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They're learning by acting

Central students take to the stage via OSF visitation program

Christiana Clark and Jeremy Johnson lead students in an exercise during a Shakespeare workshop at Central High.

Photo by Emily Mentzer

Christiana Clark and Jeremy Johnson lead students in an exercise during a Shakespeare workshop at Central High.

December 10, 2013

INDEPENDENCE — Thirty-three students took the stage in the Central High School auditorium on Dec. 4.

They weren't drama students practicing a play. They are part of Ben Gorman's honors freshmen English class, just one of the many classes that had an opportunity to work with two Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors as part of OSF's School Visit Program.

The workshop is one of many the Shakespearean actors will do in schools throughout the Northwest, said Katherine Gosnell, outreach program manager.

"Our goal is to provide students and teachers language comprehension," she said.

By getting students to speak lines from Shakespeare, to feel the words in their own mouths, it helps comprehend both the historic playwright and language in general.

Students were a little squirrely at first, sitting in a circle on the stage, so actor Christiana Clark led them through an exercise. She started by rubbing her hands together. The student to her right picked up on her action and it spread around the circle. When it got back to Clark, she switched to snapping her fingers.

The small actions built up to create a simulated storm in the circle on stage, and then back to simply rubbing hands together again.

Gosnell said this type of exercise gets students to work together.

Next, they played another game called "crab tag." Students crawled around on all fours, face up. A few selected "crab taggers" tried to touch the hand of every crab student. Anyone who got tagged had to sit cross-legged and wave their arms, pretending to be seaweed, protecting untagged students.

Bianca Camacho, Julia Hamar and Dalia Corrales Pena read lines from “The Tempest” while Christiana Clark and Jeremy Johnson look on.

Photo by Emily Mentzer

Bianca Camacho, Julia Hamar and Dalia Corrales Pena read lines from “The Tempest” while Christiana Clark and Jeremy Johnson look on.

All this teamwork led to reading lines from "The Tempest."

Many students had never read Shakespeare and were not familiar with the characters or the play, but by the end of class each one had ideas about what it was about.

"Applaud yourself for being able to extract these nuggets of insight for this character," actor Jeremy Johnson said. "For taking the time to break it down, get to things you do understand, and bringing in your own human experience."

The high school is working with the school visit program to establish a three-year partnership. At that point, actors will spend up to a week at the school, working with the entire student body, Gosnell said.

"This was a perfect classroom in a way," Johnson said of the class. "They didn't have much experience, but were game enough to try. They did a spectacular job of opening up to the language and gaining understanding of the play."

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