Next Wednesday and Thursday, two dozen students from the Codman Academy Charter School—the majority Dorchester and Mattapan residents—will perform Shakespeare’s rollicking battle-of-the-sexes comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew” at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. This production marks the fifth year of an award-winning summer partnership between the school and the Huntington Theatre Company.
The Huntington-Codman Summer Theatre Institute is a four-week program that affords Codman students and alumni the opportunity to explore the Shakespearean text and the theatrical production process in depth. The daily rehearsals, improvisational games, and theatre exercises culminate with a full production of one of the Bard’s plays.
Meg Campbell, founder and executive director of Codman Academy, traces the history of this collaboration.
“Before starting the school in 2000, I reviewed the research on which arts form could have the most positive impact on academics. Boston College Professor Ellen Winner’s findings were persuasive that drama is the front-runner in terms of impact on test scores and also had a positive impact on developing empathy,” she explains.
“My younger daughter, Adrienne had practically lived at the Huntington Theatre while she was a high school student; so through her, I got to know the impressive Director of Education, Donna Glick. In November 2000, I approached Donna with the idea of our students coming for on-site theatre training 2 days a month through the year, and she enthusiastically said, ‘Yes!’ ”
For the past decade Codman students have been studying texts of shows being produced by the Huntington in the classroom, then attending productions at the theater. In addition, ninth and tenth graders work with Huntington staff and teaching artists twice each month to immerse themselves in the workings of a professional theatre. The partnership was awarded the Commonwealth Award, the state’s highest award in arts and culture given by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Codman Academy is the only public school to receive this recognition.
Five years ago worries about hot weather violence prompted Campbell to expand the partnership.
“We approached the Huntington Education department about creating a summer program, running between 3-7 p.m., since those are the most dangerous hours. We chose Shakespeare for a number of reasons: we love the language, it strengthens academics, it’s a confidence booster, and the plays are in the public domain.
“That first year we had to cajole students into auditioning. Now the program is so popular, 5 alumni have come back to be part of the production!”
Huntington Associate Director of Education and Institute Director Lynne Johnson who is stage-directing for the fifth year has trimmed the script down to 90 minutes. In previous years, kids performed in contemporary clothes, but this year for “Shrew” for the first time they’ll be sporting Italian Renaissance duds borrowed from the Huntington and other local theater companies.
Dot resident and Codman alum Keith Nance stars as Petrucchio, the swaggerer bribed to court the notoriously sharp-tongued Katherine, while other suitors pursue her sweeter –tempered sister, Bianca. Gerald Carries, Jr. (Grumio), also from Dorchester, is in his third year with the program despite the fact that English is his second language. His first is sign language (both his parents are deaf).
Other Dot residents in the cast include Sekani Senghor (Vincentio), Christopher Wideman (Lucentio), Derek Lindesay (Hortensio), Shamara Rhodes (Tranio), Curtis Spears (Curtis), and Jenny Lucero (Tailor). Mattapan’s Carlea Odige appears as Biondello.
Playing servants/townspeople are Dot and Mattapan residents Anesia Brown, Chris Hector, Kershalee Levy, Vijaiy Medy, Jaida Montgomery and Nia Tomlinson.
Performances are at 7 p.m. on August 4 and 5 at the Calderwood’s 360-seat Virginia Wimberly Theatre are free and open to the public. More on the Shakespeare programs at codmanacademy.org