Students learn the play's the thing at Bard festival

April 26, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

It was Shakespeare's Macbeth, all right, but the king wore black high-top basketball shoes.

Yesterday, at Center Stage, the third-graders from Mount Washington Elementary School captured the elements of what is perhaps William Shakespeare's most noted tragedy.

The images included masked murderers, apparitions, haunting witches, and an impatient and infuriated Lady Macbeth.

But the performance of William Hall, 8, one of two actors who portrayed Macbeth, stood out.

"It was hard remembering some of the lines," William said with sincere conviction both before and after the lively 15-minute performance of the third and fourth acts of Macbeth.

But that wasn't too obvious.

Except maybe when William, dressed royally in a red tabard and crown, squinted hard and closed his eyes while trying to recall the often-difficult but colorful language.

Still, his gestures seemed natural and done with ease.

The 20 Mount Washington third-graders were one of 16 school groups that performed brief scenes from Shakespearean plays yesterday at the close of a two-day Shakespeare Festival.

Sponsored by Center Stage, the Stage Theatre of Maryland and the city school system, the second annual event was held to introduce and familiarize students from the third to 12th grades with the language and history of Shakespeare.

"We don't want Shakespeare to just be something that is an extracurricular activity," said Matthew Hornbeck, an instructor at Harford Heights Elementary School and one of the coordinators of the festival.

"We want Shakespeare to be for children of all abilities," he said, adding: "We want to show them that Shakespeare is accessible for them."

The schools did not compete against each other, but several critics, including a dramaturge from Center Stage, critiqued the groups.

In January, Mr. Hornbeck sent letters to all city public schools telling them of the festival and about a one-day training workshop offered to teachers by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Forty teachers took him up on the offer.

Organizers hope to expand the program next year to include city private schools as well as Baltimore County schools, said Lisa Wilde, an educational coordinator for Center State.

Last year's festival was for high schools only.

Many of the Mount Washington Elementary students had nearly perfected the Elizabethan dialect language spoken during the Shakespearean era and, in many cases, they had even affected elaborate accents for flavor.

That surprised Sheilah Myers, the students' teacher, because she had assigned their roles just a few weeks ago.

But William Hall, the Macbeth character, had other concerns.

"I had to learn how to talk not like a normal person," William said. "I knew most of the lines. I know Macbeth."

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