Generic Theatre goes to school

The cast of Generic Theatre’s soon-to-premiere “Romeo and Juliet” collaborated on a rehearsal with a group of high school freshmen Friday morning at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.

But the props were school desks and the costumes were jeans and T-shirts.

Graduate student Samantha Smith, who brought the GW thespians to the high school’s English class, where she is a student teacher. Smith is completing an intensive 14-month program in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

“The kids don’t get the whole picture by reading the play,” Smith said. She graduated from GW with a bachelor’s degree in English and classics last year.

“They have a problem with Shakespeare because they see it as an ivory tower, something that is foreign to them,” she said. “But putting the words in their mouths makes it more accessible to them.”

“Reading Shakespeare is very difficult,” said GW senior Michael Weitz, who is directing the play, which will run May 1 in the Marvin Center theater. “It’s like unlocking a puzzle.”

The college and high school students ventured into the world of Shakespeare as they stepped into the shoes of Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt and Mercutio.

The Generic cast members squeezed a full-fledged rehearsal into two and a half hours. They read scripts and analyzed characters to allow the students to get a feel for the meaning of the scenes and the characters.

“They got a lot out of it because the plays are supposed to be acted out,” Weitz said.

Weitz noted that in the rehearsal, students from two English classes participated in various scenes of the play – from the love scenes to the death scenes.

While Shakespeare’s tragedies are not traditionally considered funny, Weitz said students laughed during the session as they turned serious scenes into comedies.

He said the key to the Elizabethan writer’s works is to see how a serious play can be made enjoyable. Even during practices for the GW production, Weitz says he tries to add humor into tragic scenes.

The key to understanding the literature is to internalize the text by acting out the scenes and then seeing what ideas emerge, he said.

“It is important to show what they understand (about the play) by teaching it,” Smith said. “Teaching them what you know may be more influential than acting.”

Weitz said as a result of his cast members’ interaction with the high school students, he has a few ideas to add into his production.

“Some of those kids were surprisingly good,” he said.

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