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Discovery’s advanced drama to perform ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ April 12-13

MADISON — While Madison City Schools already carry a strong reputation in the arts, students at all levels are continuing to challenge themselves and pave the way to greater success. One group of students at Discovery Middle School is doing just that with their upcoming performances of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” April 12-13.

The 16 students in Terri Beth Goodman’s advanced drama class—the first in the school’s history—have been hard at work together since January building their own production of a classic tale. It will be Discovery’s second advanced theater production, the first being “Un-Happily Ever After” last fall.

According to Goodman, the finished product is something unique that will be sure to entertain a modern audience.

“I have been a part of two other ‘Midsummer’ productions, and it is a play I know well,” Goodman explained. “Since I was so familiar with it, it was easier for me to visualize tweaks and changes I would like to make with consideration to our young actors and audience.”

Goodman said she ended up cutting about a third of the lines and modernized some of the concepts and language. The play will also incorporate some modern songs. Some of these changes were born out of necessity while others developed out of creative liberty.

“We cut two parts (out of about 20) and doubled the other two,” Goodman explained. “Because we did this, though, and because of the number of females in the cast, we had to change some pretty integral parts of the plot.” For example, the students swapped out the traditional wedding scene at the end for “the Duchess’ birthday party.”

Since this is the first year for Discovery’s advanced drama class, Goodman said it was also a challenge to formulate a show with no budget. Given the play’s modernization and Goodman’s prior experience with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” however, the class was able to pull it off.

“We also had to change scenes so that doubles would never be in a scene with the other character that they had to play,” Goodman added. “It was like a puzzle, and just when I would feel stumped, the kids would come up with an idea and help me with it. We changed lines all the way up to spring break. It’s definitely not the ‘Midsummer’ that Shakespeare (put on).”

In the process, the play isn’t the only thing that has developed into something spectacular. The students said working on this show and taking this class have helped them grow their love for theater, as well as develop skills they can take anywhere in life.

For many of the students, memorizing lines and building their stage presence—from acting and voice projection to dancing and singing—were some of the main hurdles they had to overcome.

Seventh-grader Noah Neveu, who already has experience in theater with Fantasy Playhouse, said he learned that perfecting something the public will see takes “much work.” He also said he learned in class that “if you want something to work out, everyone must participate.”

According to eighth-grader Saige Keck, drama has taught her to be confident in what she does. She—and many other students—also said they have been able to learn how to better work with others.

“Theater is amazing, and it really expresses who I am,” she added. “I love theater, and I don’t know what I would do without it.”

Goodman said the students have also had to learn how to take constructive criticism, which she acknowledged was likely difficult for them at first. Now, though, they take it all in stride.

“I’m not one to sugar coat, and I have worked with college kids for a long time, but over the course of the semester—now they don’t even flinch,” she said. “… My kids feel stronger than they were when I met them. They are determined and proud of what they do, and I am proud for them and respect the young adults they are becoming.”

Mikayla Calhoun, who plays Titania, is one student that Goodman said has grown “leaps and bounds” throughout the semester. Though she took a leap of faith casting Mikayla in that role, Goodman has no regrets.

“She really looked like a fairy queen, and she sang beautifully, but she was so quiet and sweet I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to draw the strong personality of a queen out of her, and Titania really needs to be strong—and bold,” she explained. “When Mikayla takes that stage, though, she really has the ability to put herself in that moment and ‘become’ Titania. That’s something that takes most actors many plays to develop.”

Goodman is also impressed with eighth-grader Marcello Mancusi—Oberon in the play—who is only the third eighth-grader from Discovery to make the advanced drama course at Bob Jones High School. Maggie Lawley, a sixth-grader who plays the “coveted role” of Puck, beat out several experienced eighth-graders for the part. “She is exceptionally talented and will no doubt be an even greater asset to our program at Discovery in the coming years,” Goodman added.

For the future, Goodman and some of the students said they would like to have their own stage to practice and perform. When the students perform the play at Bob Jones, it will only be their third time performing on the stage, which Goodman said is “tough” for student actors. Daily rehearsals in class and regular after-school rehearsals have allowed for little room for the students to practice.

“As far as the program at Discovery goes, for the next few years it is going to be about investing and building a little at a time, and that involves getting our community on board,” Goodman said. “… In the coming years, I definitely want to see Discovery’s program grow enough that building to accommodate it is justifiable.”

When the community comes out to see the play, Goodman said she hopes the audience will be as proud of the students as she is and that the students’ passion and hard work will shine through. “I hope when people watch the play, they can see how much we have enjoyed this semester and how close these kids have become,” she said.

Seventh-grader Ben Lessmann, who will play Bottom, said he is excited to show the audience what the class can do. “Also, the mechanicals will be very funny, and I can’t wait for the laughs,” he added.

In addition, Goodman emphasized the importance of fine arts in the lives of young students.

“Drama can teach shy kids to find their inner strength and voice—as was the case for Mikayla—and it can bring (different) people and personalities together to accomplish something that none of them could have accomplished alone,” Goodman said. “I have also watched unlikely friendships blossom because drama isn’t prejudice to superficial interest or outward appearance—it is an immersive study of the richness and depth of human expression. I feel it is arguably the most valuable elective a child can take during their time in grade school, and I hope our community will support it and really stand behind us in these early years as we seek to make this program great.”

The community will have a chance to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” April 12-13 starting at 7 p.m. both nights. The show, running about an hour and a half with a ten-minute intermission, will be performed at Bob Jones High School, located at 650 Hughes Rd. Tickets are $5 and will be sold at the door.

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