WESTFIELD — Art has inspired art in a local classroom. Melissa Putney’s eighth grade language arts class at Westfield Academy and Central School recently learned about William Shakespeare’s famous tragic love story “Romeo and Juliet.” As part of the lesson, students had to create a project which had something to do with the play. In her fourth year teaching eighth grade language arts, Putney was especially impressed with this year’s results. “It’s a nice creative outlet,” Putney said. “They all did a nice job.” Students had the choice of working on a project on their own or as a group with anyone else in eighth grade and had a variety of types of projects to choose from. They were given six weeks to work on it and Putney had the resulting 25 to 30 projects on display in her classroom. Two classmates, Rachel Hanes and Mindy Monroe, teamed up to perform a scene from “Romeo and Juliet” with Hanes taking on the part of Juliet and Monroe playing her nurse. The girls memorized the entire scene and held a performance for their class complete with costumes made by Monroe’s mother. It was the first time either of them had performed and they were nervous, but they thought did well in the end. “You could tell how much they had practiced because they were so fluent,” with the old English style of Shakespeare Putney said. Monroe said they picked the project because they thought no one else would do a performance, and Hanes said she thought it would be fun. Another female duo, Megan Emory and Gillian Belcher, channeled the spirit of Juliet and put together a scrapbook she might have made had their been scrapbooking in her day. The book encompassed the entire play with pages depicting the costume ball, the balcony scene, Juliet’s marriage to Romeo, Tybalt’s death, the death-like poison Juliet takes and ultimately her death. Throughout the scrapbook, the girls took quotes from the play and then used images to represent what the quotes mean and what is going on in the play. The girls even went so far as creating an obituary for Tybalt and an article about Romeo’s banishment. Their understanding of the story was obvious as they described each page they created. “There were a few scrapbooks,” Putney said. “Theirs was well above and beyond.” “It seemed like a really fun thing to work on,” Belcher said. Even though the girls are only a few years younger than Juliet is in the play, they said they did not have a connection to Juliet and her decisions and feelings of such intense love. “I think it’s kind of young to do any of that stuff,” Emory said, to love someone so deeply and so fast at such a young age. “They don’t really think very much, these characters,” Belcher said, noting that Romeo jumps in and out of love very quickly while Juliet jumps quickly into love with Romeo and then decides she would rather die than live without him. Expanding to the world of Shakespeare himself, Dylan Strain and Nelson Warren decided to build a replica of the Globe Theater where Shakespeare’s plays were put on for the masses. Strain likes building and did quite a bit of research in order to not only build the outside, but also the inside of the theater. The challenges this pair faced were recreating the floor and the detail on the outside of the structure. In building their mini Globe, Strain learned Shakespeare owned part of the theater and that lighting of productions was by sunlight through the open ceiling while Warren’s perspective about the play itself was changed through his learning about and assistance in building the theater. “Seeing this afterward was amazing,” Warren said. “I just liked the challenge.” “I was blown away,” when she first saw the duos creation, Putney said. Another Globe was built by Judah Herr, Tayler Irwin and Edward Camacho. Herr was given wood from one of his partners and he cut it out on his father’s saw and did a lot of gluing of toothpicks to bring the theater to life. This Globe was complete with pews, which Herr did not realize the theater had before the project. “I like doing woodwork,” Herr said as a reason for choosing this type of project. Yet another type of project students could choose from was a depiction of a scene. Laura Tofil recreated the famous balcony scene were Romeo and Juliet. She chose that scene because it is a sweet moment in the play as they are falling in love and decide to get married. “It was fun because it was medieval with the castle,” Tofil said. “I like working with clay and paint. … It took a long time. It was worth it.” Ashley Burgess and Cameron Abbey-Mott also decided to make a scene depiction. They chose the masquerade ball where Romeo and Juliet first meet for that reason. Their challenge was making the people. “That was our third round of people,” Abbey-Mott said. Through the project, the girls realized just how quickly Romeo jumps from one love to another since Romeo’s reason for going to the ball in the first place is to see his crush Rosaline, but he ends up falling in love with Juliet in just one glance. A teacher for 11 years, Putney was pleasantly surprised by what her students came up with this time around. “I would say this is probably some of my most impressive projects,” Putney said. “I had a lot of variety this year which was nice.” The projects bring another level of understanding of the play through what each student learns as they are creating it, Putney said. “It gives them a foundation for high school,” Putney said. “They did hard work, good work.”
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Photo by Jenna Loughlin
Students from Melissa Putney’s eighth grade language arts class at Westfield Academy and Central School show off their impressive projects inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In the front row, from left to right: Mindy Monroe; Rachel Hanes; Gillian Belcher; and Megan Emory. In the back row, from left to right: Ashley Burgess; Cameron Abbey-Mott; Laura Tofil; Dylan Strain; Nelson Warren; and Judah Herr.