Jordana Utter, a sixth grader at Chevy Chase Elementary School, used to think William Shakespeare was an "old fogy" and that Romeo and Juliet went around saying, "Oh, I love you darling" to each other.
But since she joined the arts program for gifted and talented students at the school -- one of 20 Montgomery County schools that are participating -- the works of the English dramatist have taken on new meaning for the 11-year-old student.
Last week, she spent a morning happily improvising as the evil-minded Lady Macbeth, in a scene in which she goads her husband into committing murder.
"Now I find that learning about some of his plays, through acting, can be really fun," Utter said.
The "Tapestry" arts program, administered by the Montgomery County school system's Department of Aesthetic Education, is for students in grades four through six who show promise in music, drama, dance or visual art.
Instructors said they attempt to expose students to experiences not normally found in their classes. It is not unusual, for instance, to see pupils listening to Beethoven with the music in hand, or viewing slides of 19th century art, or improvising lines or dance steps to a particular play or rhythm, teachers said.
"Many people, when they think of drama and dance programs, think of productions. That's not the purpose of the program," said Eoline Cary, program coordinator. "Ours is to build skills in that area of the arts."
About 160 students participate in the three-year-old program across the county. Officials said they hope to have classes in all of the county's 100 elementary schools by 1992.
Pupils who ask to join the program audition with drawingsor musical selections and undergo testing.
Program officials said the Tapestry classes are similar to junior high school-level courses.
In music, pupils learn to create compositions, listen to tapes to identify musical instruments and read notes. Dance students create dances and learn to improvise steps.
Drama pupils are taught to develop skills in such areas as pantomime, improvisation, stage acting, and story dramatization.
Josh Hinzman, 11, a sixth-grade drama student at Rock View Elementary, said many of his ideas for improvising drama scenes come from "things I've seen on the street, the people I've seen. Or I'll take something that happened to me , and add a little creativity to it."
The visual art class teaches students printmaking, drawing, silkscreening and, through prints and slides, introduces them to the forms and styles of 19th century and contemporary works.
"I like the program because it helps you improve your artistic talents and helps you understand more about art," said Omar Teitelbaum, 10, a Chevy Chase fifth grader. "We look at pictures on slides, we do silkscreening, it all helps you improve your skills."