Darren McGarvey has always loved teaching Shakespeare.
And after attending a month-long “Teaching Shakespeare Institute” at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. in 2012, the Kettering Fairmont High School teacher says he itched to dedicate more of his classroom and stage time to works by The Bard.
McGarvey is realizing that dream by introducing his students to “Shakes Yeare,” a year-long celebration of his favorite playwright.
“The themes, characters, and word play always make great teaching opportunities,” said McGarvey, who worked with 25 other teachers from across the country during his time in D.C. — studying, performing and developing teaching strategies to make Shakespeare and his works more accessible to young people.
You can see the results when McGarvey’s students present “Romeo and Juliet” on Jan. 29-31. While most students at all grade levels read a Shakespearian work in class, McGarvey said they don’t typically have the opportunity to recite the lines and appear on stage in productions the way they have this year.
His calendar kicked off with a fall production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” a comic mix of contemporary and Shakespearean language. A Shakespeare Festival in the spring will introduce English classes to workshops, presentations and one-act performances.
Theater students are making videos on strategies for teaching Shakespeare and in April, a children’s play entitled “The Taming of the Shoe” will be produced. It’s a spoof on “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Students admit that memorizing the lines can be a challenge.
“It’s extremely lengthy,” said senior Zack Altimimi, who will play Romeo in the school’s upcoming production. “It’s an arduous process that takes a lot of time, and when you think you know your lines, you wake up and they’re gone.”
Christine Wright., who plays Juliet, agrees.
“The thing that’s different about Shakespeare is you have to sit down and translate it into something you can understand before you even begin to memorize,” she said.
McGarvey, who grew up in Chillicothe and graduated from Wright State University, said that by the time he graduated from college he knew he wanted to devote his career to teaching and directing plays, coaching the speech team, and advising the yearbook and newspaper staff.
“Those were the most meaningful experiences for me in high school,” he says. He’s been teaching 14 years now and says theater has become his thing.
“I enjoy creating inventive ways of making the scripts come alive on stage and always look for ways that the students can make these characters and their trials and triumphs real for our audience,” he explains, adding that he’s always up for the challenge of making theater more entertaining and more real for high school students.
“I love when members of our community and the cast members’ families come to a show, but it feels great when a student tells me that they enjoyed a play. It’s even better when they tell me they got it!”
After leaving Fairmont for eight years, McGarvey returned in 2009 to teach theater classes and direct plays. Since that time, he’s grown the program, getting students involved in re-designing the curriculum for theater classes.
He’s also developed an advanced course that’s part of the school’s International Baccalaureate program which he coordinates. Fairmont is one of only 24 schools in Ohio to have the advanced studies program.
Among the favorite shows he’s directed in recent years are “Ordinary People” in 2012 which helped bring the issues surrounding depression and suicide to students; “Candide” in 2014, which included a cast of over 40 students done in the style of Jerzy Grotowski’s Poor Theater, and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” in 2011 which he modernized and set in a coffee shop.
Focusing on Shakespeare this year has been both challenging and rewarding — for McGarvey and for his students.
“It’s much more difficult than normal plays, because it’s a different language than today,” said junior Ben Fisher, who will play Benvolio in “Romeo and Juliet.” “Most people see Shakespeare as boring, so it’s a daunting task to make it fun.”
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