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Idaho Theater for Youth

Idaho Shakespeare Festival

ITY presented Alice in Neverland, by Maggie Lou Rader, a mashup of Alice in Wonderland & Peter Pan to K-6 grade students in Idaho. In this story, Alice is a detective searching for Peter Pan who is missing in Neverland. The story is chocked full of adventure, humor, and inspirational life lessons particularly relevant in todays world.

Shakespearience presented Romeo & Juliet, the classic tale of tragic young love that many students read as part of English curriculum during secondary school. The play was specifically selected because of students familiarity with it and presented to junior high & high schoolers.

Normally the tours reach 49,000 students across the state. However, because of Covid-19, ISF made the hard decision to limit the tours to schools within 120 miles of Boise (roughly the distance that the actors could get to Boise if Covid were to show up in the tour company). ISF was still able to reach 77 schools, 16,503 students, and 1,322 adults even with the reduction.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

Why is theater important as an art form and what sets it apart as a way to communicate ideas & concepts to the wider world?

The Covid 19 pandemic has served as a reminder to ISF of the importance of its purpose in the community we serve, because what is a theater organization if there is no audience? The closures and isolation clearly illustrated what sets theater apart from other art-the mental sparks that can ignite between audience and actor during live theater-that can invite inspiration, laughter, embarrassment, dislike, and even annoyance.

ISF actors, after a long and difficult separation from students, once again traveled to schools, performing for kids much like in pre-pandemic days. Both the audiences and actor have been changed though, by their experiences of the last few years. Some students in the school had never even experienced a play (most often in the elementary schools). Then there were the students, remembering the normality of past tours, excitedly greeting the actors before and after the show. In fact, so many students approached the tour companies daily it became clear this was not an isolated few. These kids seemed hungry to share their recollections, to find connection. It was moving to see the impact these past tours had on students and to get a glimpse of what it must have been like for them in these challenging times.

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

Because ISF and many of the schools were still operating under some restrictions, much of the interactions between students and actors happened during the Q & A time or later in the surveys students and teachers completed. When asked questions like, What makes theater art? Many students reference the excitement and magic that only comes when actors are in front of an audience acting out a story and that seeing the performance brought the words they had read spring to life.

We also encouraged kids to dig deeper into each play by asking questions in the surveys like, Which characters they related to? Or lessons they learned? The responses were often intriguing.

(The character I related to most was)
Romeo because I think that we have a lot of the same strong emotions. Such as anger, love, passion, sadness, and more.
-6th grader, Foothills School of Arts and Science

Maybe Juliet, because my parents don’t agree with some things I want to do, and they just don’t get it.
-6th grader, Foothills School of Arts and Science

(What lessons can be learned)…
Don’t force your hatred on your children, let them be them.
-9th grader, West Junior High

..to not hold grudges and to communicate
-9th grader, West Junior High

Impact

The students ISF met along the way were so excited to see return to in-person plays. We heard from teachers that students began talking about our arrival many days before the show and continued for many days after.

Between notes received and stories shared by actors, ISF received a lot of feedback. One such story came from Michael, an actor with ITY:

We were at Park Elementary in Weiser and there was a student in the second row with an ASL interpreter. The student absolutely loved the show, and with the help of her interpreter asked about the White Rabbit costume during the talkback. We had trouble hearing her, so Marley reiterated the students question by signing, How did we make the rabbit? After seeing Marley sign, the student absolutely beamed and let us know that for her 6th birthday she made a pair of rabbit ears. I then remarked that I was glad that the two of us got to wear rabbit ears together! The crew then signed, Thank you to her, and Marley signed, Thank you, friend and the student seemed overjoyed. It was so sweet.

ISF also partnered for the first time with Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline (ISPH), to gather useful resources to include in the Romeo and Juliet study guide and to have after the play.

Reflection

ISF knows that without support from our community and ICA, these school tours would not be possible. We also learned that despite another challenging year, showing up for kids during troubling times, offering close human connections while creating art can be a very powerful experience especially if kids feel isolated and unseen. The tours actors have countless moments where students and teachers approached them, visibly moved to be seeing them in person once again, asking if they remembered them, holding up banners of welcome and support. If ever there was a year where we understood the true impact of the program it was this one, after a year of only virtual connections.

ISF has two recommendations for anyone looking to complete similar projects. First, schedule your event at schools with time around them so actors have moments to interact with even the shyest kid?the ones that might be too nervous to ask their questions in front of a large audience. Secondly, develop a survey that helps provide useful information on ways you might improve your program. Keep these surveys anonymous for students so that the feedback coming back will be as honest as possible.
ISF is lucky enough to hear from both students and teachers about what they liked and did not like about each performance. It is a useful tool.

Student:
Watching the play gives a more vibrant and clearer sense of how the characters feel and get to know the character for who they are.
-9th Grader, West Junior High

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