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Local High Schools Show off Shakespeare Chops at Festival in Cincinnati

Highlands High School will perform a full production of King John, focusing on Shakespeare's portrayal of strong female characters.

Villa Madonna Academy combines the text of Twelfth Night with the music of Elvis, performing excerpts from the musical All Shook Up.

Dixie Heights High School presents a full production of Julius Caesar, focusing on the power of propaganda then and now.

Northern Kentucky schools will play a big role in Cincinnati Shakespeare’s second annual Project 38, a free, five-day showcase of the 38 plays of William Shakespeare, as interpreted by schools across the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. All events will be in Washington Park and The Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine.

From April 14-18, eight Northern Kentucky groups will be among 43 presenters, with a schedule below.

Kenton County Middle Schools' ASCENT Arts Program is a first-time participant and among the youngest group of performers, with sixth to eighth graders from Summit View Academy, Turkey Foot Middle School, Twenhofel Middle School, and Woodland Middle School coming together to present a variety of scenes.

One of the key reasons teacher Angela Barrandeguy signed on to the festival was the opportunity to bring Cincinnati Shakespeare teaching artists to school for free student workshops. CSC instructors have spent more than 250 hours this school year working with approximately 1,600 students at more than 45 different schools.

One of the lessons for ASCENT visual arts students was a “Costumes from Nothing” session, taking recyclables like socks, duct tape and paper cups to create drama. Photos from the project will be part of the Project 38 Gallery.

ASCENT scenes are a 1920s gangster-themed Hamlet, a Seventies rock band Much Ado About Nothing and a Donald Trump-ian A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Students from the four schools came together to choose which scene each wanted to do and rehearsed as teams.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

Madilyn Ford, Woodland sixth grader, chose Hamlet because it intrigued her. “At first I was confused and didn't really know what was going on, but later, I got to know the characters better.  This project got me more involved with Shakespeare…and now I like Shakespeare even more!"

Some had never heard of Hamlet and others didn’t know The Bard wrote comedies, too. Sadie O'Brien, seventh grader at Turkey Foot, has a Dream scene and was delighted to discover Shakespeare "didn't just write sad or love plays. He wrote fun and funny plays. This experience has definitely made me like Shakespeare more."

Others know their Shakespeare. Sylas Craven, Woodland eighth grader, chose Dream because it’s “one of my favorite Shakespearean plays.”

Many students love the chance to act. Leah Klaene, sixth grader at Turkey Foot, likes that, "I get to take charge and I kind of feel like I'm in control.” Donnie Piper, Turkey Foot eighth grader, says, “We got to be creative in coming up with how our characters looked and acted. This allowed us to use our imagination.”

Ella Hagman, eighth grader at Turkey Foot, says, “It is exciting to rehearse. This experience makes me like Shakespeare more because we get to experience the work of Shakespeare through acting in the parts."

Kelsey Bauer, Twenhofel seventh grader, said being in Dream, “I get to totally switch my personality to someone I'm not.  It's really fun to put yourself in someone else's shoes.  I learned that the original Shakespeare dialect is really hard to understand and his characters were both really simple and really complex at the same time.”

Shy Iles, Twenhofel sixth grader, says students talked about Shakespeare in other classes and while Ayden Parece, Woodland 7th grade, won’t “be searching for every Shakespeare thing possible, but I have developed a new appreciation for his works.”

Many of the students, including Fiona Blanchet, a seventh grader at Summit View Academy, like the modern interpretation that makes the themes easier to connect with. Abby Lewis, eighth grader at Twenhofel, added that because it’s easy to understand, it “made me realize how deep Shakespeare is."

Woodland eighth grader Katelyn Moore observes, “This experience has made me like Shakespeare more because it has portrayed the stories in a way I understand.  I've grown to respect it more because it has been put into a perspective that's easier to understand."

Highlands High School is another first-time participant and their production of King John is completely student-based.

Highlands senior Kaiya Linkugel made a new prequel of King John a year-long project for her playwriting class.

Highlands Theatre director Jason Burgess explained, “In fall we talked about play development and everything that goes with playwriting. Starting in the late fall/early winter, we read the play that was assigned to us, King John, and started to come up with a plan.

“Kaiya came up with the idea of doing a prequel of King John focusing on the women of the play. She hit the ground running and has been doing great ever since. She wrote the show herself and is directing it herself. She cast it and the students are working diligently to be ready for this weekend.”

For a complete schedule of Project 38 events (all free), visit:

Performances are presented in performance ‘blocks’ with other schools. All performances at the Woodward Theater (1404 Main St., Over-the-Rhine) unless noted:

Friday, April 15:

12:45 p.m.: Campbell Regional Juvenile Detention Center presents a short film exploring the opening monologue of Richard III through mask work

6:30 p.m.: Highlands High School performs a full production of King John, focusing on Shakespeare's portrayal of strong female characters

Saturday, April 16, Washington Park

2:45 p.m.:  Villa Madonna Academy combines the text of Twelfth Night with the music of Elvis, performing excerpts from the musical All Shook Up;

Simon Kenton High School explores the story of Othello through poetry, movement and dance;

Dixie Heights High School performs a full production of Julius Caesar, focusing on the power of propaganda then and now

Sunday, April 17

12 p.m.: Covington Latin High School reframes Richard II as a trial in which characters accuse or defend the titular king

Monday, April 18

9:30 a.m.: Kenton County Middle School’s ASCENT Arts Program performs a variety of scenes from the canon (their Visual Arts students’ ‘Costumes from Nothing’ project can be viewed in the Gallery)

11:45 a.m.: Notre Dame Academy combines original text, modern language and contemporary music to explore character relationships in Cymbeline

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
Photos provided
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