The works of William Shakespeare got a modern and humorous twist Tuesday at the Alex Theatre as more than 1,100 Southland students were treated to a unique production featuring scenes from five of the legendary playwright’s famous titles.
Now in its 17th year and presented by the Theatrical Education Group, “Shakespearience” is a play within a play that showcases a cast switching among key scenes from tragedies such as “Romeo and Juliet,” Macbeth,” and “Hamlet” and comedies “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Taming of the Shrew” with a little comedy during the transitions.
More than 5,000 students will see the program this year and nearly 80,000 have seen it since its inception.
At the beginning of the show, the very non-16th century tune “Too Hot” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars helped get things underway. From then on, narrator Jeremy Guskin summarized plots while blending in some physical comedy.
But the structure of the production is all about re-creating the scenes students read about in the classroom.
“The reason we chose the scenes that we chose was because they directly correlate to the plays that are required reading in English classes from the seventh through 12th grade,” said director and creator Justin Eick, who was also one of the performers.
Lisa Avery, a seventh-grade English teacher at Rosemont Middle School in La Crescenta, said she liked the way the production was formatted.
“It helps the students stay engaged and understand Shakespeare’s message, even if they don’t understand every single word that he wrote,” Avery said.
The playwright’s prose was delivered nearly verbatim with an added joke here and there as well as several choreographed sword fights.
Ben Powers, a 12th-grade English teacher at La Cañada High School, said he’s glad his students got a chance to see material by the Bard of Avon live on stage.
“A lot of the time we’re trying to show them what the scene would look like. We’d show them film clips,” he said. “The opportunity for them to see live theater and to see Shakespeare on stage is wonderful... [The producers] made it fun and accessible.”
Eick is performing-arts chair at La Cañada High School and produced the show with the help of senior acting students as well as alumni.
“It’s a gift that keeps on giving,” he said. “They get a chance to perform when they’re in school and, when they choose to pursue acting when they get out of school, we follow them and ask them to come back and be a part of the show.”