Monday, June 7, 2010

Dramatis Personae

The key components of The Willows’ Latin curriculum: grammar, vocabulary, translation, singing, and dancing.

Singing and dancing?

It’s a tradition not seen at other schools: the 7th grade Latin play. The brainchild of Latin teacher Kyle Smith, the Latin production has become an integral part of every middle school student’s experience at The Willows. Over the years, students have presented adaptations of numerous ancient classics, including Homer’s The Odyssey, Plautus’ The Menaechmi Brothers, and Aristophanes’ The Frogs.

Kyle thought a Latin play would bring the history and culture of ancient Rome to life for his students. “The Romans provided the foundation for Western civilization as we know it,” says Kyle. “The plays that were written thousands of years ago touch on themes that are still meaningful today, and it’s exciting to help students make the connection between the ancient past and the modern day.”

Think that a 2,400 year-old play might be too dull, dry, or inaccessible to the modern teen? Think again! Kyle’s versions of these classics are nothing if not irreverent.

One of his strategies in making the connections between ancient times and modern day crystal clear is to pepper the adaptations (which he often translates himself) with current references and jokes.

Even more striking is how Kyle transforms the plays into musicals by incorporating music from the 20th and 21st centuries. The 2006 production of Plautus’ The Pot of Gold featured songs with music from the 1920s and 1930s, including “Falling in Love Again,” “Money Makes the World Go ‘Round,” “I Wanna Be Evil,” and “The Lady is a Tramp.” The 2007 production of The Fall of Troy was a tribute to the music of the 1980s, with songs like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Whip It,” and a dance number from Thriller.

“It’s fun to reinterpret the songs in a new context,” Kyle says, “and the students enjoy the contrast.”