It may look like a high school auditorium with students dashing from one end of the stage to the other reciting lines, laughing at each other’s mistakes, practicing a dance move … well, you get the scene. But what it really is, the true purpose of the activity, (please don’t tell the students), is to learn about a master: Shakespeare.
Standing in the middle of all the kinetic energy is Kathleen Brunelle, published author, educator, and on this day, director and producer for ORRHS’s theatre class. This year’s offering is titled Shakespeare II and combines pieces of Shakespeare’s well-known works with something more recent. In this case Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry IV, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of The Shrew, Merchant Of Venice, and Twelfth Night, meet Back To The Future.
Brunelle has reimagined these disparate stories into an adventure acted out by the students in her class. Phew!! No small task.
“I’ve taken various scenes and made it a story of time travel where Doc (from Back To The Future) meets Shakespeare’s characters,” Brunelle explained in between giving directions to the action taking place on the stage before us. “I’ve made adjustments for a modern audience, a modern voice with input from the students,” she continued.
Clearly it appeared to be a collaborative effort as one student walked back and forth across the rear of the stage singing a Donna Summer tune to enhance the scene being rehearsed. It was hilarious.
In keeping with the rhythm, the iambic pentameter Shakespeare is so famous for, Brunelle has written the lines that tie past with present, or should I say time travel.
Taking cultural cues from the 1940s through 2000s, she is teaching the students how relevant and approachable a more than 400-year old author can be, forsooth or no forsooth!
During the development of the production, learning about Shakespeare becomes far less daunting. Brunelle said, “They discuss the meaning of the lines in a manner they can understand…. They learn that Shakespeare can be fun and they bring their own ideas,” she enthusiastically summarized.
And this class is for all students, not just a select few who have elected Brunelle’s theatre arts class, but also special education students whose participation in mainstream classes is part of their education plan.
As Heather Kidney, ORRHS learning support center specialist shared via email, “Ms. Brunelle writes the play herself, including music and dance. She does a great job of making the class 100-percent inclusion and working on each student’s strength.”
Kidney also said that the students in her program present a variety of mobility and cognitive challenges. Yet, in Brunelle’s class, the educational opportunities are equalized as each student, regardless of their abilities, participates at their level, making the production a richer experience for the audience as well as the students themselves.
Brunelle said, “It gives a lot of people a chance to shine.”
Students are encouraged to participate in every aspect of the play, from being on stage to painting props, to backstage duties with lights and electrical equipment. “There’s something for everyone,” Brunelle said.
Brunelle has worked on this stage play for nearly a year with the students getting into full swing last February. She has labored alongside her students, giving them the opportunity to appreciate classical English literature in sound bites that are easy to comprehend, thus giving new meaning to “All the world’s a stage…”
The free production debuts for one night only on May 29 at 7:00 pm in the ORRHS auditorium.
By Marilou Newell