Latin isn't dead.
It's spoken daily in Deb Stakenas' classroom at East Kentwood High by students who aspire to be doctors or veterinarians or linguists.
On Tuesday, those same students will perform -- in Latin -- two comedies written about 2,200 years ago by Plautus, a Roman pioneer of musical theater.
Amid columns of cardboard, plastic armor and togas made from bed sheets, 20 students in Stakenas' advanced Latin class rehearsed their lines, sang a few notes and did their best to immerse themselves in the culture of the ancient Romans.
"Why did they have such complicated clothing," wondered junior Alexandria Mitchell as she draped a white sheet across her shoulder.
The juniors and seniors in "Amphitryon" and "Pseudolus" are likely the only ones in the country performing musical comedies in Latin, said Stakenas, who is chair of the Michigan Junior Classical League and in charge of the 140-student Latin program in Kentwood, the largest one around.
For the non-Latin crowd, the performers say most of the lines in both Latin and English.
Junior Nate Johnson, who plays the wealthy and powerful Ballio, is finishing his third year of Latin. "It's started to grow on me now that I've been taking it for a while," he said.
He continues because Latin class provides "a sense of community" and because the language will provide a boost to his transcripts.
College admissions officers like to see Latin on a transcript because it indicates the student is a high achiever and perhaps a bit of a risk-taker, Stakenas said.
But not too risky. Her students get defensive regarding rumors of Latin's demise.
Most public high schools no longer teach Latin, although many private and parochial schools do. Among the public districts that teach it are Kentwood, East Grand Rapids, Holland, Zeeland and Spring Lake.
"It's fun," junior Liz Creager said of the Latin performances. "You get to learn all these phrases. But I'm a nerd and I love this stuff." She's fond of asking her friends, "Quid tu ergo insane?" Translation: Are you insane?
In addition to providing a glimpse into the culture of the ancient Romans, the plays -- to be performed 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Freshman Campus cafeteria -- give the students a break from conjugating verbs and translating phrases, said Stakenas, who has been teaching Latin at East Kentwood for seven years.
"It's hard," Lisa Wilmore, also a junior, said of learning Latin. But she wants to be a veterinarian and the language gives her a head start on the terminology.
... hopefully some of this will make it to YouTube ...