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Idaho Theater for Youth & 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?

The Festival invited students to take part in a guided dramatic experience that we hoped would: 1) increase and foster their knowledge and familiarity with theater as an art form, 2) encourage their critical thinking about drama and the art of storytelling, 3) promote skills needed to research and study theater, and 4) help individuals develop an interest in presenting dramatic works and/or cultivating a lifelong desire to experience more of it.

To encourage these four goals, the actors asked the students beforehand to think about some key elements and concepts from within the plays themselves that they then revisited after the performances. These questions were tailored to each production and the themes and stories inside each.

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

We received many different responses from the students involved in this project, both in our survey materials, in letters directly to the ISF office, and in the pre and post show discussion between the actors and the students. Many were about the costumes developed for each show, the music used, whether it was hard to memorize lines, questions about the language itself, or what kind of education each actor had pursued in order to be employed by ISF. The Festival also had feedback from students that showed they developed their own ideas about the plays presented:

“I think that Shakespeare is almost a way to connect with a different world… It was really inspirational for me, because I am a young actor. I loved when we got to ask the actors questions after the play, because it seemed like they really cared about the way they answered the questions.”

“My friends and I always look forward to these performances with excitement! For the past two years we have planned a breakfast before the performance (we call it Breakfast with the Bard) to celebrate the experience. We talk about what we are looking forward to, how the lines will be interpreted, and our thoughts of other interpretations of the story, and then we watch the performance. This year’s Hamlet was memorable and thought-provoking…”

Impact

ITY and Shakespearience performed for students throughout the state. ITY presented “The Shakespeare Stealer”, by Gary L. Blackwood featuring Widge, an indentured servant being pressured into stealing the script for the play Hamlet from Shakespeare himself, by his master—the head of a rival acting company. He joins the Globe Theater and then begins to question stealing the play, instead befriending his fellow company members, learning that he has a real talent for acting, and suddenly see a real future for himself beyond his servitude.

Student discussed the differences between men and women’s roles in society now vs. in Shakespeare’s day, how class structure motivated much of what led to indentured servants during this time period, and even techniques from the actual production—such as how the actors were able to have such convincing swordplay.

Shakespearience performed “Hamlet” one of the classic works of William Shakespeare to junior and high school students. The story of Hamlet’s frustration and spiraling depression, borne of his father’s murder by his uncle, led to heady discussions about one’s own conscience and whether the bad actions of one individual allows another to legitimately behave badly in return.

Together, the tours performed 173 times in nearly as many schools, taught 22 workshops, while driving over 14,000 miles, and meeting students from all regions and demographics eager to learn more about theater and acting.

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 view this work.

ISF works to pick plays that have appeal with young audiences, whether it is a fable, folklore or piece profiling historic characters, 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 critically think about what they are viewing. What did they like? What would they change?
Teachers said this about the program:

“…many of them were discussing the play the rest of the day and the following Monday regarding what they enjoyed or didn’t agree with in terms of what was left in/out of the script. Teachers are armed with the text and a movie/video version, however, that doesn’t compare to a live performance. Allowing students to see the differences in subtext is one of the biggest gaps – it’s nearly impossible to teach in the classroom.”
Anna Lovelady, Kuna High

“I found that studying the character’s intentions and motives was easy to do with this play performance. It was a new and fresh way to look at a story. I also found it easy to discuss plot and the necessity of certain features including background, character traits, and problem and solution.”
Michele Anderson, Highland Elementary

“I love the interaction with the students at the end and the casts’ willingness to answer the student questions. I love how this is a great introduction to Shakespeare and makes it less intimidating. Students can see how a play is different when it is performed and it makes them excited about studying Shakespeare.
Shellie Pressley, West Junior High

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