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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 109,000 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 hoped would: 1) increase and foster their knowledge and familiarity with theater, 2) promote critical thinking about drama and the art of storytelling, 3) encourage a 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 some key questions related to the plays prior to each performance that were tailored to the themes and stories inside each production. Additional questions were asked of the older students on the survey.

For ITY the actors asked the kids two questions. First, because Stuart finds out he is good at certain things over the course of the play they were asked, “What kinds of things are you good at?” This question allowed students to connect with Stuart and at the same time recognize some of their own strengths too. Secondly, they were asked what they thought might have happened to Stuart as the play ends, encouraging them to think about the play beyond the performance.

The Shakespearience actors asked their students about how they resolve conflicts with their friends and about miscommunication and misconceptions can affect interpersonal relationships. Additionally, one of the questions on the surveys was, “if you were directing, what would you have done differently?”

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

We received quite a few responses from students, in our survey materials, in letters directly to the ISF office, and in the pre and post show questions between the actors and the students.

The ITY students had many thoughts about where Stuart went at the end of the play. Some said, “He found Margalo and went back to live with his parents” or “He became a race car driver” or “He became friends with the naughty cat.”

Shakespearience students talked more about conflict resolution and miscommunication and also about elements of the play—like the costumes, music, and whether it was hard to memorize lines. Feedback shows that they developed ideas about the plays and workshops:

“The interpretation of the play by the actors and director opened up my viewing in a way that brought to light different parts of the play…”
-Student, Filer Middle School

“Thank you, ISF! I appreciated the workshop you put on for us. I love how you made it relevant for us and connected Shakespeare to our everyday lives.”
-Kaija, student-Palouse Prairie Charter School

Some responses to the “If you were directing…” question:

“I would have put more plants on the stage so it looked like the forest.”
Student, Filer Middle School

“I wouldn’t have changed much. Maybe just a few more moments with the mechanicals and their play.”
-Student, Hansen

Impact

ITY and Shakespearience performed for students throughout the state. ITY presented Stuart Little, a play written by Joseph Robinette, based on the cherished and well known book by E.B. White. This play about a young mouse born into a human family and living in New York City, showcased many of the stories and adventures from the original book. There was Margola, the sick bird, Snowbell, a bored feline, boat races across a park pond with Stuart at the helm, road trips in a custom made car and much more. Stuart learns about friendship and that sometimes the very thing that you might see as your biggest weakness (being “small” in a “large world”) can actually turn out to be your biggest strength. Students discussed alternate endings for the play and any special talents they might have like Stuart has.

Shakespearience performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream for junior and high school students. The play centered around two couples Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius. Hermia is supposed to wed Demetrius, but she loves Lysander. Helena loves Demetrius, but he only has eyes for Hermia. The student discussions centered on misunderstandings, fitting in with peers, and family obligations.

The tours combined performed 178 times, taught 52 workshops, drove nearly 14,000 miles, and met over 50,000 students from all regions and demographics eager to learn more about theater arts.

Reflection

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

ISF works to pick plays that have appeal with young audiences, whether it is fable, folkloric, filled with historic figures, or a Shakespeare play infused with modern music and contemporary clothing. The goal is to inspire students to develop a love for theater and to 1think critically about what they are viewing. We hear many comments and suggestions from teachers after our programs:

“This play helped students get excited about reading and they loved the idea of coming up with their own end to the story. It allowed those creative students to tap into aspects of creativity that they aren’t always able to do.”
Alex Prow, Paramount Elementary

“Only half of my students had ever seen a play before, so getting to experience a live performance was a great life experience for them. I also think it shows how there are different types of jobs that people can have as they grow up and it shows the value in art and how you still have to study, work hard, and learn no matter what career you choose.”
Jocelyln Graziano, Eagle Hills Elementary

“Loved the performance and exposing kids to theater. We also loved actors question session…”
Brian Fischer, Eagle Hills Elementary

“Most of my students come from a lower socio-economic background, so money to attend a performance at ISF is just not there. Bringing theater to my kiddos gave them an opportunity to experience Shakespeare the way it was intended – performed and
not just reading a script. Thank you for bringing this to them. They loved it.”
Michele Bonneau, Meridian Academy

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