By Laurie Atwater
Visit Bridge School in the early morning before class, or after school, and you may find that you’ve been transported back to Shakespearean England by enterprising thespians and their intrepid director Leslie Colby. Long after Lexington lost its elementary theater specialist, Ms. Colby has kept theater alive at Bridge. For fourteen years, her Shakespeare Troupe has been staging an abbreviated version of Twelfth Night or What You Will.
“It started out as a class project,” Ms. Colby explains. But when the curriculum began to move to quickly to accommodate in class projects of any scope, Colby was undeterred. Giving generously of her own time, she actually expanded her little Shakespeare experiment to include all Bridge 4th and the 5th graders who wanted to audition.
The Bridge Shakespeare Troupe was formed with the goal of presenting one yearly production that was true to the text and the spirit of the original.
And Ms. Colby knows her Shakespeare. She earned her BA and Masters in theater education and has directed and acted in many adult productions over the years. Her husband Robert (Bob) Colby is the director of the elite graduate program in theater education at Emerson College. Together they have theater in their blood. Most recently Ms. Colby was the recipient of an LEF Summer Fellowship Grant which she used to study drama in London at the Globe Theatre. “I did some workshops there and I did a lot of work with Shakespeare.” Work that she’s putting to great use at home in Lexington. Colby tells me that the sets for the play are modeled on the original Globe Theatre sets for Twelfth Night.
What’s great about this story is that I would never have known about Ms. Colby or this Twelfth Night production if it were not for one parent who wanted to highlight this great educational experience in town. She reached out to me because she realized that special alchemy was happening at Bridge school—that moment when teaching and learning were combining to create the magical potion called education. This isn’t test prep, drills or CORE requirements, this is the education that inspires and reaches deep within students to foster real joy in learning.
Colby is a big fan of this special joy. She would have to be. With the demands of modern curriculum requirements, Ms. Colby no longer has the classroom time to devote to Shakespeare. All of the work for the production is done on her own time, but she is quick to say that her enthusiasm for the project has never waned. And she credits the Lexington parents for helping to keep it going. “We would never be able to do all of this ourselves for so many years,” she says. Even with her husband’s help, it’s a challenge to manage everything that goes into the production. “We have one family that has let us use their basement for storage,” Colby says laughing. Indeed the Edelman family on Middleby Road has saved the Bridge School Shakespeare Company.
Because the school does not let them store any of their materials on site, they have relied on the kindness of these neighbors whose children have been Colby thespians over the years. Andy, the youngest Edelman just performed in Willy Wonka at the middle school and is planning to attend Walnut Hill to pursue his passion for the arts. Over the years hundreds of parents have sewn costumes, applied makeup, painted sets, gathered props, and gotten their children to rehearsal. The children never forget their experience. “Once they are part of the Shakespeare Players,”Ms. Colby says proudly, “they come back year after year to support the new kids and see the play.” And of course to see her.
The reward is worth the effort for Ms. Colby. “I have children who have all different skills and abilities, but they all learn and grow,” she says. “You can see their improved confidence—they learn to work cooperatively and master a task over time,” she says. Theater is a lot of work. Children not only memorize their lines but they have to understand the context of what they are saying and refine their delivery. The have to be accountable to the other actors—learn their blocking and their cues, hit their marks and become part of the company. It takes cooperation, self discipline and teamwork.
Parents are thrilled to see their children performing in public and developing those skills that will be important as they grow. “It’s really such joy and excitement,” Ms. Colby says, “A feeling of accomplishment that they don’t get from a short little paper or a worksheet. That joy—it’s why I wanted to teach in the first place and it seems to be diminishing every day. When the curtain goes down and the company takes a bow, Leslie Colby always sheds a tear or two, but only for a moment because next year she will begin anew! [Read more…]