Dunedin High School drama students traditionally produce and act in a musical or a musical comedy each year.
But when drama teacher Gerald Durst started at the school four years ago, he knew he wanted to take the fall production in a different direction.
"The strength of my program isn't necessarily the musical," he said. "I knew by my fourth year here I wanted to start doing Shakespeare and the classics every other year."
This year's production is William Shakespeare's The Tempest, which will be performed today and Saturday at the high school. It features a cast of 22 students and a backstage crew almost as large.
Initially, some of the students were intimidated by the complicated language used in Shakespeare's last play (probably written in 1611) about several people stranded on an island, where mystical things occur.
"At first, it was really hard for me to wrap my head around the language," said senior Christa Nelson, 17. "But after a while, it got easier as I got a grasp of the rhythm and flow of the language."
Christa, who lives in Dunedin, plays the role of Prospera, the lead character. In original version of the play, the character is named Prospero and is a man, but Durst changed the role to capture the strengths of the mother-daughter relationship.
"Mr. Durst thought a lot of the nuances could be stronger in a mother-daughter relationship rather than a father-daughter one," she said.
The show differs from other Dunedin High School productions in a number of ways. While the set is somewhat simple, there are elaborate puppets used in many of the scenes and unique special effects including smoke and computer-generated graphics.
Sound effects are created by a four-piece orchestra, which includes a didgeridoo, a wind instrument developed in Australia more than 1,500 years ago. It can create spooky, low-pitched sounds.
There also is extensive use of prosthetics and special effects makeup in the play.
Peter Bernard, 15, played the lead role in last year's Dunedin High School production of the musical comedy Once Upon a Mattress. He was unsure he wanted to try out for The Tempest.
"I thought Shakespeare would be very hard," the sophomore from Clearwater said. "But my brother talked me into it and it's been a great experience."
Peter plays the role of Ferdinand, the love interest of Prospera's daughter, Miranda. He is pleased with the results of 10 weeks of practice.
"I think it's the best work we've done," he said.
The cast is hoping the play is good enough to be entered in the Mainstage Festival, an annual event hosted by the Florida State Thespians in Tampa.
In a first for the school, Durst has applied to be screened, along with 39 other schools statewide, for acceptance into the festival that is scheduled for April 2010.
Christa is optimistic that Dunedin High School will be one of the eight schools selected to participate in the state competition. But even if The Tempest is not selected, she believes the opportunity to act in one of Shakespeare's plays is worth it.
"It's given me a much better understanding and appreciation of the language used by Shakespeare (1564-1616)," she said, "and language in general."