CHAMPAIGN – Elizabeth Nicol has long known how to make Shakespeare accessible to children and adults.
Her strategy dates back to her time as a Carleton College student spending a semester in London. There, she and friends would read together Shakespeare plays before seeing them.
Later, she began to home-school her four children, two of whom are still at home. With them, she reads snippets from the Bard's work before taking them to community-theater productions.
Eventually, Nicol realized the best way for children to learn Shakespeare was to perform his plays. She began to organize groups of home-schooled children from the Champaign-Urbana area to put on his and other classics.
At first she directed the plays just for friends and family. As the young actors matured, Nicol decided they were worthy of performing before the public.
Next weekend, the World Stage Theatre Company will present "The Tempest." In prior years, it did "The Merchant of Venice" and "The Winter's Tale.
Nicol loves Shakespeare, both as theater and a teaching tool.
"There is such depth that one can study Shakespeare forever and learn more and more wisdom and insight into people and other lives," she said at a rehearsal Wednesday at the Champaign Public Library. "Shakespeare also can be approached on the level of a story, and you can do that with elementary school kids."
And that's without changing his language. Nicol never rewrites or revises the plays. She "abridges" them, though, highlighting with yellow ink the lines she wants her young cast to speak.
And they seem to understand the text. Fourteen-year-old Jamie Baker, who cross-dresses and dons a gray wig and beard to play Gonzalo, said "The Tempest," one of Shakepeare's last, has lots of themes and is more magical than his other pieces.
"It gives you an idea of Shakespeare's own character, especially when you look at Prospero," Jamie said.
Playing Prospero, the protagonist, is Nicol's 18-year-old son, Galen. As the banished sorcerer and rightful Duke of Milan, Galen wears a long gray wig, gray eyebrows and brown robes.
He easily projects into the farthest reaches of the rehearsal space, giving listeners the idea he understands the language as well.
Bri Chapman, a 15-year-old from Mahomet who plays Ariel, said she appreciates Shakespeare because his language is so different and reading him helps her in every area of her life. And being in "The Tempest," she said, is great because she gets to hang with other home-schooled kids.
"A lot of our social time together is play practice," Bri said.
Because they don't have a school building in which to practice, Elizabeth Nicol has to find rehearsal space.
The early practices took place at the Nicol home in Urbana. Later World Stage rehearsed at the Urbana Free and Champaign Public libraries, which limit the number of times any one group can use rooms.
A week before the play opens, the theater company will begin rehearsing on stage at the Stratford Park Bible Chapel in Champaign.
Attending the rehearsal Wednesday at the Champaign library was Eden Doehring of Savoy, who home-schools her four children, ages 9 to 16. Three of them are in the play.
"Elizabeth does this out of her love for Shakespeare," Doehring said. "It's great because I don't have a lot of knowledge of Shakespeare myself, and I find it very hard to understand. These kids performing it, hearing it and understanding it is pretty neat."
If you go
What: The World Stage (Homeschool) Theatre Company presents "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare.
When: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Jan. 29; 1:30 p.m. Jan. 30.
Where: Stratford Park Bible Chapel, 2801 W. Kirby Ave., C.
Admission: Free and open to the public.
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org or 384-1914.