Shakespeare in the Era of Gatsby and Gangsters

In the Steinman Theatre, it’s as if Calvin Coolidge is in the White House, the Talkies are all the rage in cinemas, and the stock market is climbing toward a permanent plateau of prosperity.

The last LCDS Theater production was the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a period piece and homage set in the 1920s. Director Kristin Wolanin decided to stay in the era of Art Deco and women’s suffrage for tonight’s production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The showtimes are 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday April 25, 26 and 27, with a matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 27. Advanced tickets are $5 and available here, or $10 at the door.

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“‘Drowsy’ had a very specific look and feel, and this show, while still set in the same time, shows a totally different aspect of that time,” Wolanin said. “This is the 20s of Gatsby, and gangsters, and flappers, and I wanted to explore the different aspects of the decade during the same school year.”

With a sparse, Bourbon Street-inspired set, the show uses the 20s setting not just because the costumes are fun (they are) or because Wolanin wanted to show off her new, old Victrola (she does), but because it offers her cast — all students in her year-long Shakespeare course — a way to engage with the material in a way they otherwise wouldn’t.

“What I want is for the actors to explore the time period. For example, women got the right to vote. How does living through that kind of social change affect someone like Olivia, who’s being courted by one person while she’s in love with another? And the whole idea of ‘dating’ was new. How does that affect how people pursue who they’re interested in?”

While interrogating social norms is a worthy academic exercise, it’s also secondary to putting on an entertaining show. And with a love triangle, mistaken identities galore, and a sanctimonious prig battling a cohort of libertine pranksters, “Twelfth Night” has been delighting audiences for more than four centuries.

Wolanin is sure that streak will continue when the curtain rises Thursday and Saturday night. On Friday and Saturday afternoon, however, a whole different cast will perform, giving audiences the chance to take in the exact same, completely different show.

Seventeen students signed up for Wolanin’s Shakespeare class, a year-long exploration of one play, culminating with the performing of that play. There aren’t 17 parts in “Twelfth Night,” let alone 17 significant parts, so Wolanin double-cast the show. One group will perform on opening and closing night, with the second group tackling the big Friday night and lighter Saturday afternoon performances.

Double-casting means Wolanin is double-directing as well. She seems to enjoy life on the high wire. Or perhaps she’s just acting.

“We’re in the thick of it and it’s total chaos and it’s wonderful!”

Kendall K. is the only senior in the show, and is playing The Fool in the Friday night/Saturday matinee cycle. Her Shakespeare classmates are overwhelmingly freshmen, and Kendall’s prior roles have tended toward the ingenue, so finding herself the veteran, in a starring comedic role “has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone,” she said.

“Part of what’s been so great about the class is that we’ve taken the time to learn the context and draw new meaning from the text, actually understanding what the lines mean as opposed to just memorizing and reciting the words,” said Kendall. That understanding is especially important in “Twelfth Night” because it’s a comedy, and if the actors don’t get the words, they — and the audience — won’t be able to get the jokes.

Not to worry, Kendall said.

“The whole experience has been a lot of fun, and it’s a funny show.”

Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Showtimes are 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday April 25, 26 and 27, with a matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 27. Advanced tickets $5 and available here, or $10 at the door.

Cast and Crew List

CAST

Viola — Sam L.** & Amelia L.*
Olivia — Sarah B.* & Sophie M.**
Maria — Malia C.** & Tess M.*
Sir Toby Belch — Skyler W.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek — Rohan K.** & Laurel M.*
Malvolio — George W.
The Fool — Kendall K.* & Charley W.**
Orsino — Justin K.
Valentine — Rohan K.* & Laurel M.**
Curio — Mira H.
Sebastian — Linnea W.** & Mira H.*
Antonio — Frannie T.
Captain — Taamir B.Y.
Priest — Taamir B.Y.
Officers — Sarah B. & Taamir B.Y.

* — Thursday and Saturday night
**— Friday night and Saturday matinee

CREW

Director — Kristin Wolanin
Stage Manager — Christopher M.
Assistant Stage Manager — Adrien W.
Scenic Artist — Diane Wilikofsky
Lighting Design — Barry Fritz
Master Electrician — Hayden F.
Sound Designers — Justin K. & Skyler W.
Sound Technician — Piper S.
Production Props Mistress — Linnea W.
Production Props Assistants — Taamir B.Y., Malia C., Mira H.
Props Run Crew — Anthony P. & Thomas W.
Production Costumes Crew — Kendall K., Rohan K., Sam L., Laurel M., Sophie M., Tess M.
Costumes Mistress — Katrina F.
Costumes Run Crew — Laura B., Sarah H., Maya R., Sadi S.
House Manager — Jack K.
Usher — Sarah H.
Box Office Production Crew — Frannie T., Amelia L.
Box Office Crew — Carly C., William M., David W.
Set Crew — Shakespeare Class
Publicity Crew — Sarah B., Justin K., George W., Charley W.

The Endless Possibilities of Lower School Clubs

Almost every afternoon, groups of Lower Schoolers stay after school — happily — to have more of a given experience than the standard length school day can accommodate. For these children, in kindergarten through fifth grade, there are the Lower School Clubs, and their popularity only seems to grow.

