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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 26, 2001

Homeschoolers try a little Shakespeare

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The performers held a dress rehearsal Aug. 20, with Caprice Avis, left, in the role of narrator and Jeff Giordano, 10, as William Shakespeare.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Somehow, you know the Bard would have been pleased.

William Shakespeare wrote his plays not so much for the high-falutin' society crowd as for regular folks, in a Globe Theatre that was far more pastoral than palatial. And here they are: regular folks — children, no less — dancing through both the Elizabethan prose and the open air of a gaily decorated outdoor theater in Wai'anae.

At the very least, Leann Warwood, cast parent and director, was more than pleased. She was tearful, in fact, as she rehearsed her introductory remarks.

"This is a labor of love," she began, and faltered. Everyone seemed to know what she meant.

Lots of other parents had been up half the night, too, stitching costumes or gluing felt to banners, and sleep deprivation has a way of pushing emotions up right beneath the surface.

It was the fourth annual Shakespeare Festival, the summertime production of the Hawai'i Homeschool Association that involved 30 families and more than 50 children, ages 4 through high school. The festival took place Friday and Saturday, squirreled away in a lovely, little-traveled locale, the courtyard of Kahumana Community Center off Lualualei Homestead Road.

The event's become such a passion for these families that one mom who has just moved back to the Mainland created one of her trademark banners to help decorate, and sent it in by mail, said association president 'Iolani Ikehara. "She said it was her way of feeling she was still part of it," Ikehara said.

Shakespeare's quintessential romantic tragedy, "Romeo and Juliet," was the choice for this year's centerpiece play. The smaller fry held, among other roles, the duty of filling out the crowd scenes with their jeering cries. Worwood waited a few beats before delivering their cues.

"Where are my Montagues?" she cried to the small band of actors sitting off stage left. "Hit it, people!"

"DOWN WITH THE CAPULETS!" they bellowed, in true Hatfield-and-McCoy fashion. Not to be outdone, the cry rose from the ranks opposite: "DOWN WITH THE MONTAGUES!"

The play was a scaled-down version of the classic, simplified for young actors and audiences, said Ikehara, who is doing double duty as stage mom: Her son Kazden plays Romeo. Warwood's daughter Kimber plays Juliet and, with the inevitable wondering about preferential casting, Ikehara explained that the school appointed an outside committee to review the auditions and make the selections.

"It's a kid version, and runs one hour and 15 minutes, down from the full hour and 50 minutes," she said. "We began this project five years ago as a way to introduce our kids to the wonder of Shakespeare, before they got old enough to know you're not supposed to like Shakespeare.'"

The homeschool parents made the study of the script part of the literature curriculum and, to add to the fun, there was a carnival atmosphere to set the scene. A "Green Show" started off the weekend festivities with wandering minstrels, puppets, swordplay and something called morris dancing, an ancient, almost improvisational form that's perfectly suited to the child performers.

This year Ikehara and Warwood also collaborated on a short play meant to introduce youths (and some of their parents) to the artistry of Shakespeare, using as examples the selections from "Julius Caesar," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Macbeth." There also were two soliloquies: Lady Macbeth's "Out, damned spot" speech, and, from "Hamlet," Polonius advising his son, "to thine own self be true."

As for the main event this weekend, well, it was a Class A love story, which required a little special preparation. Worwood paused in the interview so she could watch her daughter and Ikehara's son run through the scene where Romeo and Juliet are first smitten with love.

Kimber had laid down one condition, Worwood said: No stage smooching (no offense to Kazden intended). Lesser horrors were enough to roil the stomachs of other cast members as well.

"I told them, 'You're going to have to touch each other,'" Worwood recalled with a smile. "And I said, let's all have one, big, 'EEEEWWWW!' Now, that's out of your system."

Such things Shakespeare never had to consider.