Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

LEESBURG -- As the 15 or so members of the Drama I class at Lee County High School sprawled on the floor and marked scripts with notes like "EMOTION HERE!" LCHS alum and actress Emily Kitchens stopped for a moment to explain why she had made the trip from San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater back home.

"I'm an actor," Kitchens, a 2003 Lee County graduate, said, her voice brimming with enthusiasm. "I'm here because I want these kids to believe that it is also possible for them to do what I have done."

And to her and Dottie Davis, it all begins and ends with William Shakespeare.

Davis, beginning her third year as Lee County's drama, broadcast arts and dance teacher, insists Shakespeare is crucial in her students' artistic development.

"Shakespeare in a Drama I class is unusual," Davis said. "It can be complicated for (the students). The language is difficult, but they can relate to the emotion of the words. We wanted to introduce Shakespeare to them for the first time. That is why we'll be performing 'The Tempest' later in the year."

Davis then added that's is why the participation of Kitchens, whose mother, Laura, is a teacher at Lee County, is so important.

"We want to expose these kids to a whole new language," Davis said. "Let them take it apart and make it relate to today's experiences. We want them to trust themselves and open up. That's why Emily is so important to us.

"Good Lord, what a great teacher."

Kitchens, who holds a BFA in Theater Arts from the University of Evansville and a MFA from the ACT, has appeared in more than 18 stage or workshop productions, including roles as Helena in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the witch in "MacBeth," and Hamlet/Ophelia in "Hamlet."

"Shakespeare is a universal language, he's transcendental," Kitchens said. "These kids have never done Shakespeare before. But if they can do it well here, they can do it anywhere and it will open doors for them in so many different ways."

Kitchens will return to San Francisco this weekend where she will appear as Hero in "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Shakespeare Festival Theater.

"This is really a lot of fun to me," Kitchen said about returning home and giving back to the LCHS drama class. "You can see the kids gaining confidence in themselves as they learn."

And when she returns to the West Coast this weekend, what is the one thing she hopes to leave behind?

"I hope the kids learn to trust the words. Trust in themselves," she answered. "At least for right now."