The sixth-grade students at Northridge Elementary School are almost enchanted by William Shakespeare.
When they decided to learn about his work by performing a couple of his plays, they may have simply been aiming to please their teacher, but that changed. They ended up having a lot of fun.Their enthusiasm was evident during the final performances of "Macbeth" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"It's funner to learn this way," said Shane Woodard, one of two students playing the role of Macbeth.
And what have they learned about Shakespeare's tragic character? "He's a mean man, because he killed a nice king and all the servants," said Shane.
The boy should know. He has the lines for all parts in the play swimming in his memory. In fact, during the final scene of the play when Macbeth is supposed to lie still on the floor because he's dead, Shane has been known to prompt any fellow actor who sadly misses his cue.
When the deceased Macbeth did this during a dress rehearsal, students could be heard adding unusual dialogue to the play such as, "Shut up, Shane. You're dead."
These antics didn't faze the students' teacher, Bonnie Pelton. She believes they are learning about Shakespeare more thoroughly than they could have from any book.
"I know they learned more, because they had to memorize lines," she said. "Their vocabulary is great. It's a challenge for them, because it's something that's written for adults, and they get to do it."
This is the first time the class has performed any play, and it's unusual for elementary students to take on something as sophisticated as Shakespeare, but they wanted to do it because they knew their teacher loved the classic dramatist. But in the beginning, the kids were somewhat apathetic about his work.
"You know why we're doing this?" one girl demanded of a person watching a rehearsal. The viewer had no idea. "It's because we didn't care about Shakespeare."
"Do you care now?" the viewer asked. The student considered for a moment and said with a shrug, "Sort of."
That sentiment is pretty representative of the mind set of the 55 students in the plays, but to care even "sort of" about Shakespeare when you're 11 years old seems something of an accomplishment.
Whether their motivation is spending less time in class or getting on a stage in front of their parents, the kids are learning. Pelton said some students who have been underachievers in the past have bloomed during the 31/2 weeks they've been studying Shakespeare. Some have even been scolded in other classes because they read their plays while they should be studying math or science.
The plays have been adapted for the younger set, but most of the lines come from Shakespeare's original text, Pelton said. The students have learned about another culture and how to understand the unusual dialogue in the plays. They made their own costumes and worked on most of the scenery, so the production stretched their abilities in many areas.
David Norton, who also plays Macbeth, said he's so interested in Shakespeare now, he'd like to attend Cedar City's Shakespeare Festival.
"I want to learn a lot about it," he said. "It's really fun."
It was so entertaining for almost everyone, Pelton plans to make it a yearly tradition at Northridge. It has been an experience her sixth-graders won't forget.
And that includes one student who proudly asked, "You wanna hear something funny? I forgot almost all my lines during the play last night." What did he do? "I didn't say `em."
That's OK. Macbeth was surely there to save the play.