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Idaho Shakespeare Festival

Idaho Shakespeare Festival

Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s mission is to: produce great theater, entertain and educate and to realize that mission, it provides profession theater, arts education and outreach programs to diverse individuals in Idaho and beyond, serving over 125,000 annually. As part of the art education and outreach portions of the mission, ISF provides two theater touring productions, Shakespearience and Idaho Theater for Youth (ITY) that travel the length and breadth of the state—into small towns, rural settings and remote locales—reaching roughly 50,000 students and teachers each year from February to May. These touring programs take plays into gyms, cafeterias, classrooms and auditoriums—bringing theater to anyone, anywhere. Along with these plays, the Festival creates study guides based on each play for teachers and their students, encourages open discussions between the actors and students both before and after the theater performances, and formulates specialized workshops for more in-depth instruction and exploration into theater as an art form.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

What sets theater apart from other art forms as a way to communicate ideas and concepts to the wider world?

ISF takes students on a dramatic journey that we hope will: 1) increase and foster their knowledge and familiarity with theater, 2) promote critical thinking about drama and the art of storytelling, 3) encourage further study of theater, and 4) help kids develop an interest in presenting dramatic works and/or cultivating a lifelong desire to experience more of it.

The actors asked the students questions that were tailored to the themes and stories inside each production. For example, with The Magician’s Nephew, the students were asked two questions: “Digory is faced with multiple moments where he has to decide to make a good choice or bad one. Have you ever had moments in your life where you were faced with these choices? How did you know whether you were making the right decision?” and secondly, “There are several moments of staged magic in this play. What are some of the ways in which you can think of to bring magic to the stage?”

With As You Like It, the students were asked, “Why do you think this play is called As You Like It? And secondly, “The director chose to set it in the 1980’s. How does this time period affect the language, ideas and events of the play?” Additionally, two of the questions on the survey were, “If you were directing this play, what would you have done differently?” or “which character did you relate to the most?”

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

We received many responses in surveys, letters directly to the office, and in post-show questions.

One group of students from Three Creek created drawings representing make-believe worlds from a worksheet in ITY’s study guide. Two such worlds were “Candyland” with marshmallow rabbits, bear lollipops and Reese’s Pieces trees or “Diadema, land of the four queens: Viia, Aia, Nina, and Keea—home to firebirds, air horses, midnight wolves, flower phoenixes, tree tigers, and water lions.

Shakespearience students answered questions like, “What is different about watching vs. reading a play?”:

“When reading Shakespeare it’s like reading a lot of misspelled words in the wrong order and it doesn’t make sense but when watching you see people acting out what happens and it shows who the people are.”

-6th grader, Kuna Middle School      

“For me, reading is a struggle, but being able to watch it and have it be done in a way I can relate…”

-8th grader, Kuna Middle School 

Or “Which character did you relate to the most?”:

“Rosalind because she is acting as if she’s someone else and putting on a front while hiding her true emotions.”

-7th grader, Orofino Jr/Sr. High

 Or “What would you do differently, if you were directing?”:

“I think it would be very fun to direct this in the 1950s. It could mainly take place at a cute little diner or at a sock-hop. I would really like to bring out the aspect of Rosalind dressing up as a man…”

-12th grader, Wood River High

Impact

The tours performed for students throughout the state and combined taught 48 workshops, performed 183 times for over 51,698 students and teachers, and travelled over 14,000 miles around Idaho.

 

ITY presented The Magician’s Nephew. This story is a dramatization—by Aurand Harris—of the book by C.S. Lewis. It precedes the well-known, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and is part of the well-loved seven novel fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. In this particular story, young Digory and his friend Polly—living in Victorian England—are transported to another world with the help of a magic ring. They encounter fantastical beings and struggle with ethical questions of good vs. evil, as they journey to make it home safely.


Shakespearience
performed As You Like It, one of the classic works of William Shakespeare, to secondary students throughout Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. This play centered on Rosalind—donning a disguise as a man—fleeing the kingdom of her uncle with her cousin, Celia. While living in exile in the Forest of Arden, she falls in love with Orlando, who is also living in the forest because of complicated family relationships. Because she is disguised as a boy named Ganymede, much misunderstanding and comedy ensued. There was an incredible amount of feedback during the talk-backs, in letters and cards to the office, and in the surveys showing real discussion about the play.

Reflection

ISF recognizes that these performances are often the only time students in Idaho’s most rural locations see a play and we want to engage their hearts and imagination as they experience it.

ISF works to pick plays that have appeal with young audiences to inspire students to develop a love for theater or to think critically about the art form. We hear many positive comments like this one from teacher Julie Miller from Meridian Academy:

“I wanted to pass on a thank you for Thursday’s performance. It was incredible!!  The ’80s theme was perfect for the audience.  Before the play began I had many students asking if they could stay behind in the class…By the end of the play, the students were so engaged, they laughed and clapped and cheered.  Your performers are very talented and to be able to pull these teens into the play the way they did is awe-inspiring. (The Students) had questions they wanted answered, and we could have had the performers stay all day to answer…The students continued to make comments today.  

Thank you for ensuring we had a time for you to come perform…We truly look forward to next year when we can have you come out again.”  

Or from students:

“This play was amazing! The actors were really funny, nice, and cool. I especially enjoyed how they took time to answer our questions at the end. It was such a great experience.”

9th grader, Buhl High 

“The actors made the play seem so real and I felt myself leaning forward on the edge of my seat waiting for what would happen next. It made me want to maybe start acting and I want to thank everyone involved for making it possible for me to have this experience.”

7th Grader, Meridian Middle School

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