MILLVILLE — Just when seniors at Millville High School had a long year of reading William Shakespeare, they got something of a break Monday.
They got more Shakespeare, but this time it was accompanied by a sword swallower, juggler, a guy who walks on a bed of nails and a few more lads and lassies whose talents harkened to the times in which the writer lived.
Members of the New Jersey Renaissance Players were at the high school as part of a day-long event to help make the Shakespearean world the students — about 400 of them — read about come alive.
“This kind of entertaining is what they did,” David Darwin told students who gathered in a gymnasium to watch him juggle everything from a bowling ball to not-very-sharp knives. “They went from town to town.”
Darwin swallowed a sword as part of his act. He told the students that some sword swallowers allow the sword to be pulled out by a member of the audience.
“I want to do it,” 17-year-old local resident Rachel Rivera called out quickly.
“No,” Darwin replied. “I’m not quite ready for that.”
But Rivera was not disappointed, saying the day’s events were “a lot of fun.”
Her friend, 17-year-old city resident Ashley Sheppard, became part of Darwin’s act for a while, tossing him small balls to juggle.
Sheppard said Monday’s events helped illustrate much of what the seniors learned in literature classes all year. She said the day’s events also spurred her to see something else.
“I want to go see Cirque du Soleil,” she said.
Monday’s program grew out of a meeting involving the school district’s Teachers of Excellence Committee in September.
English teacher Tara Cotton said Superintendent of Schools David Gentiles challenged committee members to develop something unique that would be both entertaining and bolster what the students were learning in class. She said she developed the idea of having members of the Renaissance organization bring their talents to the high school.
The idea resulted in 18 of the members showing up Monday.
“I went big,” Cotton said.
Caroline Leipf, who oversees school and educational programs for the Renaissance players, said Monday’s event was the largest event at a school in which the troupe participated.
The event was not just all juggling and sword-swallowing. Some parts — such as a Shakespearean version of Jeopardy — were designed to challenge the mind.
Levander Guilford, another 17-year-old local resident, sat in the high school auditorium watching a not-so-serious performance of “Romeo and Juliet.” He said the performance was another interesting way to learn about Shakespeare’s plays.
But with graduation just a few weeks away, Guilford did not want to offend his literature teachers.
When asked if the performance was better than learning Shakespeare from a book, Guilford smiled and replied, “No.”
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