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Midvale Journal

Midvale Middle theatre students to enter international Shakespeare Film Festival

Jan 27, 2017 02:43PM ● By Julie Slama

Midvale Middle School theatre students organize costumes for the student-written play, “Portia’s Example,” based on “The Merchant of Venice.” (Bethanne Lenhart/Midvale Middle School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

About 25 Midvale Middle School theatre students in the play production class aren’t just studying Shakespeare, they’re immersing themselves in it.


Students are completing four original plays they wrote and produced to enter in the world’s first online International Student Shakespeare Film Festival: ShakeMeUp Fest 2016-17, sponsored by Prague Shakespeare Company.


“They’ve taken this to a whole new level and have really immersed themselves into learning about Shakespeare and developing their own plays for the competition,” theatre teacher Bethanne Lenhart said.


The competition invites secondary English and drama students throughout the world to participate in not only the online film festival, but a celebration in Prague, Czech Republic, with student workshops. The top three fiction and non-fiction submissions will be recognized along with several other awards, such as best actor.


“We combined it with our Make a Difference project which students are reflecting how to make a difference in the arts and its positive and negative influences.  It’s allowing transformation, growth and reflection,” she said.


The Make a Difference Project is part of the school’s International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program where students design their own project answering the question, “How will I make a difference?” and perform this culminating act of service that often reaches a greater community than just within their class or school.


The class divided into teams, researched Shakespeare’s plays, wrote scripts and pitched ideas.  From there, the class along with the principal, MYP coordinator and Lenhart voted on which scripts they liked best and then worked on those to create 10-minute films.  While some students learned to revise the scripts, others learned how to use iMovie.  They also learned about props, blocking and backdrops.


“One student in my tech class created a canvas backdrop of Venice and got others to help paint it.  It’s amazing.  We’ll be able to use that in other productions,” she said.


In one script, “Did You Know,” Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice” competes on a game show, but is discriminated against.


“He should win, but instead he is stereotyped with anti-Semitism discrimination and it shows how those real world stereotypes still are around,” Lenhart said.


Another play, “Portia’s Example” shows Portia, from the “The Merchant of Venice,” pretending to be a male so she’s described as powerful.


“When she reveals herself as a female, it shows how we still don’t always describe females as powerful,” she said, adding that the script also includes an original piano score.  “This script recognizes strong female roles in literature.”


Another play is three characters rapping in a “Renaissance Got Talent: Rappers Edition” bringing together the plays, “The Merchant of Venice,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” 


The final play is when historic figures come together in a book club to discuss roles that relate to Shakespeare.  The students draw from “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Macbeth,” “As You Like it,” “Hamlet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “The Merchant of Venice.”


The students began the projects in September and will submit them by the April deadline.  Many also plan to include them as entries in the Utah History Day fair on March 17, Lenhart said. 


Students had a $50 budget per film, although Lenhart said some students didn’t spend any money.  Once submitted into the ShakeMeUp contest, the films will be evaluated by another teacher and class who enters for content, performance and presentation. 


The past two years, Lenhart’s students have performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “The Taming of the Shrew.”


“I think they are able to connect and find meaningful material in literature so it’s good for us to build where characters come from, relate them to the history and break it down so they realize Shakespeare isn’t that hard and they’re willing to try.  By the time they are reading in the middle of the play, they are fluent in the language.  By doing these videos, students are learning to adapt the language and how to make the characters relatable to today,” she said.


A date to share the films has yet to be set.