Traditions and rituals help cement a school’s identity while signaling what a school values. The Shakespeare tradition has been a part of Powhatan school since the early 1960s, and the annual Shakespeare play is rite of passage for the eighth grade class. And while the play itself is a massive undertaking for these students, there are many important lessons that are taught along the way.
This year, Powhatan’s 8th graders began working on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors in June when long-time faculty member R. Dixon Bell presented the cast with their parts.
They are instructed to learn their lines over the summer, and come back in August ready to learn – from Mr. Bell – how to perform it. Dick Bell and his assistant director, Tracie Lane, worked with the students in the auditorium, coaching them on how to effectively deliver their lines with expression and how to interact with their fellow actors on stage while upper school Art instructor Ryan Royston worked with the students on artwork related to the production.
Thanks to this experience, students not only act out an entire Shakespeare play, they also learn about enunciation, projection, memorization, group cooperation, and the power of a positive attitude! Long after graduating from Powhatan, alumni can often rattle off their first few lines of Shakespeare for you…so it definitely becomes ingrained!
This year is particularly special as it represents the end of an era for Powhatan School, as our resident Shakespeare expert Dick Bell has announced his retirement this spring. Comedy of Errors represents the 35th production that he has seamlessly directed for our students and community. Over three decades of passion and enthusiasm for Shakespeare that has impacted hundreds of students, has put Mr. Bell in a category that makes his name synonymous with Shakespeare at Powhatan School, matched only by his beloved predecessor and founder of Powhatan’s Shakespeare productions, former Headmaster Mr. Donald Niemann.
Mr. Bell has been a member of the Powhatan faculty since 1973, and began directing the Shakespeare play in 1982 with the production of The Tempest. His final production was a rousing success, with many current and former faculty and Powhatan alumni in the audience.
While we celebrate a job well done by these eighth graders as they perform the play, we must not lose sight of the strong lessons that will stay with these students long after they’ve left Powhatan. It’s just another example of how we live our mission; We learn not for school, but for life.