‘Richard III’ and a Final Curtain Call

Casting, blocking and, well, everything would doubtless have proved easier if Renée Morth had chosen a play like “Waiting for Godot” or even “Julius Caesar” as her last at the helm of Country Day theater. But she opted for something a bit more challenging.

“This is the hardest show we’ve ever done,” Morth said of her Shakespeare class’ production of the bard’s second-longest play, “Richard III.” “It’s the most complex in terms of plot and language, the number of characters is enormous and the show is 2 1/2 hours long, with an intermission.” The longest Shakespeare production before tonight’s performance topped out at 90 minutes.

The showtimes of “Richard III” are 7 p.m. this evening and Saturday, as well as a 3 p.m. matinee Sunday. Tickets are $10 and will be sold at the Steinman Theatre doors starting an hour before each show.

“What’s great about Richard is that he’s the archetypal villain that everybody loves to hate,” Morth said. “He’s an interesting guy who has an advantage over the other characters in that he talks directly to the audience the most, so everyone is in on his schemes except the other characters on the stage.”

The cast consists of Morth’s 12 Shakespeare students, including junior Madi S. who also takes a turn offstage as assistant director. There are two Middle Schoolers on the bill as well, Gabe W. ’20 and Daniel C. ’18. The class meets in a double-block twice a week and has been working on “Richard III” since September. “Within the first couple months, everybody had a pretty good grasp of the characters and had begun working out the relationships between them,” Morth said.

To make the production slightly more manageable, Morth began the way many directors of “Richard III” have, by cutting the massive cast list and a chunk of dialogue. “With 12 performers, it would have resulted in impossible doublings,” Morth explained. “Plus, there are characters who are just not essential to the story.”

What she chose to add, however, should give the show a timely relevance.

The set incorporates a trio of sandy trench lines beneath a video background showing fleeting images of contemporary dictators. The idea was “to set the play in an imaginary Middle East in the near future,” Morth said. “We wanted to extend the idea of Richard III as this Machiavellian villain who can kill anyone into the present, but we wanted to do it softly.”

Morth has taught and directed theater at Country Day for the last seven years. Did all that history make Morth’s last production slightly bittersweet?

She didn’t hesitate.

“Oh yeah. For sure!” she laughed. “Not just for me but for everyone involved. My husband has done the sets and Bill Simmons has done the lights; everyone worked really well together and it made everything so easy.

“I always tell my students that change is great and necessary and how you learn new perspectives and become more empathetic and it’s great that they’ll have a new perspective.” Morth continued.

“The students and the school and the whole community have been wonderful and I feel really blessed to have had this experience.”

Kindergarten Writing Celebration

By Ms. Weaver

Each month the kindergarten students publish a book they’ve been working on. We invite different groups from the LCDS community to join our publishing party. This year, the students have already published a narrative piece, one on science, a “how-to” and now an “all about” story. To write the All About book, the kindergartners had to organize their writing into chapters using a table of contents they created. Book subjects ran the gamut, with titles such as “All About Hammers,” “All About Aquariums,” “All About Me,” and a thorough exaltation of the pickup truck, “All About My F-150.” These children love to write and we love to celebrate all of their progress!

Poetry’s Travellers from a Modern Land

“The guy who did win sounded like a miniature Morgan Freeman and was really good all around, so that was OK.” explained freshman Madison B. to the morning meeting masses. The night before, she had competed in the Lancaster Poetry Out Loud competition but, despite her keen mind and nuanced understanding of her poems, had not prevailed.

By no measure, however, did she fail.

This is the first year C0untry Day has offered an Upper School Poetry Club, an idea that English teachers Brenna Stuart and Abby Kirchner arrived at independently and simultaneously. Neither had sky-high turnout hopes. “We just wanted enough kids to sign up to make the club happen,” Kirchner said.

The pair certainly managed that. Six Upper Schoolers took a chance on an unknown club with an evolving identity that asked its members to open themselves up not merely to the written word, but to the interpretation, discussion and recitation of those words. If it sounds like Poetry Club is a serious affair attracting only those whose wardrobe includes nothing but berets and the color black, it isn’t.

Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest with millions of student participants who each choose three poems to present. The path to a national championship begins in the classroom, with winners advancing to school-wide competition, before making their way through regional or state events to the main event.

A three-judge panel rates contestants in various categories, such as “Level of Complexity,” “Dramatic Appropriateness” and “Evidence Of Understanding.” Each judge’s scores are tallied and the high score announces the winner, sort of like scoring an erudite, avant-garde boxing match.

Madison explained the three poems she had chosen and why. She praised Tracy K. Smith’s “The Universe As Primal Scream” as “incidentally philosophical” in the way it manages to find profundity in what’s essentially a screed about obnoxious neighbors. In “The Death of Allegory,” by Billy Collins, Madison cited “the classical interpretation of ideas as personal figures, and the way we elevate those concepts” even as their noble numbers dwindle.

The reason behind her third choice, Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” was as brief as it was compelling. “I’ve just always loved that poem,” Madison said.

Even though the Poetry Out Loud completion has ended, the Upper School Poetry Club has not. Stuart and Kirchner both discussed new directions for the group, such as composing original material, working on verse exercises and more.

Alex V. ‘15, a singer and songwriter already familiar with the demands and rewards of performance, welcomed the changes, but not as a slight to the work she and group had already done.

“It’s been a good experience,” she said.

H-I-S-T-R-I-O-N-I-C-S

Middle School science teacher Bob Irving chuckled as he worked the volume faders in the theater soundbooth, getting the contestants’ — and host’s — microphone levels just right.

“Welcome to the Phil Lisi show,” he said like a whispering Ed McMahon. With the gusto and verve of Johnny Carson, the English teacher and Middle School Spelling Bee impresario took his place at the podium, along with a dozen bemused spellers who seemed to realize in unison that they had the best seats in the house for the Lisi Show.

“If you’re feeling nervous,” Lisi told the contestants before the competition began, “just take a look at Bee-a-trice. … She’s warm and fuzzy.” As if to convince the skeptical, Lisi gave the overstuffed bumblebee mascot on the stool beside him a gentle squeeze.

After the first day of competition, the field had narrowed to five spellers seated in front of the set for “Anne Of Green Gables.” On Day 2, a student who had asked for more information about the word “histrionics” got the definition, “It means… dramatic conduct usually intended to produce a particular response in others,” and the self-effacingly apt example, “Mr. Lisi was known for his histrionics!”

By the end of the second round, Ajay C. ’19 stood alone as champion, though both he and runner-up Katie L. ’18 move on to the next round of competition in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The pair will take a written test with other spelling elites from around the county, all vying for a spot in the 56th Intelligencer Journal Spelling Bee March 14 at Conestoga Valley Middle School.

Should either win, he or she would move on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, held in Washington, D.C. in May.

It Takes the Village

Fourth Street met fifth grade as budding beatniks climbed the dais, and, lit by a single spotlight, recited their poetry for an audience of students and parents too cool to clap.

If the crowd dug what they heard, they snapped their thumbs and hit the poets with a wave of approval that sounded like rain pattering against a tent on Yasgur’s farm.

The Poetry Cafe was the culmination of the fifth-grade’s study of the form. After students wrote and revised their poems over a period of several weeks in teacher Meg Reed’s Literacy class, T.J. O’Gorman’s classroom became a latter-day Gaslight. Faux-exposed brick covered exposed cinderblock and a lattice of Christmas lights set the mood as the poets reeled off cinquains, haikus and limericks with cool aplomb.

 

Click here to hear inspiration given voice.
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Program Listing:
1) :00 ” Limerick: Medusa” and “Cinquain: Tarantulas” by Abrielle M.
2) :29 “Color Poem: (Ode to) Yellow” and “Haiku: The Amazing Race” by Christopher M.
3)  1:08 “Haiku: Shark!” and “Limerick: The Gnat” by Evan L.
4)  1:28  “Onomatopoeia Poem: At a Concert”  by Ethan A.
5)  2:00 “Haiku: Great World” by Zach L.
6)  2:09 “Onomatopoeia Poem: Sounds at Home” by Pierce L.