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Idaho Theater for Youth & Shakespearience

Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Inc.

Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s mission is to : produce great theater, entertain, and educate and to realize that mission, it provides professional theater, arts education, and outreach programs to diverse individuals in Idaho and beyond, serving over 119,000 annually. As part of the art education and outreach portions of this 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 questions that were tailored to the themes and stories inside each production. For example, with ITY, because the characters travel around the world within the play the students were asked, “What places have you been to or would want to go to?” Secondly, they were asked about whether they had ever seen a musical before and what made it different from other theater work.

 

With Shakespearience, because of what happens in Julius Caesar, the students were asked to think about the cycle of violence, jealousy, and whether they had ever made decisions they regretted, etc.  Additionally, two of the questions on the surveys were, “If you were directing this play, what would you have done differently?” or “which character did you relate to the most?” These questions encourage them to think about the play and its themes beyond the performances.

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

We received many responses from students, in our survey materials, in letters directly to the ISF office, and in post-show questions.

ITY students answered questions like what they would buy with the prize money Mr. Fogg won, “I would buy a house for my family” or “I would buy lots of toys” or “I would help poor people.” Or they discussed places they had travelled like the characters.

Discussions for Shakespearience were varied and spirited—especially with such topics as Caesar being played by a woman. Some kids loved it, while others were very much against it. Overall though, students were inspired to express opinions about the plays:

“I enjoyed the switching of gender- where Caesar became a woman, because I thought it modernized the play and was an interesting artistic decision.”

– 8th grade student, Sage School 

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

“I related to Brutus because sometimes we’re faced with tough choices and we don’t always make the right one.”

-10th grade student, Jerome High

“Honestly I think I relate mostly to Caesar, not because she gets killed in the play, but because she was betrayed which resulted in her death…I’ve experienced betrayal and it hurts so much it almost feels like the person that betrayed you has actually killed you…”

-10th grade student, Jerome High

Impact

The tours performed for students throughout the state and combined taught 56 workshops, performed 183 times for over 49,799 students, and traveled over 14,000 miles around Idaho.

 

ITY presented Around the World in 80 Days, directed by Artistic Associate Tom Ford. This heartfelt and funny play featured Phileas Fogg and his personal assistant Passepartout traveling around the world as part of a competition for a large cash prize. Along the way they encountered many people from different backgrounds and circumstances and experience a range of adventures from harrowing to hilarious. By the end of the play, both are changed by their experiences and understand more of the world they live in. This magical and musical tale featured ten original songs and was based on the book by Jules Verne.


Shakespearience
performed Julius Caesar, a play about the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. It is one of the most well-known of Shakespeare’s work because most Idaho students are required to read it during their time in school, yet it is often overlooked when choosing performance pieces. This year marked the first time ISF has produced this play for tours and the first time the part of the main lead was played by a woman. There was an incredible amount of feedback during the talk-backs and surveys showing real discussion about the play—both positive or negative.

 

Reflection

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

ISF works to pick plays that have appeal with young audiences. The goal is to inspire students to develop a love for theater or to think critically about the art form. We hear many comments after our programs that lead us to believe we are headed in the right direction:

“I just got done watching the Shakesperience performance of Julius Caesar with my students. The performance was AMAZING, but I was especially impressed with the after-performance workshop this year. This group, in particular, REALLY connected to the kids, which was inspiring to watch when all the actors are probably so tired this late in the tour. I was especially touched by the actors taking the time to simply sit with the students for the last ten minutes and just talk to them about life and acting. The respect and attentiveness to the students always warms my heart, but there was a particular magic today that was extra special. Not just great actors, but excellent educators, to boot!”

Miriam Cross, Challis, ID

“It is great to have the opportunity to expose them so such a fabulous performance!  We talked about proper behavior when attending theater.  They were also very interested in how they were able to do all the sounds and scenes along with the performance.  We had a great discussion in class following the performance.”

Monica Sturm, Thirkill Elementary, Soda Springs, ID

“Live theater is something that most of my students are not exposed to. It broadens their views and opens up a new world to them.”

Danielle Hayes, Westside Elementary, Payette, ID

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