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Carpe Weekend: Out with the old, in with the new

William Shakespeare wrote many plays which number people consider classics. | Getty Images file photo

William Shakespeare wrote many plays, which a number of people consider classics. | Getty Images file photo

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Updated: March 1, 2013 6:24AM



There are only so many times most students can hear the words “thou,” “doth” and “anon” before their brains decide to temporarily shut down.

With their antiquated language and lengthy dialogue, the plays of William Shakespeare can be hard for modern students to understand, let alone enjoy and appreciate.

That’s one of the reasons Patricia Haynes, director of theatee at Mother McAuley High School in Chicago, said she decided to teach Shakespeare to her students by having them perform modern-day versions of his classic works.

“I like that aspect of it because I find that it doesn’t make Shakespeare stodgy and old,” Haynes said.

“It makes him innovative and new, yet you can still say to the kids, ‘Look at the message. Look at what he was saying then, and look what he’s saying now.’ ”

Southlanders can see the fruits of Haynes’ labor when senior theater students from Mother McAuley and Brother Rice high schools perform two plays based on themes in Shakespeare’s works.

The shows are slated for 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Mother McAuley, 3737 W. 99th St., Chicago.

The two plays —“A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Night They Missed the Forest for the Trees” and “The Shakespeare Project”— will be performed back-to-back.

“They’re two shorter shows,” Haynes said. “One’s about an hour, and the other one is probably about 45 minutes. We put them together for a whole evening of theatee.”

In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Night They Missed the Forest for the Trees,” a group of students who aren’t prepared for an upcoming test on the titular play decided to perform it as a way to study it.

“It’s kind of a play within a play,” Haynes said. “The actual Shakespeare scenes occur, but then the narrators will step out and talk to the audience and say things like, ‘Uh-oh, here comes trouble’ as (the character) Puck is coming along … just to get the audience involved.”

In “The Shakespeare Project,” which was written by local playwright James Zager, students will perform bits of several Shakespeare plays using modern settings.

How modern?

The witches from “Macbeth” will become three bag ladies in New York City’s Central Park, and a scene featuring the characters of Petruchio and Kate from “The Taming of the Shrew” will be performed during a wrestling match.

In “Romeo and Juliet,” two present-day teenagers will have a conversation on cellular phones, never making eye contact until the very end of the scene.

A monologue from “Richard III” will be performed as if the character is an injured war veteran.

An actor will deliver Portia’s monologue from “The Merchant of Venice” as if she’s a politician speaking in the Senate chamber.

“It emphasizes the universality of Shakespeare, that his words can be updated and they still have the same meaning they had then, even if you put different costumes, different periods and different people in them,” Haynes said.

“It’s been kind of a crazy and wild and fun journey.”

For the production, Mother McAuley and Brother Rice students were required to perform in the show, create the costumes, build the set and produce the play.

“First they interpreted the Shakespeare scenes from the original play, and then they had to interpret the version in our play, and so that was kind of challenging for them,” Haynes said.

Featured in the production are students from Oak Lawn, Chicago’s Beverly community, Alsip, Evergreen Park, Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, Orland Park, Blue Island and Burbank.

Tickets are $5 at the door. Information: (773) 881-6512, www.mothermcauley.org.



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