Wherefore art thou Han Solo?
Scene six of Romeo and Juliet plays out in Amy Chatowsky’s sixth grade classroom at Elmcrest Elementary. Juliet asks that timeless question, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Alina Modisette plays Juliet. She’s a raven-haired child with almond eyes and a winning smile. Giggling and blushing in the center of the room, she wants to know if she and Romeo are getting married.
Her Romeo is played by Keny Chavez. He’s one of the taller boys in class, with olive skin and dark hair, wearing jean shorts and a green T-shirt.
Elmcrest Elementary is stimulating student interest in the performing arts by taking advantage of free theater workshops with the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. The InterACT workshops began in March and continue through Aug. 7. Bookings are scheduled all year, and each workshop is tailored to kids.
“This free program is a big benefit and a great experience, exposing kids to Shakespeare,” says Chatowsky. She says that the school could not afford to pay for students to experience Shakespeare with a seasoned professional.
Joe Atack enjoys conducting student workshops. He works with socially and economically at-risk schools and youth groups from Wadsworth to Gardnerville, reaching students from first grade to seniors.
“I’ve done classes with 60 kids and just me,” Atack says. “The idea is super flexible, and in the classroom, you find accommodations.”
This is his third and final visit to Elmcrest, which is one of 23 Northern Nevada workshop sites.
With his English accent, Atack recites the lines when the script poses difficulties for the young actors. He uses laughter, inflection and hand gestures to reel the students into the scene like hooked fish.
Atack asks them to consider three questions: What does my character want? What does my character do to get what he wants? What obstacles are in the way? The students discuss a myriad of obstacles, like the weather, class structures, emotions and intentions that may influence a character’s actions.
During a dueling scene, Atack asks, “What’s a rapier?” An eager student answers that it’s a fencing sword. “It’s a precision weapon for stabbing vital organs,” Atack elaborates.
Ears perk up when Atack asks if the students are familiar with Star Wars, drawing an analogy between the light saber and the rapier as sophisticated weaponry. Light bulbs ignite within students’ heads, and the classroom energy sizzles as the scene portrays death by rapier.
Atack asks if Romeo is responsible for Mercutio’s death. Again, the students relate to this character through Star Wars as Romeo turns to the dark side, killing Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death. The kids cheer when Tybalt receives his death jab.
In the final act, Romeo enters the tomb, kneeling by his lovely, poison-filled Juliet. He’s heading into eternity with his beloved, but these two star-crossed lovers rest a safe two feet apart from one another on the floor.
Atack nudges the pair to get closer, “This is not you, now; it’s Romeo and Juliet.”
Students gather around the dead couple, and Atack quips, “Heaven kills your joy with love.” With this parting line, the students clap, rise and exit stage left for recess.