LAYTON -- Only five elementary schools are chosen each year to participate at the Shakespeare Festival, held annually in Cedar City. Whitesides Elementary, in Layton, has been chosen to participate at the event in July, and students will present their version of the Shakespearean comedy "Twelfth Night."
Preparation began in January for the 38 fifth- and sixth-graders involved, with 90-minute rehearsals after school.
The group will perform the play for their parents and the community in March, before they take their acting down south this summer.
Elementary school performance groups were first included in the Shakespeare Festival nearly 10 years ago in an effort to reward the hard work of teachers in the state who, without much funding or support, are committed to designing performances in their schools, said Miranda Giles, education outreach coordinator for the Shakespeare Festival.
At the heart of the experience are the young students who come to the festival and share their talents with the public.
"Shakespeare has such a legacy and history in Utah, but these kids are the future, so seeing this new generation come to love Shakespeare and the language is really exciting," Giles said.
Dallin Hawkins, a sixth-grader at Whitesides Elementary who plays the lovelorn duke, learned quickly how to interpret the difficult language.
"Once you've read it, you learn to listen to the words really carefully, and it registers in your brain."
Such was the case when he first read one of his lines from the script that said, "O, she that hath a heart that fine to pay this debt of love but to a brother, how will she love, with one self king!"
After reading the line, he laughed, pointed to himself and said, "So he's really saying, 'She is going to want some of this.' "
For the director of the play, Ruby Rae Horne, that is exactly what she had in mind when the kids started learning Shakespeare.
"Kids can figure it out if they know the story, and they really can apply what happens 400 years ago to today," said Horne, who is also the school counselor at Whitesides.
She likes to have the kids help come up with good ideas for the story portrayal and allows them to be part of the process as much as possible.
As a result, the kids come away with more than just confidence and responsibility -- they develop friendships that will last many years.
"I tell them Shakespeare friends are friends for life because they've had to work so hard and closely together, since we have to rely on each other to pull this together," Horne said.
The students are excited about their adventurous trek to Cedar City in a few months for the festival.
"I know it will be fun and nerve-racking, but it really struck me that we got the invite, and it made me think, 'Are we really that good?' " said Alison Seegmiller, a sixth-grader performing the part of Olivia in the play.
This is the second invitation the school has received in the past three years.
After the school's students performed at the Shakespeare Festival three years ago, Horne figured the school would have to wait another five to 10 years before receiving another invitation.
She has been working on Shakespeare's plays with the students at Whitesides Elementary for the past 12 years.
What first started with just a small copy paper box filled with the play materials has now grown into a large shed that holds their costumes, set, microphones and other sound equipment.