Love over a cheeseburger - Why students re-wrote Shakespeare

Posted on 28 November 2016 by Richard Bullock

students performing romeo and juliet

As you may have read, back in April MacKillop’s Education Services in Geelong decided to go ahead with an ambitious major school production of Romeo and Juliet.

It is well documented of the transformative effects that creative performance-based projects can have on a young person’s identity development, self-esteem, confidence and sense of belonging amongst their school peers.

That’s why we wanted to provide our students with the opportunity to be involved in the development and performance a whole-school production, which would help increase their connection to their community.

We were determined that the show would look and feel like a “real deal” major school production with lights, sound, sets, costumes, marketing and venue components all being to a high standard. The idea being to bring out the best in the students.

On the flipside we needed to ensure we still retained the flexible and individualised educational approaches that allow the young people we work with at MacKillop School in Geelong to thrive.

Firstly, this meant a heavily edited script, which was reduced from two and a half hours down to 30 minutes.  This was followed by the students re-contextualising the language and setting, but leaving enough of the original story that it still felt like they were performing Shakespeare.

The city of fair Verona became the walls of Geelong, instead of drawing swords gang members pulled gaming controllers on each other to battle online; the iconic “wherefore art thou Romeo” scene was transferred to the drive-through window of Balcony Burgers (where love at first sight happened as Juliet passed a cheeseburger through Romeo’s driver-side window); and rather than being married by the priest, Romeo and Juliet’s Facebook relationship status got updated to “it’s complicated”.

Video projections designed and produced by the students interspersed the acting scenes, whilst the minimalist set was re-arranged for the next scene. For students that were not ready to perform to a live audience their parts were pre-recorded, allowing them to still be part of the live show.

As teachers we were thrilled at the involvement of the students.

Nearly all the students performed a substantial production role of some description and through an evaluation of the project, the students told us they felt:

  • a sense of pride in their involvement
  • a feeling of being part of a team
  • had put effort into their involvement
  • had overcome challenges to complete their role

But the highlight of the feedback was when one student asked, “Can we do a full Shakespeare script next year?!”

It was a huge project requiring faith and trust. One that pulled together staff in collaboration with young people in something that became bigger than all of us.

Thank you to the more than 100 people who attended the one-off show at the Shenton Theatre, it was a very special moment in time and showed how the potential for transformation exists in the lives of our young people.

By becoming a regular giver you can ensure that innovative projects like this continue to transform the lives of local children and young people.