Bringing the Bard’s Work to Life

With the School’s spring production of “Romeo and Juliet” set to debut tonight, upper school English teacher Michaela Pembroke realized the timing was fortuitous: Her ninth grade students are currently studying the beloved Shakespearean tragedy.

Based on her experience performing in an acting troupe during graduate school English literature classes, Pembroke invited the actors in the upper school play to visit her class.

“I remember there was always a kind of electric energy whenever the actors came to classes, so I was hoping to create a similar learning environment for my freshmen,” she shared. “Shakespeare was meant to be performed, so it definitely helps some of the younger students understand and appreciate the emotions and questions that are embedded with the play.”

Ten seniors (Camilo Bitar-Racedo, Charlie Gaines, Mckarthy Grimes, Angel Henriquez, Alexa Murphy, Xavier Rolston, Viviana Simon, Aron Tucker, Sage Weinstock and Jessie Xie) came to Pembroke’s classes and acted out various sections of the play, including the scenes in which Romeo’s friends make fun of him and when Juliet contemplates drinking the potion.

Gemma Gilmartin ’27 appreciated how the actors brought the tale to life. “Even without an index or translation, I could understand every word they were saying based on their body language and how they talked to each other.”

“The scenes they performed were amazing and really helped the narration of the play” Caroline Miller ’27 added. “The acting helped interpret the scenes and their meaning a lot more than reading straight from the book.”

It was a learning experience for Murphy, who plays a page and remembers reading “Romeo and Juliet” as a ninth grader. “To perform for them and talk them through the scene made them feel much more connected to the story, and also helped me understand the real-life impact of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ on audiences.”

“Hopefully it was helpful for them to hear about our experiences reading for different characters — a lot of their questions were about specific characters' motives and understanding why they were making the choices they were, which is the work we do at the beginning of rehearsals for Shakespeare,” said Rolston, who plays Lord Capulet.

“I love that we were able to forge a collaboration between theater and English,” said Meg O’Connor, upper school theater teacher and “Romeo and Juliet” director. “Each discipline uses different tools to unlock the text, but the seniors were excited to share their love for this language and complex characters.”

“Romeo and Juliet” opens today, Wednesday, May 15, at 7:00 p.m. with shows on Thursday, May 16, through Saturday, May 18, at 7:00 p.m. on Graduation Terrace. Don’t forget to bring a blanket or lawn chair.

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