St. Vrain Valley fifth-graders perform Shakespeare classics in Longmont's Thompson Park

Originally posted in the Times-Call >>

St. Vrain Valley School District fifth-graders in the gifted and talented program to be or not to be'd and wherefore art thou Romeo'd in Longmont's Thompson Park on Friday morning as part of a districtwide unit on Shakespeare.

Teachers and volunteers set up five stages around the park and fifth-graders from 13 different schools converged on the luckily sunny day to perform popular Shakespeare works — "Macbeth," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Twelfth Night," "Hamlet," "The Taming of the Shrew," "Romeo and Juliet" and a selection of sonnets.

Carbon Valley Academy students performed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on the northeast stage in the first slot of the morning. The audience sat on blankets, lawn chairs or camp chairs and watched the students act out Shakespeare's comedy.

Two large cardboard pillars with scenes painted on each side and a painted sheet as a backdrop served as the scenery and a canopy tent served as backstage, where students quick-changed between elastic-band fairy wings or homemade robes and togas.

Anya Burger, a Carbon Valley Academy student who played Helena, said that the group got most of its pre-debut jitters out on Thursday, when it did a dress rehearsal for its schoolmates.

Performing Shakespeare outside presented a set of challenges the students had to overcome, Burger and her costars said.

"I learned that nature can be cold — especially in the morning," she said.

Cassidy Kinkade, who played Francis Flute and other characters, added that being outside meant different considerations for the wardrobe department (parents and students).

"If you're acting outside, you kinda want long sleeves because it's cold, but if you're acting inside, you want like short sleeves because the lights make it very hot," Kinkade said.

Glenna Alexander, St. Vrain Valley elementary gifted and talented program coordinator, said that this year is the district's 12th putting on the event and the students get a well-rounded education about Shakespeare, including the life and times of Elizabethan England.

"We all know that the works of Shakespeare can oftentimes be difficult to interpret, so it's a rigorous and engaging challenge for the gifted kids," she said. "It for sure helps their oral presentation skills and they also learn about the life and times of Shakespeare, like what the education system was like and what medicine was like at that time."

Alexander added that the practice of performing Shakespeare in the Park also gives the kids a grounding in theater, such as the amount of work that goes into a production and how actors have to project their voices to reach those in the back row.

Ed McCray, a P.E. and gifted and talented teacher at Carbon Valley Academy, said that the way the performances are set up — all the schools performing the most popular plays at the same time and place — allows students to see how other students their age interpret Shakespeare.

"It's great because now they get to see Blue Mountain (Elementary) kids do 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,'" McCray said as the Carbon Valley Academy students quietly ate their lunch and watched Blue Mountain kids run through the same lines.