A group of Savannah teenagers is hooked on the work of a radical wordsmith -- none other than William Shakespeare himself.
In an era of iPods, Wii and PlayStation 3, when some of the highest rated television shows include Dancing With the Stars and Dog the Bounty Hunter, these young people are learning about sonnets and soliloquies. Even better, they’re finding out that they like them.
This is due to a class offered by the Savannah Children’s Theatre. It is taught by Jennifer Doubleday, resident choreographer and class instructor, who especially enjoys working with teenagers.
The class meets Mondays and Fridays from 4-6 p.m. at the SCT, which is located at Crossroads Shopping Center on East Victory Drive. “It’s all teenagers,” Doubleday says. “The youngest is 13, the oldest is 17.”
Beginning Dec. 1, the class will present Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, in performances that are open to the public. “For most teenagers in the class, this is their first experience with Shakespeare,” Doubleday says.
“The class is called Teen Classics, and we’re doing the works of William Shakespeare,” she says. “Next, they’re doing Twelfth Night.”
The students already have experience with public performances. “They performed at this year’s Shakespeare Festival and were very well received,” Doubleday says. “They did some fight scenes and the balcony scene.”
The material is presented in the class in a way that the teens can understand it. “They’re really, really having a good time,” Doubleday says.
“We’re using the No Fear Shakespeare program, which is used in the schools,” she says. “It puts Shakespeare’s text on one side and the modern translation on the other.
“We go line by line so they know the meanings and punnery behind each line,”
Doubleday says. “They realize Shakespeare isn’t all serious. There are lots of jokes. And what teenage boy doesn’t want to fight with weapons onstage?”
The class also has been watching movies, such as Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet, made from Shakespeare’s plays. “They like performing better than watching,” Doubleday says.
And forget the modern interpretations. “They like the classical style better than the modern, “ Doubleday says.
For the performances, the students will be dressed in black with flashes of color. While they’re enjoying the class, there have been some obstacles to overcome.
“Definitely vocally it’s been a challenge,. They’ve learned to speak with rounded vowels, and they’ve learned to speak loudly and clearly,” Doubleday says.
“There is no accent used in this,” she says. “The play is set in Verona, so there’s no need for them to do English accents. But they must project their voices and speak loudly and clearly,. That’s not something we as Southern Americans do in everyday conversation.”
Doubleday is having as much fun with the class as her students are. A former senior member of Sankofa Dance Theatre, she has studied many dance styles including ballroom, African, South American and the Horton technique of modern dance.
A teacher and makeup artist as well as a performer, Doubleday has instructed numerous theatrical workshops for youth. She also is involved with the City of Savannah’s therapeutics program for mentally and physically disabled children.
“I’ve been with the Savannah Children’s Theatre since its inception,” Doubleday says. “I love working with teenagera. They’re so expressive and jubilant about what they do. If they commit to something, they go all the way with it.”
The Teen Classics classes will each run 12 weeks. “They rehearse about four hours a week,” Doubleday says. “They have about 48 hours total rehearsal. There are 11 in the class, which is another fun part. Since the class is small, they are able to play more parts. There is a lot of coming-back-from-the-dead in this Romeo and Juliet.”
The Savannah Children’s Theatre will present Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet on Dec. 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10. Friday performances will be presented at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday performances will be held at 3 p.m. For information, call 238-9015.