About 1,300 students packed the Alex Theatre on Wednesday morning to get a modern-day look at five of Shakespeare’s classic plays, including scenes featuring sword fights, young lovers and tragic death — as well as an opening set to a chart-topping music hit by Pitbull and Ke$ha.
“Shakespearience,” a production by Theatrical Education Group, has performed for about 70,000 students during the last 16 years in Glendale.
“They come year after year after year,” said director Justin Eick of the many schools that have annually brought students to the production, which aims to introduce students to the Bard. Many of the students are just beginning to study the famous writer.
The cast acts out selected scenes from “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Macbeth,” “Hamlet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
All the while, a narrator played by actor Jeremy Guskin steps in between each scene to give the audience a synopsis of the story leading up to the point at which they are about to drop into the tale.
He sets the sometimes zany tone at the beginning of the production by assembling the actors, all the while the hit song “Timber” is playing.
When he appears on stage to introduce “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he tells the audience, “I was in the middle of something,” and as he turns around, they see he’s forgotten to remove a paper toilet seat cover from his behind.
English teacher Janice Burow of Luther Burbank Middle School said she has been bringing her students to the show for years.
“I love the way that they update the humor and keep the jokes contemporary and keep the kids’ interest,” she said.
As the students watched Kate and Petruchio’s tussle unfold in “The Taming of the Shrew,” one student was so captivated by the verbal and physical exchange between the two characters that she shouted, “You go, Kate!”
Eick said he’s known many students emerge from the production with a new grasp of Shakespeare, and perhaps even more ready to tackle his works.
“We use every single tool to present characters that are relatable — characters that make sense...They feel that could be them up on the stage,” he said.
Of Romeo and Juliet, he added, “They’re not just reciting those famous lines…you really see Juliet and Romeo as two passionate young teenagers.”
Among the students at the performance Thursday was seventh-grader Louie Zekowski from Luther Burbank Middle School, whose class recently finished reading “Twelfth Night.”
“I have to say, I really loved...‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ It really goes into all the action,” Zekowski said, adding that the entire production allowed him to “really see Shakespeare — how he goes so dynamically from character to character.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated 700,000 students have participated in Shakespearience in Glendale for the past 16 years. This is incorrect.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.