Cabin John seventh-grader Eddy Mosenkis fell to the ground in the school cafeteria. With dozens of students and parents watching, he shouted, “Now die, die, die, die, die,” then fell still and silent.
The onlookers roared with laughter at Mosenkis’ performance as Nick Bottom the Weaver in Cabin John’s student performance of “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a culmination of the month-long Shakespeare workshop for Cabin John seventh-graders on March 31.
”It was really fun, because I got to keep saying things like, ‘O spite! O Hell!’” said May Clancy, a seventh-grader who played Helena. Clancy’s lines were among the play’s many comic moments that drew laughs from their classmates. Titania fell in love with Bottom, a man-turned-donkey, while Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” played. Lysander and Demetrius fell to the ground and fought over Helena, each clutching an ankle. “Hang off, thou cat, thou burr!” Lysander yelled at Hermia.
The play is more than 400 years old, with language that may seem foreign to students first learning Shakespeare, but Cabin John’s workshop aimed to create a drama-based introduction to Shakespeare for students first learning about his works.
LED BY CABIN JOHN English teachers Sandy Garner, Katherine Parker and Claire Lambert, Cabin John’s workshop works with the premise that a students will better learn Shakespearean drama by acting out the plays instead of merely reading them. “Shakespeare created ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ primarily as a dramatic experience, rather than as purely literary. Students have a chance to experience the play both on the stage and on the page,” the teachers wrote to Cabin John parents and guardians.
Cabin John students first viewed a performance by The Shakespeare Project, a Frederick-based troupe that runs educational workshops at area schools (see sidebar). Shakespeare Project actors then spent two-week sessions at Cabin John English classes, acquainting students with the characters, plot and language.
After their performance, Cabin John seventh-graders Eddy Mosenkis, May Clancy and William Jeffreys all said they were unfazed by Shakespearean language. “I’m not really intimidated by reading [Shakespeare], because I like reading,” Clancy said.
Some students grew more interested in the workshop as the weeks went on, said Mosenkis. Students auditioned in early March, and spent the rest of the month in two-hour rehearsal sessions after school. “Later, I saw them enjoying their parts. They were always smiling when they said their lines,” said Mosenkis.
Clancy said Helena was originally her second choice, but after the workshops, she felt differently. “By the time we chose, I wanted Helena’s role. … It was just fun,” Clancy said, adding that her favorite part was her soliloquy, where Helena describes her unrequited love for Demetrius.
Clancy wasn’t the only student who got to play Helena – seventh-graders Jennifer Chu, Samra Lakew and Leah Maggin stepped into the role later in the play. In order to include more students in the productions, multiple students were rotated into some of the major roles.
Jeffreys said he might be interested in reading or seeing more Shakespeare plays now that he has been introduced. “Probably ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” he said.