PUBLISHED: 4:50 PM on Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Montessori students perform Shakespeare
Children in Juneau's elementary aged public Montessori program performed an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" on May 24, at the Glacier Valley School Gym.

"One of the ways the children benefit from an experience like this is the rigor of the work," said Chris Trostel, one of the teachers.

"Anything that takes five or six weeks of intense preparation shows how much work and commitment the kids are capable of. If you set children a challenge, their level of performance will really rise to it."

Courtesy photo
  Montessori students perform in "Macbeth."
The "Macbeth" production took shape after the classes performed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last year.

"From the moment we completed our production last spring the children have been asking over and over again 'Can we do Shakespeare again this year?'" Trostel said.

"They loved it and surprised us with the level of rigor they were willing to undertake for the performance. How could we refuse them this year?"

The children performed a modified version with younger students sharing roles. Trostel modified the play using adaptations and children's versions as a guide.

"One of the things we really emphasized with the children was thinking about the language and understanding how it's put together," Trostel said. "We talked about the importance of thinking about what it means and how it feels. I put in as much real Shakespeare as we could work in with 73 first through sixth graders."

The universality of the stories speaks to everyone, including children, Trostel said. "These are classic tales that still speak to us four hundred later. They still intrigue us because they are stories that reach across time and culture. Just like the Tlingit production of "Macbeth" that Perseverance Theatre did a few years ago," she said.

For some children, the opportunity to experience a challenge like Shakespeare really opened doors.

"One of our students was really struggling with reading and writing. After being in "A Midsummer Nights Dream" last year, she really fell in love with Shakespeare. She spent the fall writing about it and began to love reading. Then she took a big role in Macbeth," Trostel said. "There are so many kids that may not shine in math, grammar or geography but acting, getting on stage, performing, discussing plays are their strength and talent. It's really all about the process--that's where all the work, all the learning takes place. The performance is gravy."

The children's enthusiasm for Shakespeare seems to encompass the entire experience. Fourth grader Demaris Oxman played Lennox in the production.

"The Shakespeare language was a little bit strange but once you understood the meaning of the words you could memorize your lines better. My teacher helped me a lot. I like to act and I thought it was really cool to be in the play. I'm sad that it's over," Oxman said.

Parents of the young actors were pleased as well.

"It was very impressive. I thought it was a huge undertaking. With everyone working together they really made it look easy. Every one was having fun acting, and like they say, there are no small parts. Everybody chipped in," said parent Robin Macdonald.

"For my daughter Emmy is now not only does she have an appreciation of Shakespeare, but it has really ignited a love of acting. She's been interested in memorizing other people's lines. Some kids had an amazing amount of lines to remember. I think that's a great skill."

Putting together a performance like this is a testament to the dedication of the entire Glacier Valley Staff, where the Montessori Program is housed.

"Many hands make light work," Trostel said. "We are tremendously indebted to all the teachers and staff, who were hugely flexible and supportive in making this event happen.

"We are particularly grateful to Susie Denton and Lorrie Heagy for helping arrange the use of the gym and to the many teachers who moved or exchanged P.E. times so that we could use the gym for extended periods of time. Many teachers also brought their classes to our dress rehearsal.

"We are thankful to Glacier Valley Art teacher Tammy Malloy for working with the kids to execute our simple set design, and to parents Cindy Boesser and Jeannie Conneen for gathering set and costume materials. We appreciate The Juneau Jumpers, who gave up their Thursday night practice in the gym so we could have this performance time."

"We're especially thankful to Southeast Alaska Friends of Montessori, who paid for our music director, spent lots of extra time with kids and made it possible for the Montessori Orchestra to accompany the play. SEAFOM also paid for the set materials," Trostel said.