Pasco students learn theater skills

PASCO -- Isaac Wilson stood at the front of the stage and delivered his next line in a booming voice that would make a Broadway actor proud.

"We're 15 minutes into the play and ..." he said, looking down at his script to prompt his memory, "... Romeo and Juliet haven't even met yet?"

He made a funny face and threw his hands in the air to show his character's frustration, which got a laugh from the other students in the room even though they'd heard the line before.

Isaac isn't afraid to change things up. It's a skill he's learning through the new drama club at McLoughlin Middle School in Pasco.

The 12-year-old and about 40 other students from the school meet a few times a week after classes to learn the basics of theater and gear up for a performance in May. The club is putting on two one-act plays, including a funnier, abridged version of Shakespeare's classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

"It's usually adults and 'real actors' playing Romeo and Juliet," said Alexis Scotson, 11, a sixth-grader. "Now it's the kids' turn."

But she and her friends are real actors. They're learning about blocking, emoting, line delivery and stage presence from their teacher, Kurtis McFadden.

They're also having a lot of fun.

The students met in McFadden's room after school last week. They talked and ate snacks before rehearsals began. Then they got down to business.

The kids still are memorizing their lines and figuring out where to stand when it's their turn on stage. They went through the play scene-by-scene with McFadden as he called out pointers.

In one scene, two of the young actors had to dance with each other. They stood nervously on stage with their arms linked, not sure exactly what to do.

"Move back and forth like you're dancing," McFadden encouraged them, breaking the ice.

He teaches choir at McLoughlin. There are no drama classes during the school day, so the club is many of the students' only chance to tap into their inner actor.

The lessons are about more than just acting technique, McFadden said.

"They're developing skills that are going to follow them the rest of their lives -- being able to stand in front of an audience and deliver lines, become a character that isn't them," he said. "(Doing that) is scary but it's so exciting."

The club is new to the school this year, and students had to audition to join. That was nerve-wracking but worth it, several said.

"You get to meet all these other people who are interested in the same things you are," said Jamie Weems, 12, a sixth-grader.

A small number of the club members are working on the play A Thousand Cranes, about a young victim of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. But most of them are in the Shakespeare adaptation.

"It's like a love story but it's not. It's sad because I die and Romeo dies," said Bailie McEntire, 12, who plays Juliet.

The version the students are doing, called Romeo and Juliet, or, The Old "You-Know-I-Really-Love-You-But-My-Father-Really-Hates-You" Blues by Nancy Linehan Charles, adds a modern touch.

There are plenty of funny lines, and modern narrators -- including Isaac's character -- help the audience understand what's going on.

It's shorter than the original, but the central plot points are intact -- from the balcony scene to the tragic ending. The theme is that violence isn't a good solution to people's problems.

Students said they like the play, and they seemed to grasp the deeper meaning. But the best part of the experience, they said, is the opportunity to be creative and make new friends.

"I think drama gives us a chance to try new things and develop who we are," said Madison Cox, 12, a sixth-grader, as she waited for her next scene.

"I'm going to do it next year," said classmate, Emily Toombs, 12, "and every day I can."

* Sara Schilling: 509-582-1402; sschilling@tricityherald.com