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Agawam teens bite into Shakespeare for food truck project

Date: 5/10/2023

AGAWAM — When Agawam High School English teacher SableMarie Cady Johnson saw a poster online advertising a food truck, it inspired her to create innovative project to connect students with the Shakespeare plays they’re studying in her classes.

Her idea, a Shakespeare Food Truck Festival, became a reality on April 28. Nearly 200 students designed and built cardboard silhouettes of food trucks from which they sold food during a mid-morning activity period.

Students were given two options when creating their food trucks. The first option was a character’s truck in which students were asked to imagine that one character from the current play they’re studying has decided to leave everything behind and take a food truck out on the road. Students had to design the truck from the perspective of the character, making appearance, theme, staffing and menu choices based on all they have learned about him or her.

The second option was a themed food truck which students were asked to imagine would visit a world literary conference where famous authors, publishers, journalists, English teachers and English students would be eating. The truck needed to represent a current play being studied and choices of appearance, theme and menu had to be based on elements from the text of that play.

The festival took place in the cafeteria, which was filled wall-to-wall with 45 Shakespeare-themed food trucks. The students worked in teams to staff their food trucks with tickets purchased to use as payment for menu items.

The project was more than a new way to learn about William Shakespeare’s plays or selling food. It was also about helping neighbors in need, said Johnson. Money raised from the festival — $200 — will be donated to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield.

“According to the public engagement manager at the food bank, our money is equivalent to 600 healthy meals,” said Johnson.

Five juniors at the Murderous Meals food truck — Breanna Allen, David Newsome, Mia McGregor and Rhein Ingham — were excited about their Macbeth-themed eatery. Their menu was fit for a king, with Killer Kebabs, Young Steward’s Stew, The Big MACbeth, a Witch’s Brew (red fruit punch) and King Kookies (sugar cookies).

“It was cool to do,” said Newsome, who was wearing a white chef’s hat. “We were able to incorporate what we’ve learned in the classroom by designing our food truck around the play.”

Rein Ingham is big Shakespeare fan. “This project was a way to learn about his plays in an interesting way,” he said.

McGregor agreed. “It’s a fun and innovative way for us to show our interest in MacBeth,” she said.

Allen said it was “a great way to learn about Shakespeare — and students will remember more from this project than by reading plays in the classroom.”

Bottom and Titania, a comic couple from Shakespeare’s a “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” were the basis for the Bottom’s Burgers & Titania’s Tidbits food truck. Patrons could gorge themselves on tasty items fit for any eloping couple or hungry student.

“This helped us get close to these two characters. We really had to get to know them so we could come with an idea for our menu,” said Zahide Cure, a senior. “We also got a better concept of the play and the love they had for each other by doing this. It was so much fun.”

Over at The Dagger and Dish food truck — based on a line spoken by Macbeth, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” — the menu was simple, but gruesome. There were Broken Crowns, Bloody Pies, and Banquo’s Brains, the latter of which refers to one of the many characters murdered in the play.

“It was fun to come up with ideas,” said Ali Al Ani, a sophomore. “It took two days to come with the theme and three days to create the truck. I like that nobody else had this idea,” he said. “It was a really nice way to give us a better understanding about Shakespeare. It was something new and different for students — they should do it every year.”

Sofia Calvanese, a sophomore, said she could feel the creativity as soon as she walked into the cafeteria to sample some of the Shakespeare fare.

“This is a very nice project as well as very fun. I like the creativity that it inspires. The more I walked around, the more excitement I could feel in the room,” she said.

“This is awesome,” said Johnson after seeing the cafeteria packed with students and staff going from food truck to food truck. “It’s beyond my expectations. It took lots of cardboard, lots of time and lots of creativity. I loved watching the students engage in this project and make it their own.”

Johnson, who had been looking for a way to make Shakespeare relevant to her students, initially used the idea last year with just four classes of Advanced Placement students. This year, with the help of a Classroom Innovator Award she won as one of the district’s five 2022 Excellence in Teaching winners, she reimagined and expanded her project to include students from 10 different English classes.