PAWTUCKET — Some things never change. Feelings of jealousy, rage, heartbreak and entrapment are just as much a part of people's lives today as they were centuries ago when William Shakespeare penned his famous tragedy, “Hamlet.”
On Wednesday, 21 students at Slater Junior High School performed their own adaptation of “Hamlet” in which they wove classic scenes and dialogue with their own interpretations and personal writings. The 8th grade students, taking an English Enrichment class taught by Joanne Doyle, participated in a program with the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre as part of Pawtucket Literacy and Arts for Youth (PLAY).
All semester, the class has been working with Steve Kidd, Susie Schutt and Natasha Cole of the Gamm Theatre, and they came up with their own acting troupe, called “Little Wil's.” According to Doyle, the students were asked to consider the way Hamlet, as the young and melancholy prince of Denmark, felt trapped in the situation he was facing about whether or not to seek revenge against his father's presumed murderer — the man who now occupies the throne and has become his mother's lover.
The students were then encouraged to express their feelings of being trapped in their own lives by writing poems and other dialogue.
Steve Kidd, the Gamm's education director, said the PLAY program is working on similar “Hamlet” projects with other city schools, including the high schools. However, this was the first such production of the Shakespeare classic at the junior high level. As part of the program, Doyle's English Enrichment students were taken to see a production of “Hamlet” that is currently playing at The Gamm, with artistic director Tony Estrella in the title role.
Doyle said that having her class work once a week with Kidd and the other Gamm actors was “an amazing experience.” Capping it off with a chance to see the play truly brought about a deeper appreciation for Shakespeare's writings, she added. For many of the students, this was the first professional play production they had ever attended.
On the stage at the Slater auditorium, and in front of an audience that featured classmates, teachers, and several school officials, the students acted out the main classic scenes and interspersed these with their own poems and readings. The audience included Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke, Deputy Supt. Kim Mercer, School Committee members Raymond Noonan and David Coughlin, and Doyle's family members, former mayor James Doyle and his wife, Joan, and her brother, state Sen. Jamie Doyle.
Sprinkled among the classic quotes such as “To be or not to be,” “For let the world take hate,” and “Haste me to note that I may sweep to my revenge,” were the musings of today's teenagers who delivered such lines as: “I feel trapped when I can't let my anger out,” “I feel trapped by my own mind,” “I felt torn when the one I loved made my cry,” and “I feel torn when everyone makes fun of me.”
One female student delivered a poignant poem about feeling trapped “when I have to talk to my father.” She went on to recite that while she loves her father, she does not feel close to him, and noted that this man “broke my mother's heart when he left but she tells me he has to be a part of my life.” Later, a young man stepped alone to the front of the stage and simply stated, “I feel trapped like my dad in prison.”
After the play's conclusion, Kidd asked the students what they thought about being in the play. “One student responded, “When I first started, I felt like it was a class, but now it feels like a family,” while another observed that a lot of the disagreements and fighting that takes place in Hamlet “even though it's really old, things like that still happen today.”
Another student said that the experience had made her want to learn more about Shakespeare. “I'm happy to hear that,” responded Doyle, with a smile.