GablesStage’s latest production, Antony and Cleopatra, took Miami-Dade County school students out of the classroom Friday morning and into a Shakespearean world set in the colonial Carribbean on the eve of Haiti’s revolution against the French.
Adapted by Miami native, Tarell Alvin McCraney, the play has been reworked from Shakespeare’s Roman and Egyptian backdrops to a scene closer to home for the award-winning playwright and the students.
McCraney, who is from Liberty City, graduated from New World School of the Arts and received his master’s in play-writing from the Yale School of Drama. The production, a transatlantic partnership between the Royal Shakespeare Company in England and The Public Theater in New York, began its student audience performances a week after its Miami debut in January.
GablesStage is able to host about 15 free performances for the local students through funding provided largely by the Knight Foundation, the county Department of Cultural Affairs and the Peacock Foundation.
“Introducing students to Shakespeare is really crucial and the opportunity to see two of the world’s greatest theater companies perform as a student is very rare,” said Joseph Adler, producing artistic director. “The play gives them an appreciation for the poetry, the drama, the language and the quality of the acting.”
The MAST Academy, in Key Biscayne, boarded 360 students grades 8 to 12 onto buses to the Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road, filling its seats Friday morning. While teachers encouraged their students to attend, they had to sign themselves up for the field trip. The interest was so great, 50 students were on the waiting list.
With money allocated by the district’s cultural passport program, which designates its resources for culturally enriching activities, the school was able to cover the costs of transportation and informational packets for the students.
“It is important that kids are exposed to cultural experiences,” said Jennifer Fernandez, school activities director. “Some of them may have the opportunity to go see the play on their own, but others would never get the chance.”
Senior Jean Joseph, 18, decided to sign up for the field trip after learning about the play in his AP English class.
“The story is the same as the play, but the acting puts a different spin on it,” said Joseph, who was not surprised to learn the playwright was from Miami. “It is a lot better than just reading the play at home.”
Jonathan Cake, who plays Antony, says McCraney’s Southern Florida upbringing is perhaps to thank for the play’s ability to resonate with Miami-Dade students.
“It is a production that is kind of built for Miami in a certain way,” Cake said. “It is built for those eyes. It is as if Tarell is one of those school kids and made it for himself as a 13-year-old kid.”
Cake says the students who have attended the production so far have understood the nuances of the play just as well as older audiences.
“It has been amazing that an around 450-year-old play can have the power to reach into the minds of children in the year 2014,” Cake said. “It is a reassuring thing about theater that there are no barriers and there is no password.”