Dot, Mattapan students take to the stage, find inspiration in Shakespeare’s words
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!”
Last week, local audiences obligingly lent their ears to this famous speech and the rest of “Julius Caesar” during two free public performances starring a cast of Dorchester and Mattapan high school students.
Thursday and Friday audiences enjoyed Shakespeare’s tragic history play at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, the latest production of the Huntington-Codman Summer Theatre Institute, a collaboration between the Huntington Theatre Company and Codman Academy Charter Public School (CACPS), now in its ninth year.
A founding partner of CACPS, the Huntington works with Codman year-round to create and teach its innovative, interdisciplinary humanities curriculum. Through the four-week Summer Theatre Institute, Codman students explore the full theatrical process, extending lessons from the school year in literacy, teamwork, and priority-setting.
Huntington Manager of Education Operations and “Julius Caesar” Director Meg O’Brien has set the play in the early 1970s, explaining, “We’re taking Caesar’s story, and placing it in a time in America when there was massive political unrest around Vietnam. There are some very eerie similarities between the Vietnam protests and the time of unrest leading to Caesar’s death.”
“For the first time since our inaugural production of “Romeo and Juliet” in 2006, we turn our focus to something other than comedy,” she continued. “It’s been a real joy exploring this story with our cast, some of whom have never spoken Shakespeare’s poetry before, and all of whom have never performed a Shakespearean comedy. We are finding new strength and passion in the work, and there’s been an inspiring commitment from the students to present a dynamic, exciting, and powerful performance.”
Students participating in this summer program range from rising sophomores to recent CACPS alums. Many of the male roles are played by actresses. For example, the famous “Friends, Romans” speech was declaimed by Dorchester resident Latasha Snider, a recent Codman grad participating in the program for her third time.
“I love everything about the Summer Theatre Institute: the staff, the cast, the alumni help,” said Snider (Marc Antony). “I love being on stage and the Huntington helped me make that discovery. Now that I’ve graduated, this is my last summer. I know I’m going to miss it!”
Three other Dot residents expressed their feelings about getting the chance to tackle these famous roles: Niara Washington (Trebonius), Darius Wilson (Cinna the conspirator), and Jayrelle Fairweather (Decius Brutus).
Washington, who is participating in the Summer Institute for the first time, remarked, “I know I’m going to miss working with the Huntington when I’m in college. Even though this is my first time in the summer program, I auditioned because I really wanted to be involved since this is the last opportunity I’ll have to be in a Huntington play.”
“I want to be open to new people and experiences when I go to college,” added recent graduate Wilson, “and this is a learning experience that will help me do that.”
“I auditioned because it seemed like a strong play,” said rising sophomore Fairweather. “This program also gives me opportunities to bond with people I ordinarily wouldn’t interact with at school.”
Among the five Mattapan residents in the cast was Demetrious Moore-Tolbert, who played the title character who famously gets assassinated on stage. Among the dozen Dot thespians were Latanya Simpson as the lead male character Brutus and Cristal Pujols as the lead female character Portia.