Beguiled by the Bard

The Baltimore Sun

The two fifth-graders faced each other as they prepared to throw their next word volleys.

"I'll see thee hanged, spleeny, rough-hewn pigeon egg," Anthony Gunther, 10, said to Jessica Cunningham, also 10.

"Away, I say, thou goatish, fool-born giglet," Jessica replied.

Down the hall in another classroom at East Middle School, a different spirit reigned.

"Dear Josh," said eighth-grader Nick Schultz, 13, as he selected lines from an imaginary love letter to Romeo from Juliet, "Thou art the rising sun that I adore."

"Dear Nick," classmate Josh Mackley, 13, said, picking his own lines for the demonstration, "You wrap me up in wonder. You have made me sick with passion. I'll pay the tribute of my love to thee."

Whether speaking words of hate or love, students from Lorene Livermore's eighth-grade English I classes at East Middle conducted workshops and put on performances to teach fifth-graders from Westminster elementary schools to speak Shakespeare.

For three days, Livermore's classes put on a festival centered on the Bard to show prospective sixth-graders that a school by another name can be just as sweet.

The event's underlying purpose is to give the younger students "a feel for the building," Livermore said. "There's always so much fear when there's change." The festival helps "alleviate the fear and enrich them with some art," she said.

The Shakespeare Festival is in its second year but has expanded considerably from the previous one, which took place in one day for students from Cranberry Station and William Winchester elementary schools. This time, Livermore's three English I classes expected to host about 275 fifth-graders - from the first two schools and from Robert Moton, Charles Carroll and a homeschool academy - during the three days of activities that started Wednesday, she said.

Livermore received a $1,500 award from the Carroll County Public Schools Education Foundation to plan the event, which consists of workshops and her students' performances of Romeo and Juliet, she said.

On Wednesday, the middle-school hosts - decked in Renaissance-style garb - awaited their guests from Cranberry Station, holding up posters with coats of arms in various colors.

"Tybalt's Tyrants here," Connie Kniesler and Donavan Kapp, both 14, shouted as the elementary visitors stepped outside to meet the Capulets and Montagues, respectively distinguished with red and blue tunics. Connie and Donavan introduced themselves as Juliet and her cousin, Tybalt. Their red poster sported a black shield with a yellow fleur-de-lis.

"Juliet's Joys this way," Rachel Corman, 13, said, as she turned to walk into the school's gym.

"Romeo's Roamers, right here," said Charlie Dausch, 14, pointing to a section of the bleachers where the five teams would sit.

Livermore welcomed the young visitors - and quizzed their knowledge of Romeo and Juliet. How many people die in the play? Who dies in the Capulet family, and who from the Montague clan?

"How long did Romeo and Juliet know each other before they got married?" she asked at one point.

Akilah Halstead, 10, raised her hand. "Fifteen minutes," she said.

"It's a little longer than 15 minutes," Livermore said.

"Half an hour," another student guessed.

More than that, Livermore said. "They met each other at a dance and got married at noon the next day."

The Cranberry crowd asked questions of their own in talks with their middle-school "ambassadors."

Thinking ahead to the afternoon's performance, Amanda Coale, 10, wasted no time in turning to Rachel and her co-leader, Jillian Traynor.

"Will you see, like, ketchup as blood? Is there any blood?" she said.

"No blood today," Rachel said. Amanda looked a bit disappointed.

Minutes later, each group had moved into separate spaces for the workshops, conducted by the eighth-graders. Besides the lessons in insults and wooing, the kids could try acting like a true thespian as they recited lines from the play in "Theater in the Round"; developing the appropriate gestures and poses to go with the words; and re-enacting the story of lovers Pyramus and Thisbe - as Shakespeare wrote it in A Midsummer Night's Dream. "

The workshops and performances also school Livermore's students, she said.

"They really get a good feel for what teaching's like," Livermore said, plus a taste of the stage - an unusual experience for the typical English class.

But, Livermore added, "these kids rise to the occasion," as do the visiting fifth-graders.

They seemed to rise with enthusiasm.

"It's really fun," Anthony said, as he watched his peers hurl more insults. "I like how we get to be dramatic and do stuff that we wouldn't normally get to do."

Middle school may not look so bad after all.

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