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“Oh, had I but followed the arts!”

The lament of Sir Andrew Ague­cheek from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night finds no resonance among the halls of Royal West Academy. There are a variety of ways to get involved in theatre, including the Bardolators, the student Shakespeare group that mounts two of the Bard’s plays every year, a tragedy and a comedy.

This year’s fall production, Shake Up Shake Down, is an assortment of scenes from Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. While the students normally perform two full-length plays a year, they recognize that the highlighting of choice scenes from different shows gives the cast a chance at larger roles and the opportunity to discover works of Shakespeare that they had not yet encountered.

Doug Floen, the longtime artistic director of many shows at Royal West Academy, is a staunch supporter of the students being exposed to Shakespeare outside the classroom setting.

The Bardolators on their trip to England a year and a half ago, at the London Eye

Sidney Westlake a teacher and Royal West and is the producer and treasurer of the bradolater plays. She agrees with Floen on the point of active student involvement with Shakespeare.

“Teenagers should be exposed to the genius of Shakespeare as he truly understood human nature.” The recognition of Shakespeare’s perpetually relevant insight Mrs. Westlake hoped for seems to have materialized itself in the students.

“Shakespeare’s themes were pertinent then and they’re pertinent now,” said Emma Pask, a fourth-year Bardolator. “You can always relate to what’s happening in his plays.”

Rebecca Kaiser-Reiss, in her last year at Royal West, explains the empathy evoked in students by the Shakespearean characters. “I didn’t notice until recently but lots of Shakespeare’s plays deal with teenagers, and the inner workings of their minds.”

She offers the example of Hamlet, a young man who’s “stressed and depressed.” Not to be overly dramatic, she says, but she can appreciate how he feels. While the students admit to being sometimes overwhelmed by the large workload and number of rehearsals required to put on a show, they are quick to share their favourite thing about being part of the theatre group.

“Being onstage – It’s the greatest feeling ever,” said William Lapin, a grade eight student. Kaiser-Reiss interjected, “Doing Dinner Theatre. Everyone’s been eating and drinking and there’s really good vibes. It’s so much easier to get onstage and just go crazy because the people looking up at you just want it.”

Pask credited acting as being responsible for her boost in confidence when it comes to speaking and writing as well having helped her better express her thoughts to her teachers.

She said there is a great sense of accomplishment when a play closes.

Sidney Westlake, shares Emma’s pride in being involved in such a large production. Floen said one reason for his long commitment to the promotion of theatre at Royal West is, “the joy of watching kids grow and explore characters and parts they wouldn’t normally be able to do in the classroom.” Floen has been amazed by the talent demonstrated by students.

“Some of the most pure and honest acting comes from novices who bring a fresh spirit to it,” he said. Shake Up Shake Down runs November 23-26 at 7pm, Dinner Theatre November 27 at 6pm. Admission: $10, Seniors $7, Students $5. Advance Tickets for Dinner Theatre $25. Tickets can be bought at the door or by calling 514-489-8454 for reservations.

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