Shakespeare: a class act; Performance: Founders of a school Shakespeare festival in Howard County want students to learn about the poet and playwright the old-fashioned way -- by acting.


William Shakespeare would have been in love all over again last week at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.

Students from six area middle and high schools performed in "Where there's a Will, there's a Play," the third annual Howard County Public Schools Shakespeare Festival. The performances celebrate the works of Shakespeare (who was born and died on April 23) by students and faculty members.

Teachers Kelli Midgely-Biggs of Wilde Lake High School and Robin Russell of Glenwood Middle School coordinated the festival to expose students to Shakespeare. They invited other schools to join the festival three years ago.

"Shakespeare wrote his words to be performed, not read," Russell said.

The young actors arrived early Friday morning to apply makeup, fix hair and don costumes.

Wilde Lake High's Shakespeare Club began by performing several sonnets adapted to 20th-century activities that teens enjoy.

Performances included ballet and jazz, a slumber party, a cafe scene and a rock star followed by his groupies.

The comic strip "Peanuts" became the setting for a sonnet. In the baseball routine, Charlie Brown, played by Tim McDonald, was accidentally knocked out by the umpire, Joshua Segovia, and in a dream recited sonnet No. 18 to the little red-headed girl, portrayed by Jamie Daniller.

Patapsco Middle School followed with excerpts from "Twelfth Night." After the performance, the cast assembled onstage to present teacher Jillian Downs with flowers in appreciation of her support and efforts.

Ellicott Mills Middle School's theme, "Women in Shakespeare," consisted of scenes from several plays featuring female characters.

Mount View Middle School performed "A Midsummer Night's Dream," with violin music provided by pupils as girls in fairy costumes danced onstage.

The afternoon also featured Glenwood Middle School and "Much Ado About Nothing." Hammond High finished student performances with a presentation of scenes from five plays that highlighted "Shakespearean Relationships."

Professional guest actor Brian Diggs entertained the audience after the school performances. ended.

Master of Revels Michael Ahr, a River Hill High School teacher, introduced each school and provided entertainment between acts. Audience members gave impromptu performances of lines in a "dueling Shakespeare" segment. Winners were chosen by applause.

and cheers.

One group got to act out humorous dying scenes, such as death by wedgie, pecking chicken and quicksand. The performers had to recite lines as they twitched, swatted and contorted their bodies, falling to the floor in their death throes.

The performances were judged by a panel of community members involved in theater or education. Awards were presented in several comedy categories designed to recognize effort and creativity over expertise.

Among the winners: The "Dying to Act" award for stage violence went to Hammond High; Niki Rogers of Glenwood Middle won "Best Female in a Male Role"; Kevin Driscoll was given "I thank God, I am not a woman" recognition for being the best and only male in Ellicott Mills Middle's "Women In Shakespeare"; Wilde Lake's cafe scene captured the "Cellmates" award for best use of cell phones on stage.

Toba Barth, director of education for the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, said the festival is a melding of the intellectual, artistic, emotional and physical aspects of learning.

The "connection between arts and education is vital to understand," Barth said.

Wilde Lake High senior Gwen Martin, a four-year participant in the Shakespeare Club, echoed the arts and education connection. Shakespeare is not just drama, but literary interpretation, she said, adding that "a lot of kids my age and younger are enjoying Shakespeare."

Gwen's words prove that the efforts of the faculty have paid off, and that performing Shakespeare leaves an impression on kids.

The festival is "a wonderful technique for teaching and understanding all literature," Russell said.

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