Eighth-graders at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover are not only learning about William Shakespeare, they are bringing to life the playwright’s characters.
Alexis Bedingfield, teacher of a Talented and Gifted class at Kenmoor, applied — and won — a chance for members of the Washington, D.C.-based Shakespeare Theatre Co. to work with her class on a Shakespeare play and eventually perform a scene on stage.
Vanessa Hope, director of the theater’s Text Alive! program, said the goal is to give students a better understanding of Shakespeare’s plays.
“Our whole approach to teaching Shakespeare is that it is a play, which is meant to be performed. We complement the reading of the play with kinesthetic activities where students act out the story,” Hope said. “We also introduce them to pretty complex text analysis, so they learn about how Shakespeare wrote and how that informs the actors.”
Hope said they normally work with high school students, but made an exception for the TAG students at Kenmoor this year. The company felt the TAG students were advanced enough to handle the material.
On Feb. 20, students — who are working on the play “Henry IV, Part 1” — each were assigned the role of a character from Shakespearean times, real or fictional. They had to act out their parts in front of their peers, portraying the characters as they chose through movement, body language and voice.
“It helps me understand the characters better, because with some of [Shakespeare’s] plays, you don’t get the understanding of how the character feels. And the language is different, so if you’re acting it out, you get a better understanding of the feelings of the characters and how they would act,” said Julia Chotoo, 14, of Bowie.
Bedingfield and Kenmoor Middle TAG coordinator Beth Novick also attend four separate training sessions with the theater group.
“We learn strategies for teaching the story in a way that is active and support teaching the play in a kinesthetic, theatrical learning style,” Novick said.
The play was selected by the theater company, Bedingfield said.
The students will perform a scene from the play May 3 on the theater company’s stage. The performance will be open to the public.
“Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m really creative, so I’m really looking forward to that,” said Ekaete Ekpo, 13, of Bowie.
Bedingfield said the opportunity to learn theatrical techniques from the theater company has sharpened her students’ understanding of the play, which is one of Shakespeare’s historical dramas.
“Henry IV is a very difficult play. It doesn’t have a love story; it’s not a comedy; it doesn’t have a lot of things for them to relate to. So being able to act out the play really helps them get a feel for it,” Bedingfield said. “I think it really helps them embrace the text and understand how important it is. Shakespeare isn’t dead. There’s a reason we still read his plays.”