MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Michelle Hoffner didn't know Dee O'Brien when she auditioned for the Semi-Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "Romeo and Juliet" in 2007, her freshman year at Mamaroneck High School.
For 34 years before that, O'Brien, 65, recruited students from her eighth grade English class at Hommocks Middle School to join the company she founded at the age of 27. She retired from teaching in 2007, but kept the company going with the help of Hoffner, 17, and seven other students who joined not because they took her English class, but because of their love for Shakespeare.
"We were the first grade to have never had her as a teacher," said Hoffner, who plays Mistress Quickley in this year's production of "Merry Wives of Windsor."
The group of eight seniors, all graduating in June, is now known as the "Nines," a title O'Brien bestowed upon them as ninth graders for joining the company.
"I lovingly refer to this company as the hardest working people in show business," O'Brien said. "When you think about all of the hard work they put into these productions, I am in awe of them."
This year, O'Brien and crew are performing "Richard III" and "Merry Wives of Windsor," each with three performances from March 8 to 11. The "Nines" are dispersed evenly between the two productions. In the dual program for the two shows, O'Brien wrote a dedication to the group of graduating seniors:
"I applaud both the dedication and the talent of my beloved 'Nines,' who auditioned for the company based on seeing our productions, rather than knowing me as a Hommocks teacher. They embraced their Shakespeare lives with energy, passion and laughter, and their good humor made challenging moments dissipate quickly."
Beginning with the "Nines," the 20 high school seniors in the cast and crew of the two productions are: David Cruikshank, Harrison Frank , Michelle Hoffner, Ryan McSherry, Sarah Meister, Ben Rainey, Daniela Torres, Jeremy Stevens, Erik Wall, Joshua Zoland, Rosalynd Cabaleiro, Zachary Hackett, Matilda Hunter, Maya Kinsman, Eric Meeker, Noah Michaeli, Lily Roberts, Ellie Ruggeri, Dylan Spangle and Rebecca Ward.
The remaining performance schedule is as follows:
"Merry Wives of Windsor"
- Saturday 2 p.m.
- Sunday 7 p.m.
- ?Saturday 8 p.m.
- ?Sunday 1 p.m.
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