A group of 7- to 13-year-old island kids has teamed up to tackle the high drama of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and they’ll show off what they’ve learned about sword-fighting, family feuds and doomed romance at a free performance this weekend.
The show is the culmination of a class offered by the Vashon Shakespeare Festival, a new organization on the island founded by Aimée Lewis van Roekel, a talented theater artist and educator who recently moved to the island.
Lewis van Roekel teaches weekly Shakespeare-for-kids classes and camps at Ober Park. “Romeo and Juliet” is her second offering; earlier in the year, she led an after-school class that explored the Bard’s “Twelfth Night, or What You Will,” a more comedic and playful work.
But this time around, she said, her students have embraced the challenges of a play she said is often misunderstood as simply being a love story.
“It’s really much more about the pointless war between the two families, so that’s fun for them — kids can get into that,” she said, adding that she has let her students act their ages when it come to the passion that is also embedded in the play.
“They just giggle their way through the balcony scene,” she said.
Lewis van Roekel brings a wealth of experience to her work. As a performer and director, she’s worked with companies in New York and San Francisco, piling up an impressive list of credits and collaborations with well-known theater artists. And as a teacher, she brought the educational programs of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival to at-risk youth throughout the Bay Area.
Family connections and her husband’s job in Seattle brought Lewis van Roekel to Vashon, a place she said she’s excited to share her love of Shakespeare with children.
“The kids on this island are smart,” she said. “They are really fearless — there is not a lot of timidity with these kids.”