Stephens seems to have found the key to get students involved. Good Job.

Riverman1 04/04/13 - 09:03 am
Personally, I believe the way

Personally, I believe the way for young people to get into Shakespeare is from the other door. Become introduced to modern literature and theater with works that are meaningful while using contemporary language and slang. "On the Road" was my awakening that drew me to Army libraries while stuck in boring assignements all over the world. There is a certain feel to good literature found in all centuries and I relished all of it like people back home watched their favoritie TV shows.

zumaboy 04/04/13 - 04:23 pm
Ken Stephens is a rock star...

...whether in the classroom or onstage... ;-)

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