Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Cataldo students discover heights and depths of studying, performing
by Laureen Bonin, for the Inland Register
(From the June 15, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
Teachers in Catholic schools have the dual responsibility of teaching a particular subject matter while also drawing parallels to Christ’s teachings. When understanding leads to inspiration, a teacher is successful. A small group of Cataldo third graders, led by just such a teacher, did this through their challenging performance of Romeo and Juliet.
These third graders are taught by veteran teacher Lori Arpin, who decided to introduce Shakespeare by using works adapted to the young reader. She taught the students that when Christ was asked about the greatest of the commandments, he replied, “to love one another.” Arpin told her students that the love between Romeo and Juliet brought very brief, but genuine, happiness.
“The longstanding hatred between their families had brought nothing but sorrow, and in the end of the play, great loss. We learned that Shakespeare’s tragedies often portray families who are not living their lives with Christian values, and thus end up suffering for their actions,” Arpin said. These young scholars were bright enough to know that just reading the play was insufficient; they enthusiastically asked if they could perform one of the plays. How could a teacher say no?
When asked how she decided upon a play that seemed beyond the realm of her students experiences, Arpin replied, “Shakespeare’s messages are really appropriate for all ages. We truly minimized the romantic theme of the play (it’s hard to get third graders to even hold hands). And many discussions were held about the seriousness and consequences of suicide for one’s love. This was truly an experiment on my part to see if my eight- and nine-year- olds could move to a higher level of understanding with historically difficult material. Their motivation and our performance were fun to assess and were very impressive!”
Six months later, the curtain came up on a well-prepared cast of young Shakespeareans. The children used authentic and unsimplified Elizabethan language while performing all five (abridged) acts in one hour.
The class borrowed and painted background sets, while one mother made all 20 costumes. Props were kept at a minimum, and period music helped set the tone.
All students had a part in the play, from town criers to lead roles. Performances were held during the day for the upper grades and in the evening for parents and family.
Grace Romano, parent and costume designer, felt that the children got a real sense of working together — a real team effort. They also got the gist of it, that it’s not just a love story.
Arpin had the students write about the experience, and their comments showed real understanding of the theme and language; their enthusiasm was also evident in regard to the performance itself. McKenzie Smith, a narrator, wrote, “I felt like saying Holy Saint Francis after the play, because I couldn’t believe that our class performed the story of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Another narrator, Morgan Black — perhaps still under the spell of Shakespeare’s verse — stated, “I never saw true beauty till the night of the play.” The students were unanimous in their wish to perform it many more times.
Studying and performing Romeo and Juliet was an intellectual and a spiritual challenge for these third grade thespians, but they proved they were up to the poetry of Shakespeare, as well as the moral lesson of lives destroyed due to hatred and intolerance.
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