|Linda Squier’s students get a kick out of turning ancient language into modern theatre.|
The Ides of March beckon, but Linda Squier and her students have nothing to fear. Unless, that is, they consider the sight of their male classmates prancing on stage playing the roles of women—in tights, wigs, and all—somewhat scary.
Every spring, Squier, who teaches Latin at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, directs her students in an adaptation of Exitium Caesaris (The Death of Caesar), a play by the ancient Greek historian Plutarch. The epic drama is presented to the whole school as close to the ominous March 15 date—the day in 44 B.C. when Roman emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated—as possible. To prepare, Squier’s advanced placement students spend three weeks translating the play, which covers the events leading to Caesar’s demise, into colloquial English and then creating their own take on the plot, assigning roles, and rehearsing. Two casts perform identical scenes from the drama, first in Latin, then in English.
“Although we recite the same words every year, each show has a life of its own,” says Squier. “It takes on the personality of the students.” She recalls one musically inclined class performing to the tunes of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar and an Austin Powers-obsessed crew putting a camp, 1960s spin on the piece. And then there’s the drag component. “It never fails that a few of the guys get to play female parts, which is always hilarious,” says Squier.
Since she began teaching Latin at Roosevelt 21 years ago, Squier’s been striving to transcend the stigma often placed on the language. The teacher may be a classicist, but she’s not above rapping in Latin or donning a toga to get her point across.
“She has us draw pictures, write songs, do skits, anything so that we grasp what we are studying and that we pay attention,” says Elise Randall, 17, a senior in Squier’s advanced placement class. “She makes Latin relate to our lives.” Randall, who in last year’s show played Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, as a Southern belle—complete with a hoop skirt—believes her dedication to Squier’s class boosted her verbal SAT scores. “My understanding of Latin let me decipher certain words because I knew their Latin roots,” she says.
“I’m tired of hearing Latin is dead,” Squier says. “It is really alive— depending on how you teach it.”