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West Valley City • On most days, students in Allison Peterson's class at Robert Frost Elementary can't sit still for more than 15 minutes.
The wiggling was held to a minimum last week when the Utah Shakespeare Festival paid a visit to the West Valley City school. Actors performed a 75-minute version of the play "Macbeth" for the student body, then spent the rest of the day leading kids in acting workshops.
"I'm very surprised my students were so into it," said Peterson after Utah Shakespeare Festival education director Michael Bahr wrapped up a fun, interactive workshop with her Children's Behavior Therapy Unit students.
"Normally, they would be sitting in the back twiddling their thumbs or punching someone next to them," Peterson said.
Instead, her students responded well to Bahr's acting games. They pretended to be inanimate objects, sang, clapped their hands and acted out "Macbeth" while answering questions about the murderous title character and his scheming wife.
"Most of the time, my students try to play the cool guy," said Peterson, genuinely pleased her students were actively participating and enjoying themselves.
Though he's a boy, fourth-grader Jamicah Jordan courageously agreed to play Lady Macbeth in his classroom's version of the play.
"That was my first time acting like another person," Jamicah said. "It was really cool. I want to tell my mom and grandma and anyone else who comes to the house [about it]."
Peterson saw a new Jamicah during the workshop.
"He's been in the class for a week," Peterson said, "and that's the most group participation we've gotten out of him during his week here, so yea!"
Frost Elementary was the latest stop in Utah Shakespeare Festival's annual three-month educational tour. By the end of April, a team of actors will have visited about 50 schools in four states. After performing "Macbeth" with costumes, sets and theatrical lighting, the actors teach three workshops: Stage Combat, Performing Shakespeare's Text and Developing Character through Improvisation.
"Especially in a lower-income school, it's a great opportunity because most of them haven't had the chance to see a Tony Award-winning Shakespeare production," said Jan Bergeson, a vice president at UBS Bank USA, one of the program's sponsors.
Typically Bahr doesn't join actors on the tour, but he wanted to lead a special workshop aimed at students in Frost Elementary's unique Children's Behavior Therapy Unit, co-run by Valley Mental Health.
"Theater is such a great tool for connecting with any type of student," Bahr said. "It's magic for me when you start creating the play and all of a sudden, they start taking over."
Peterson was "so impressed" with Bahr's techniques, she "definitely" plans to use them in the future.
"It's creative and different, and there wasn't someone telling them what they have to think about it," she said.