CHELMSFORD -- A group of homeschoolers has been learning about and practicing roles from one of Shakespeare's most heralded plays, "King Lear," since September of 2013.
Over three dozen students ranging in age from 7 to 17 will perform in six shows, in three different casts. The opening performance is Friday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts.
The theater company is called "All the World's a Stage," a nonprofit educational program offering students an opportunity to learn about Shakespeare and perform in full-length productions of Shakespeare's plays. The 7-month annual workshop begins in September and ends with a full-length production in the March. There are four workshops in September, auditions in October, rehearsals once a week, and then beginning in January, rehearsals are stepped up to twice a week. Students are involved in all aspects of the play including acting, stage managing, costume design, public relations, makeup, technical (lighting and sound), props, choreography and composing original music for the play.
Colleen Sullivan, the show's producer, explains that their philosophy is family-oriented. "We make Shakespeare accessible to everyone. And we don't just learn our lines and perform a play. We have guest speakers, field trips and learn about the culture and language," she said. "It's a lot of educational enrichment.
The theater co-op draws students from towns including Ashby, Ashburnham, Athol, Ayer, Boylston, Chelmsford, Dunstable, Fitchburg, Groton, Hudson, Lawrence, Leominster, Lunenburg, North Reading, Pepperell, Tewksbury, Wakefield, Watertown and Hollis and Nashua, NH.
The theater group has tackled two of the big four of Shakespeare's great tragedies, "Hamlet" in the 2011-2012 season, and now "King Lear," penned in 1605.
The director of the theater program has an extensive background in theater and has been directing and producing Shakespeare plays with young actors for 9 years. Leslie McLeod-Warrick studied at the University of Michigan and has a degree in theater with a specialty in directing. She has five children whom she homeschools and is part of a homeschool co-op.
"Every year I would have King Lear in class and it was my favorite play," offered McLeod-Warrick. "I started this theater company nine years ago for kids who are really committed to learning Shakespeare. What we do over the course of the year is have the actors really understand what they are saying. We physicalize the action. If there is a word that is not common they will make a movement that demonstrates what that word means. There is a leading of the audience through the text which makes for an exciting and engaging play."
McLeod discusses Shakespeare with her students, including both the play and the history behind it. The students do all the makeup and props themselves. There are three casts for King Lear, in order for the 40 plus students to have meaty enough roles to spend almost an entire year on.
One of the students who is performing in all three casts of the King Lear production is Lucy Arrigo of Ayer. She is the Duke of Albany in one cast, an old woman in another cast, and a stage manager in the third cast.
"What I enjoy most about the theater program is that it's really helped me grow as an actor," said Arrigo. "I usually play the really mean characters. I've learned a lot about acting with different characters and making them personal. I still enjoy playing mean characters, however playing nice ones helps broaden my acting skills."
Remaining "King Lear" performances are Friday, March 21, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday, March 22, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is $5 per person and children 12 years of age and under attend for free. Tickets may be reserved in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.