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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Students Step Into Shakespeare Roles As Part Of Northern Stage Theater Program

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Northern Stage education director Eric Love works with students at Dothan Brook School in White River Junction.

A group of professional actors based in White River Junction are bringing the Bard of Avon to six area schools this year. It's part of the Northern Stage theater group's program that aims to get young performers acquainted with the works of William Shakespeare.

Northern Stage started the "Shakespeare in the Schools" program in 2016. It began in just two schools, but the program has been growing every year since. About 300 students will take part in the theater program this year.

Northern Stage education director Eric Love says the first year was supposed to be a collaboration with Dartmouth College.

But not enough Dartmouth students signed up, so Love said that at the last minute Northern Stage decided to move ahead on its own.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Miranda LeBrun, a fourth-grade student at Dothan Brook School, rehearses a scene from William Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors."

“It was a little bit trial by fire that first year,” Love said. “But we learned that the impact is enormous. Five weeks of Shakespeare is gonna last these kids a lifetime.”

Love said most of the schools don’t have theater programs of their own, and many of the schools are among the most underserved in the region.

The actors works three or four days a week with the students. They discuss the shows, block out the scenes and rehearse.

There is a performance in each school, and then a full production at the 240-seat Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction at the program's conclusion.

“When you bring them to Northern Stage, it is a transformation process,” Love said. “And suddenly, it’s not fourth-graders doing Shakespeare. It’s young theater artists doing something really meaningful.”

"We learned that the impact is enormous. Five weeks of Shakespeare is gonna last these kids a lifetime." — Eric Love, Northern Stage education director

Nick Daniels, a fifth-grader at Dothan Brook School in White River Junction, took part in the theater program last year.

Daniels said he did not know too much about Shakespeare before the Northern Stage program, and it was his first time trying out acting.

“Once I, like, started doing Shakespeare and different plays, I started to realize that it’s actually pretty fun,” Daniels said. “And I’ve just stuck with it ever since. So I think bringing more kids in here will get kids to like acting more.”

Olivia Deigle, in center, watches Northern Stage education director Eric Love work through a scene from William Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" at Dothan Brook School in White River Junction.

At a recent rehearsal for this year’s Shakespearean play, The Comedy of Errors, fourth-grade student Olivia Deigle was working through a scene with some of her classmates.

Deigle said the Shakespeare program gives her a chance to step out of her life. And she said dressing up in a tunic and really immersing herself in her character is one way to relieve some of the stress of fourth grade.

“I just like how you take a break from everything you’re doing that day, the problems that you’re having,” Deigle said. “And you take someone else’s role, for maybe [a] half-hour even. But it feels like much longer.”

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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