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Shakespeare under the stars in Fountain Valley

Fountain Valley High School has built a home fit for a bard.

Theater arts students and parent volunteers have resurrected the Globe Theater, an outdoor stage venue based on the first Globe Theater built in London in 1592.

And it's just in time for the Fountain Valley High Theater Arts Department's first play of the school year – William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" – which opens Tuesday.

The Globe Theater became the venue for theater troupes during Elizabethan England, but it is probably best known for being home to the plays of Shakespeare.

Limited to having to perform plays in a regular classroom, theater arts teacher Robert Zick and theater booster parent Bill Billetter came across a grassy knoll area tucked in the corner of the campus near the history classrooms and started thinking, "Why don't we do something with this open space?"

After months of planning, Zick and the theater boosters came up with three possible plans – large, medium and small –and presented them to the school and school district.

"They went with the big stage option as long as we made sure it was safe," Billetter said.

Billetter, who had construction knowledge, and other parents and students spent the last six weeks creating the outdoor stage. The grassy knoll area already had rounded cement planters that up until now mainly served as extra seating for students to eat lunch.

"It seemed to us like it was being underutilized," Zick said.

The planters can seat 130, and there's room on the grassy hill for another 70.

This week, "Twelfth Night" will be performed under the stars in Fountain Valley High's New Globe Theater.

The stage is a two-story replica of the original three-story stage, with a façade made of pallets. The murals and other painting were done by students in the school's set design class. The stage has been designed in sections so it can be taken apart easily and stored for future plays, Billetter said.

The idea of choosing to perform Shakespeare had been brewing in Zick's mind for a year.

"English classes can benefit from it," he said. "Shakespeare's plays have connections with other academics."

Plays produced by the school's theater department are usually staged in the cramped Room 309 on the high school campus. The lack of a real theater has made it tough for Fountain Valley to compete with other high schools that do have their own theaters.

Fountain Valley is among more than 30 schools that compete in the Orange County Cappies, a program started by the Orange County Department of Education in 2003 that teaches high school theater and journalism students to become expert writers and critical thinkers.

Student theater critics vie to be published in the Orange County Register by attending productions at other schools and writing reviews.

"It's been hard to compete with the other schools that have big theaters," Billetter said.

That will change this week when the theater students present the Shakespeare comedy that explores the complexities of love through the lives of a colorful mix of characters.

"The theater program here has grown so much," said Billetter, whose son Zachary has been in the theater program all four years. "It has just been phenomenal. This is a good thing for the school."

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