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Arts are helping shape Brighton elementary school

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Nicole Leone (center) and fellow cast members rehearsed for tonight’s opening of “Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ at the Edison K-8 School, which formed three years ago in Brighton by merging three schools.

Eighth-grader Sarah Hoang consults the script so she knows whose microphone to mute, and when, during the dress rehearsal for Thomas A. Edison K-8 School’s winter production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’’

Classmate Janathan Moore searches for a black plastic bag holding the shoes that will help transform him into Lysander. And elementary school students, who play the fairies in the Shakespeare play, flitter about looking for lost socks and dress straps while shouting out lines.

Theater teacher and director Emily Culver (above) helped the cast prepare during yesterday’s dress rehearsal of ‘‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’’

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Theater teacher and director Emily Culver (above) helped the cast prepare during yesterday’s dress rehearsal of ‘‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’’

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“If we shadows have offended,’’ a third-grader starts before her fairy friends chime in, “think but this, and all is mended. That you have but slumber’d here.’’

“OK, fairies, please,’’ pleads the theater teacher and play director, Emily Culver, “get your shoes.’’

At 10:10 a.m., the chorus of fairies giggle their way onto the stage from the back of the auditorium, signaling the start of rehearsal, much to the delight of an audience composed of kindergartners.

The arts, said Mary Driscoll, the school principal, ‘do so many different things for us as a school community. Everyone gets involved.’

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“A Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ portrays the shenanigans in the days leading up to the wedding of Theseus, duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Included in the mischief are the adventures of four young Athenian lovers, a group of amateur actors, and the impish fairies who inhabit the forest where most of the play takes place.

Tonight is opening night at Edison, which formed three years ago in Brighton by merging two elementary schools and one middle school.

Teachers, parents, and the principal hope to meld the identities of those old schools into one, using theater arts to create a campus culture centered on art, drama, dance, and music.

“We’re building this as an arts school,’’ said Gilberto Rivera, the middle school music teacher. Edison, on the city’s western edge, enrolls 750 students from East Boston to the South End.

The school will hold just one evening performance, at 6 p.m. today, for family and a second performance for the older students tomorrow.

Yesterday’s dress rehearsal was for the school’s littlest learners, who erupted into belly-rolling laughter when Francis Flute stepped on stage in a pink 1980s-inspired prom dress and a blond wig. Flute, played by eighth-grader Denzel Alvarez-Coye, is the bellows-mender in the play who must be the female lead in an amateur production performed at Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s wedding.

“Ms. Culver forgot to say something very important about a little joke Shakespeare puts in his show,’’ the theater teacher tells the audience of kindergartners, who continued to giggle. “One of the jokes that Shakespeare puts in his plays is that back in Shakespeare’s time, women weren’t allowed to act, and so boys played the girls’ parts. One of the things Shakespeare does in the story is tell us that some of the boys aren’t very happy about that.’’

Alvarez-Coye said later that he didn’t audition for the role, but “just took any part that no one else felt comfortable playing, and a lot of the boys didn’t feel comfortable wearing a dress and stuff.’’

To him, it was a self-imposed challenge to help conquer stage fright. If he could step on stage in front of his peers wearing a wig, then he could do just about anything.

That same sense of optimism and hard work are bearing fruit at the young school as it tries to create an uninterrupted arts program for all students, said teachers and administrators.

Partnerships ensure that students’ art prowess can progress from one grade to the next.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has taken up residence in the building through weekly music lessons and the creation of elementary and middle school bands.

And a grant from the Linde Family Foundation means elementary school students now have theater arts instruction after school, Culver said, adding that seventh- and eighth-graders serve as apprentices.

The arts, said Mary Driscoll, the school principal, “do so many different things for us as a school community. Everyone gets involved.’’

The school does two major productions a year, Shakespeare and a musical.

Students will stage the musical “Oliver!’’ in May. Driscoll said the productions serve as motivation for students to keep doing well or even improve academically. Students with lead roles must have no grades below a C and cannot have been suspended from class. And the anticipation of stepping on stage propels those still mastering English to work even harder on reading skills.

“I’m quite sure this is raising our reading scores,’’ Driscoll said. “For some students, it’s really transformative.’’

Last year, she recalled, a dyslexic student worked hard learning the script for “The Wiz’’ and earned the lead role.

Raymond Medina, an eighth-grader who plays Demetrius, one of the Athenian lovers, got a stern reminder from the director yesterday that being in the play is a privilege after Medina’s math teacher sent an e-mail about his failure to turn in homework.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,’’ she barked. “I don’t want to get another, single message from her.’’

Medina promised that she won’t. Acting, he said, is a gift that allows him to return to the land of make-believe, “kind of like when you were a little kid.’’

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.

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