RANGELEY — The Rangeley Lakes Regional School’s spring intersession provides three days for thinking outside the box and outside the classroom.

Students can chose among several creative activities, such as video production or music and dance, and they get to stick with them for three days for an in-depth experience.

For five students from Tim Straub’s English class, plus two middle-schoolers, this was an opportunity to work with a team of professional actors in a detailed study of one of the plays of Shakespeare.

Ben Layman and Nate Roach, from Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, provide the direction, expertise and costumes. Roach started his career with the school program last year; this is Layman’s sixth year as head teacher.

“We try to pick a scene or a play that galvanizes the kids’ imagination,” Layman said, “like the opening of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ — sword fights! They love that! But we guide them carefully through the language, and once they figure it out, they pick it up and run with it.”

This year Rangeley is the team’s third school, and they’re traveling to eight more between now and the end of May. By the time they’re done, they will have coached, rehearsed. choreographed, excited and inspired about 400 students, most between the ages of 10 and 15.

“We usually have a day for the program, and we pick one mad or crazy scene,” Layman said. “Rangeley is one of our two three-day sessions, so we’re doing a whole play — or rather, an edited version of ‘The Tempest’ called ‘The Teapot Tempest,’ put together by Shawn Peters.”

The immersion began for the students on Tuesday morning with a showing of the recent film version of “The Tempest,” directed by Julie Taymor and starring, in a coup of non-traditional casting, the great Helen Mirren as the wizard Prospero, in this case called Prospera.

After the movie, the team gathered the kids and some community volunteers on the stage of the Lakeside Theatre (where Straub is the theater manager) for a read-through. This was where their personal involvement with the fantastic story of the wizard and her spirit-servant Ariel, capable of raising horrendous storms to wreck unwary ships, began to unroll under the professional direction: “Tell me a story — we’ll do something magical here!” — which included a few nuts and bolts: “Don’t read that — those are the stage directions.”

Then came the casting process, which in this case consisted mostly of asking the kids which part they’d like to play, followed by the beginning of the real work: blocking the movement. “Can you crawl out from underneath the stage here? Better wear pants tomorrow.”

The bulk of the rehearsals took place on Wednesday, and involved several run-throughs, which familiarized the young cast members with their lines, their places on stage, and how to get there. They also needed to get used to their props and costumes; Ben and Nate had arrived from Bangor with an SUV full of outlandish and exotic garb, which added color and flash to the stage picture.

The cast were not expected to memorize the Shakespeare script in three days; they carried their parts on stage for performance, but the hard-working session on Wednesday gave them experience and familiarity to handle them more confidently.

The big finish came on Thursday at 1 p.m. with a theater full of excited students, parents and community members. Along with the play, they were treated to other results from the intersession, including a kid-produced video on abduction danger, a display of some extremely colorful quilts, and an accomplished chorus line illustrating the history of rock ’n’ roll with deft choreography, blended choral work and impressive solos.

The audience quieted for the prologue in which Prospera (Tala Ferguson) watched fearfully by her daughter Miranda (Eva Jacot-Descombes) raised the mighty tempest that wrecked the ship of her enemies on her island. Through the aid of her servant Ariel (Allison Steward), and in spite of the machinations of the half-human beast Caliban (Ariel Clinch), Prospera foiled the plots of schemers Sebastian and Antonio (Zach Jones and Sandra Campbell) against King Alonso and his aged retainer Gonzalo (Tim Straub and Maryam Emami), and contrived the marriage of Miranda with Prince Ferdinand (Sam Straub).

Thus, through sorcery, music and flights of fancy, the Rangeley cast and their able directors (who joined the cast on stage as the clowns Stephano and Trinculo) brought to a happy conclusion the story of forgiveness and reconciliation, laced with high and low comedy, that was Shakespeare’s last play.

The audience greeted the cast with an effusive ovation, and the actors beamed with pride at their achievement. When asked where she would put Shakespeare on a scale of one to 10, Allison Steward, the play’s airy spirit Ariel, said, “I’d give him a nine. Shakespeare is really fun.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: