‘Page on Stage’ helps students appreciate literature

Joel Froomkin reads to a group of area students last school year during “Page on Stage,” a program that brings the text from plays and popular literature to life. Photo by Andre. B. Laird

Originally published Sept. 6, 2012.

For most youth, the subject of Shakespeare - the language, cultural nuances and accents - make it difficult to appreciate the beauty of the literature.
Until they participate in a "Page on Stage" workshop.

The program, in its fourth year, is presented by Joel Froomkin and Rich Najuch, co-owners of The New Huntington Theatre.

"We present the program to schools in the surrounding counties," states Najuch. "We work with the Honeywell Center and LaFontaine Arts Council."

Last year, the program was presented to schools in 13 counties, two to three shows at different locations on some days.

"Last year we did Treasure Island," Najuch says. "This year, we will be presenting an interactive Shakespeare workshop."

He adds that Page on Stage has two formats. The first is a general presentation of the material, a semi-adapted version of a play or book that is presented to 300-400 students in a large assembly hall or cafeteria-type setting.

"We usually arrive an hour prior to setup for the performance, which lasts about 45 minutes and is usually sandwiched between two periods," states Najuch. "If time allows, there is a Q&A session at the end as well."
While Najuch serves as sound engineer, Froomkim is the actual presenter.

"The workshop format is more personal and interactive, with a group of 50 to 60 students in a classroom," Najuch states. "We take a play that they are studying and break it down in stages."

Breaking it down, Najuch says, consists of helping the students to understand the language the play is written in, cultural norms of the period in which the play and specific scenes are set and conceptualizing a modern-day interpretation of what the scene would look like.

"They learn to understand and translate the modern day meaning and it becomes more real to them," he adds.

Students also grasp the material more quickly because they are more engaged, partly because of Froomkin's presentation style, says Najuch.

"He makes the characters come alive, with his facial expressions and the different voices he uses for each one," he states. "He also takes time to explain the narrative, something that students would not get by simply opening the book and reading it."

Najuch characterizes Froomkin's style as a hybrid of public speaking and language arts.

Previous Page on Stage performances include "the Legend of Sleepy Hollow," "Jekyll & Hyde" and "Treasure Island."

"With the Shakespeare program, we let the schools choose the play, because we don't want to come in with something completely unrelated to what they are studying," Najuch says. "We always welcome suggestions from teachers as well and have gotten a few in the past."
While the Honeywell Center will be scheduling performances at schools outside of Huntington County, the LaFontaine Arts Council sponsors the local presentations.

"We did a performance for the New Tech program at Huntington North last year and it was well received," Najuch says. "Last year we did a total of nine shows."
He adds that the unique approach of the program is why it is so popular.

"It allows students to use their imagination differently," he says. "It's a different experience than watching it on TV, at the movies or reading the book."

He adds that the program has branched out to appeal to a larger demographic as well.

"We are also in our first year of presenting the program to nursing homes," Najuch states. "It was presented to four nursing homes a couple weeks ago."

The Senior Outreach program is an initiative sponsored by the Honeywell Educational Outreach, designed to bring arts and entertainment to residents at nursing homes.

"Page on Stage is basically taking the original text and dramatizing it," states Najuch. "The text is edited down, but not manipulated - an adaptation without the adaptation."

For more information on the program, which runs through the spring, contact Najuch or Froomkin at the theatre's box office, 454-0603 or view the program schedule at www.honey well.org.

Complete caption: Joel Froomkin reads to a group of area students last school year during “Page on Stage,” a program that brings the text from plays and popular literature to life. Page on Stage is offered in two formats, to a large audience or a smaller interactive workshop.