Edison High seniors explore The Bard

Tiffany Diaz reads her part from Romeo and Juliet while instructors and classmates listen.
Tiffany Diaz reads her part from Romeo and Juliet while instructors and classmates listen. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: February 17, 2014

EDISON HIGH SCHOOL senior Kiara Gil-Jimenez had no problem performing a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" in English class - despite the tricky dialogue spoken by Lord Capulet when he learns that his daughter doesn't want to marry Paris.

"Thank me no thankings nor proud me no prouds,

"But fettle your fine joints 'gainst Thursday next," Gil-Jimenez recited from the play during a recent class.

Gil-Jimenez and her senior classmates are taking part in the "Romeo and Juliet Project," a 12-day residency hosted by Philadelphia Young Playwrights and the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre.

George Martinez, 18, is one of the students bitten by the acting bug.

"I've always wanted to act but I've never tried it. Ever since they came here . . . I haven't been myself," Martinez said. "Another personality came out of me and I've just been, like, not afraid to do anything in this class."

The project - which is free to the school - brings professional actors and writers to the Kensington school to explore William Shakespeare's play with about 45 students. They will also study the art of writing Elizabethan sonnets and later have the chance to enter a sonnet competition.

Four winners of the contest will have their sonnets incorporated into the theater company's production of "Romeo and Juliet" in April. (Martinez entered the competition, but the winner won't be revealed until closer to the play.)

English teacher Emily Cohen, who taught drama at Edison last year, said administrators told her to find alternative ways to bring theater to the classroom after budget cuts nixed her drama class.

Cohen, who has taken students over the years to the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre in Center City, said Samantha Clarke, the theater's education and artistic administrator, reached out to see if she was interested in the project.

When the project began, though, it wasn't easy.

Tasha Milkman, a teaching artist with the theater company, said in the beginning, students were "timid, nervous about reading out loud, speaking out loud."

Once the artists started to teach blocking, or movement, techniques, Milkman said, "Some of the kids realized they could express themselves physically as well as through the text."

After the teachers and students discussed the play's themes - teen-relevant subjects like struggles with parents and self-determination - Milkman said the classes "hit a new level."

"It was absolutely perfect in so many ways," Cohen said. "The creativity on the part of my students, the laughter . . . and the way they participated in discussions, I was so proud."

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina

Online: ph.ly/DNEducation

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