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Idaho Theater for Youth and Shakespearience

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 messages inside each production to help them understand how to breakdown the language of theater and how the stage is used to tell stories and transform audiences in the telling of these tales. For example, with Sword Song: A New Arthurian Legend, the students were asked questions like: “What makes a good leader?” Kids excitedly answered with everything from “Being a good listener” and “Being strong” to “Including everyone” and “Being kind.”  They were also asked, “What makes a good friend?” Interestingly, many of the answers were the same for both these questions.


With Richard II, the students were asked several hard questions along the way, “Why do you think Richard is motivated to do what he does? Secondly, “Given new information coming forward about the real-life Richard III, why do you think Shakespeare chose to portray him the way he did?” Thirdly, “Why does Anne, first hate him and then agree to marry him?” and finally, “Which character do you relate to the most?” just to name a few.

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.

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

“When you read a play, it is easier to understand the chain of events, but if you watch one, the reactions of the characters are clear and understandable to you.”

-7th grader, Malad Middle School


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


“I always relate to the bad guy (Richard). I am a selfish person who thinks about me. In some cases, I am just hard-headed and think I am right about everything and that things should go my way. But that does not mean I act on it. I still do my best to be the best me I can be. That is my difference.”

12th grader, New Plymouth High school 

“I related to Anne the most because I understand being conflicted about certain decisions, and the feeling when you know both choices aren’t exactly right.”

-8th grader, Malad Middle School 

Or “What do you think motivates Richard to commit such evil acts?”:

“I think his hatred motivates him.  I also think his loneliness motivates him.  Everybody doesn’t love him or include him.”

-8th grader, Malad Middle School


The tours performed for students throughout the state and combined taught 30 workshops, performed 119 times for over 25,035 students and teachers while travelling around Idaho. Usually the tours reach over 50,000 each year, but unfortunately both were impacted by closures due to Covid-19.

ITY presented Song Song: A New Arthurian Legend. directed by Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s Director of Education, Veronica Von Tobel. This play was written by Dwayne Blackaller and was inspired by a real-life event involving Saga Vanecek, an 8-year-old Swedish-American girl, who discovers an ancient Viking sword while playing in a Swedish lake. In Sword Song, five young girls, each in a different part of the world, all find ancient swords. They meet each other through a chance encounter and while discussing their own individual stories, slowly realize their strengths, and that through those strengths, they have the ability to solve problems in their own lives and their own countries.

Shakespearience performed Richard III, one of the classic works of William Shakespeare, to secondary students throughout Idaho. This play centered on Richard, a man willing to do just about anything to become king and to keep his crown. Many are killed in this king’s quest to rule supremely, and it is the ultimate story of power corrupting those who seek it at any cost.


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 Jessica Mosley from Park Intermediate School in Weiser Idaho:


“The exposure to live theater, the connection with our standards, the creation of memorable events. I look forward to this every year. Thank you!!!”

Or from Amy Brownell with Westside Elementary in Payette, Idaho:

“Our students live in a 90% poverty-stricken town, many of these students have never been to a play, read King Author or been exposed to any kind of literature. Having you come to our schools and help to expose them in a different form then from a teacher, lets them see things that are possible.”


Or from students: 

Thank you so much for coming. The play was super fun to watch and listen to, you are amazing actors.

12th Grader, New Plymouth High 

“The actors were great. They really made it feel like, you were in that time and place of when the real thing happened. They all seemed very nice. and It was cool to get to know where they graduated and everything.”

9th grader, New Plymouth High 

“I was very happy to watch and it inspired me to look into theater and to start looking maybe into a career path. I just loved it. Thank you so much for the chance to watch it.”

10th grader, New Plymouth High 

“This performance was the first play I have seen with actual actors.”

11th grader, Huntington High