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Spotlight to shine on 'Romeo'
Students at Thompson Middle School have embraced Shakespeare for their spring drama production--well, almost.

LEE WOOLF
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Date published: 4/20/2005

By LEE WOOLF

LET'S BE HONEST. For most middle-school students, Shakespeare is about as appealing as a super-sized helping of broccoli.

Even an enthusiastic drama teacher like Deb Hansen at Thompson Middle School uses the word "boring" when she talks about students' initial reaction to the Bard of Avon.

But that hasn't stopped Hansen from generating a great deal of enthusiasm for the school's spring play, "Romeo, You Idiot!" which debuts tonight at 7 p.m. and will run through Friday.

OK, as you can tell from the title, this isn't Shakespeare in the traditional sense. Actually, the author is a former humor columnist and comedian from Detroit named Tim Kochenderfer.

But the story is basically the same--except for a surprise ending--and there will be Renaissance costumes, a balcony scene and an assortment of Capulets and Montagues.

"Actually, we do the first five to eight minutes with the traditional Shakespearean language," said Hansen. "Then we go into a more modern version. There are brief lapses when characters return to the Shakespearean language, but then another character will tell them to 'snap out of it.' It's really very funny."

The cast includes about 30 seventh- and eighth-graders who were chosen from open auditions. More students, staff members and parent volunteers are helping in other ways to make sure the production runs smoothly.

Hansen has been at Thompson Middle School for four years. Before that, she taught high school drama in Spotsylvania County.

"In high school, you have more time to deal with Shakespeare," she said. "In those classes, sometimes I would dress up as one of the witches from 'Macbeth' and conduct class in character. As a drama teacher, you have to do whatever it takes to engage the students."

In Hansen's first three years at Thompson, the spring plays have been a drama about the Holocaust, "Guys and Dolls" and a murder mystery.

"This year, I wanted to do something different," she said. "And I felt obligated to give the students a taste of Shakespeare."

Hansen said she ordered lots of plays for consideration before making a selection.

"This one made me laugh out loud and that's always a good sign," she said. "Plus, I think a lot of the kids are more familiar with 'Romeo and Juliet' than most of Shakespeare's other works."


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