“Chess always has 20-plus kids, and besides being fun, it’s a wonderful way to teach so many skills,” said Head of Lower School and Chess Club Managing Grownup Caroline Badri. “Chess builds attention, focus, stamina, and problem solving, along with resilience. ‘Resilience’ as an idea combines the elements of the other skills,” and become something greater than the sum of its parts, she said.

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“We’ve had after-school enrichment for years, but lately I’ve been trying to make the programs more accessible for every student. For example, with the math clubs, I was able to get free materials from the Smithsonian, which allowed the cost to be just $20 per child,” Badri said.

The number of club offerings is larger than it’s ever been, and interest and enrollment continues to grow, suggesting that the possibilities for new, future clubs are, if not endless, then just shy of it.

There are clubs for all that range from the purely academic to the purely athletic, and from artistic to the practical. They are held after school from 3-4 p.m., and accommodate interested students in the After School Program.

“With the Crazy 8 Math Club and the 24 Challenge Math Club, the goal is to make math super fun, and change kids’ attitudes toward it,” said Badri. “Another really cool thing about the math clubs is that we have three Middle School volunteers who are club alumni, so to speak, and liked it so much that they’ve come back to help teach the younger children.”

What they all have in common, she added, was that they’re “designed to instill a love of learning, facilitate teamwork, project management, and build resilience.

“It’s all about learning how you, as an individual, learn. The earlier we can develop this skill, the more fun learning becomes for everyone.”

The New Schedule Trial Run: A Verdict

To watch Dean of Curriculum Laura Trout’s explanatory video about the specific workings of each schedule and the reasoning behind them, click here.

 

One day during the trial week of the new Upper and Middle School schedules, two eighth grade girls made an appointment to talk with the Head of Middle School and co-architect of the schedule, Meg Reed.

This didn’t seem a bearing of glad tidings.

“My first thought,” Reed said, was “Oh no,” and her mind raced through any number of schedule-induced mini-catastrophes that might have led the girls to take such a formal step.

“We would like to ask if we can keep the new schedule for the rest of the year,” the girls said.

“That’s a pretty ringing endorsement, I think,” said Reed.

After 18 months of work by a faculty committee, the new Upper and Middle School schedules were given a trial run over the past eight days. Beginning next year, the schedule will govern the school day of both divisions from day one, so the trial week offered a valuable, even essential, opportunity to see it in action and tweak the areas that needed tweaking.

Such as snack time.

“I’ve gotten some student feedback, and there were some things that we didn’t consider when this was purely an exercise on paper. Snack time. That was one. It’s been made very clear to me that snack time cannot — cannot — be any later, because apparently that’s a life-or-death thing,” said Head of Upper School Jenny Gabriel.

Four and a half days into the experiment, Dean of Curriculum Laura Trout reflected on how it was going. “Well,” she said, and paused. “I think.”

“I think it’s really important that we did it, both just to try it out and see it in action and to address the students and parents who were especially skeptical,” Trout continued.

“I’ve had a lot of kids come up to me and say, ‘I thought I’d hate this but it’s awesome.’”

Was there anything the students were particularly apprehensive about? “Seventy-five minute periods,” came Gabriel’s instant answer. “I think for some of the students and parents there was a concern that teachers were just going to cram their 55-minute class into a longer period without really adapting the class to that period, and that has not been the case.”

The introduction of office hours in the Upper School and a daily advisory period in Middle School are a central part of the new schedule, and ones that should both allay students’ fears have about being unclear on some aspect of a homework assignment on a day when they don’t have the class, and provide a preview of consulting a professor in college.

“With this new schedule, kids will have no excuse for not finding a teacher and asking questions,” Trout said.

One feature of the new schedules that immediately stands out is that the Upper School and Middle School periods align with one another.

At the mention of this alignment, relief flooded Gabriel’s face. “We have eight blocks for every class, and eight blocks for every teacher, and it makes so much more sense and makes everything so much simpler for everyone,” she said.

“Because there are fewer transitions, the whole Middle School feels less frenetic,” Reed said. “In Middle School, transitions are hard, even just the change in mindset from ‘OK, that was math and now I have English.’ The new schedule has a had a really nice impact on the vibe.”

The Middle School schedule has several features unique to it, and of unique benefit to Middle Schoolers. “We really fought for advisory,” Reed said of the 15-minute daily periods that end each day in grades six through eight. “Fifteen minutes sounds small, but it’s an opportunity to touch base with an adult who’s an advocate, and to make sure you get all packed up, and to alleviate” some of the adolescent-ness of adolescence, she said.

Another programmatic peach for the Middle set is that each student can now take more electives than ever before. “As it is now, kids basically can choose between chorus, orchestra, and band, and that’s it. Now, they can also take dance, or animation art, or a brain science survey,” Reed said, naming just a few options.

However, the goal of the new system was larger than isolated perks like those, Reed said.

“It’s not just the content that’s important. It’s the learning how to learn, how to write, how to discuss. That’s what’s important and that’s what the new schedule emphasizes,” she said.

Trout elaborated on that idea.

“A lot of our kids are very highly capable and they would learn well regardless of the schedule we used. There are a smaller number of our students for whom the delivery of the material, and the structure of that delivery really matters. From a learning point of view, changing the schedule is to help those kids. And,” she added, “for the kids who are highly capable and will learn no matter what, this will give them an opportunity to dive deeper into subjects and succeed even more,” Trout said.

“Everyone is learning.”