Shakespeare front and center for East Detroit, Roseville fall plays

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 13, 2013

 Shelby Guitar, playing Mrs. Burbage, tries hard to stifle her laughs at Alec Rokicki’s rendition of William Shakespeare for “I Hate Shakespeare,” the East Detroit High School fall play.

Shelby Guitar, playing Mrs. Burbage, tries hard to stifle her laughs at Alec Rokicki’s rendition of William Shakespeare for “I Hate Shakespeare,” the East Detroit High School fall play.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Harr

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EASTPOINTE/ROSEVILLE — This month, students at Roseville High School and East Detroit High School will be revisiting Shakespeare in two very different ways.

Roseville will be putting their own modernized spin on William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” while East Detroit students will be performing “I Hate Shakespeare,” by Steph DeFerie.

Retitled “Love, Magic & Mishaps,” the Roseville play will be performed Nov. 14-16. According to Drama Society Director Marie Oleksiak, this is the second play the students have rewritten and modernized, after last year’s “A Christmas Carol,” originally by Charles Dickens.

“The response was so good, both from the audience and the students, that we decided to step it up and try a Shakespeare,” Oleksiak said. “They’ve put it in a modern setting, so instead of lords and ladies, it takes place in a small town. And then they’ve updated the language, so that the young lovers in the show speak the same kind of language the kids would in the high school nowadays.”

“I hate Shakespeare” is a play about teenagers learning that they actually like Shakespeare by taking a journey through the immortal bard’s plays, according to Catherine Harr, co-director of the play and the head of the East Detroit Drama Department.

“It’s kind of a walkthrough of all of Shakespeare’s characters,” Harr said. “The premise is there’s a teen who thinks he hates Shakespeare until he gets to understand it better through the play.”

Harr said Shakespearian characters from plays like “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” and “Romeo and Juliet” all make appearances throughout the play.

Oleksiak said she chose the Roseville play because she believed the students would appreciate working with a comedy and that they would more easily identify with the star-crossed lovers in the main cast.

She said the story remains the same, with the central characters encountering fairies in a comedic setting — and that the fairies remained pretty traditional. Instead, the students wrote a basic version of the script, and once casting was completed in September, each actor went over their own lines to tweak them to a natural-sounding cadence.

“It’s been really exciting to watch them learn Shakespeare and work on it at the same time,” Oleksiak said. “(The students) find it really exciting because they have the storyline there, but they get to put their own voice into it. It helps them understand the story, and they feel really good that when their friends come to see it, they can say they saw a Shakespeare story and understood it.”

The kids have been rehearsing after school every day in preparation for the show, though Oleksiak said not every student is there for every rehearsal. A total of 34 students will be acting in the play, with four people playing the two central couples.

Shaddie Al-Laham will be playing Lysander, and Kayla Bohannon will be playing Hermia. Jonah Oleksiak will play Demetrius and Katie Potbury will play Helena.

Harr said this is the first time “I Hate Shakespeare” is being performed at East Detroit and that it was selected for its variety and humor.

“It was a play that offered a lot of different characters for a lot of different students to play,” she said. “It has the appearance of interesting characters like zombies, which the kids thought was very hilarious, so I think it’s a script that not only adults will find funny, but students will, too.”

The play features about 25 actors and around 10 stagehands. Gunnar Miller, a senior, will be playing Hamlet, while DeAundre Akins will be playing Macbeth. Kay Sumner, a freshman, will be playing one of the students who thinks they hate Shakespeare. Harr added that Juanita Miller is the stage manager for the play, and that the kids have been practicing almost every day since the start of October for the 90-minute play.

Both schools are already looking forward to their spring plays, as well. Harr said East Detroit is still deciding which musical to go with for their usual show around March or April, while Oleksiak said Roseville is going with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” in April.

The Roseville show will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 14-15, and 2 p.m. Nov. 16. General admission is $5, with the student price being $2. East Detroit’s play takes place Nov. 21-23 with showtimes at 7 p.m. each day. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students.

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