An increasingly poorly kept secret is the growing prowess of its long-standing Shakespeare reading groups, which have led to The Mauro-Sheridan Shakespeare players’ annual production of a Bard play.
Now in its seventh season, 24 kids from fourth to eighth graders are presenting one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. at the school on Fountain Street.
The production, featuring the witty repartee of Beatrice and Benedick, who swear they will never fall in love or marry, but of course ultimately do, is pared down to a kids’ length of about an hour. Yet every word spoken is the original Shakespeare, and if a bit of the dress rehearsal I saw on Wednesday is any indication, not only are the kids enjoying the show, but they’re really getting the Elizabethan lingo, and the Bard’s sense of fun and joy.
“It’s a different reward when kids get this language,” said Rebecca Goodheart, the executive director of Elm Shakespeare Company, which is now the official partner of the Mauro-Sheridan Shakespeare Players, during a break in the action.
Goodheart, who’s helming the Elm Shakespeare Company this summer in its production of Romeo and Juliet in Edgerton Park, directed Much Ado earlier this spring at Southern Connecticut State College, where she and the company are in residence.
That’s a main reason she chose the play for the Mauro-Sheridan players, because with it came all kinds of new experiences. The costumes the kids are wearing, for example, are the same ones, made a lot shorter, that actors used in the college production.
But that’s not all.
The Mauro-Sheridan kids, who have been rehearsing after school since December, saw Goodheart’s Southern production and sat down and discussed their roles, Beatrice to Beatrice, Dogberry to Dogberry, with their counterparts.
This year’s production also features the first time a fully choreographed dance is incorporated in the play.
All this, especially the language, was a challenge to the kids. But they rose to it, said Jodi Schneider, the founder of the Shakespeare reading groups at the school and the long-time play coordinator.
“I like it when I get to say hard words, like ‘moreover, sir,’” said fifth-grader Mahari Kerrison, who, in his nifty plumed uniform, plays Dogberry the bumbling, malapropism-prone constable.
In one scene, where old Dogberry is trying to strut his stuff by presenting a plan in numerical order, firstly, fifthly, thirdly, and gets the numbers out of order, young Dogberry was having some difficulty, both memorizing the lines and pronouncing some of the words, Goodheart recalled.
However, when the light went on and Mahari realized the self-revealing joke in Shakespeare’s prose, that is, the mistakes, “Dogberry shows up,” she said.
Goodheart has also introduced regular warm-up exercises and more attention to vocal techniques, Schneider added.
This year, as in past productions, Mike Calderone, head of the Hopkins School drama department, and Hopkins kids on their day of service recently created the scenery flats; Mauro-Sheridan eighth-grader Josh Ferreira is in charge of the recorded music, a mix of genres including a Spanish song in the wedding scene, which he says he loves best.
After the Thursday show, which is preceded that afternoon by the performance for the school audience, the young thespians will be taking some of their scenes to the Tower One senior complex on June 14 at noon for an intergenerational program.
Doing Shakespeare with not only the general public — Elm Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet comes to Edgerton Park Aug. 17 to Sept. 3 — but with seniors, to whom the Mauro-Sheridan kids bring what they’ve learned, is way for the kids to be “held” by the community, Goodheart said.
“One of our missions is to create and strengthen community through Shakespeare,” she added.