These are the youths that thunder at a playhouse...

December 12, 2013 / Raphael Massie

Shakespeare and Company’s Fall Festival of Shakespeare is the greatest event in Arts Education that I have ever witnessed. 10 High Schools, each with a pair of directors from Shakes and Co., produce and perform Shakespeare productions at their school. The following week, all 10 schools converge at Shakespeare and Company for an epic weekend of performance. 10 shows in 4 days. It has been described as ‘a rock concert of Shakespeare’.

The students of Chatham High School performed Romeo and Juliet admirably. Comments from performances at their school included:

“I finally get Romeo and Juliet!”

“66 years(old) and I’ve finally seen Shakespeare done right.”

“I see the play in a whole new light now.”

Words used to describe the show during Festival week included: “beautiful”, “honest”, “sincere”, “clear story”, and “what festival is all about”.

My partner and I are similar in the regard that, to both of us, telling a clear story is among the most important aspects of directing. In addition, I said to her, prior to the beginning of the rehearsal process, that one of my desires was for the show to be beautiful. The response was all the reward I could ask for, from a personal standpoint.

Professionally, the fact that the students had such a profound experience is why I love arts education. During our final wrap up following the festival, the students didn’t talk about character choices, what went right or wrong, or even much about the performance in general, except to congratulate everyone. Instead they discussed the experience, the effect the process had had on them, how they did things that they never thought they could do, how they feel like they are part of a new family, and how much they love Shakespeare. My partner and I were visibly overcome with emotion.

One of the most important aspects of the festival is that there is ‘No Competition.’ Instead, it is a celebration of Shakespeare’s work. This creates an atmosphere of unbelievable support. The main seating area of The Tina Packer Playhouse is reserved for festival students only, and they behave much as you would imagine an Elizabethan audience would. They applaud everything, cheer the good guys, hiss the bad guys, tease the lovers, and recite lines along with the actors. I’ve never seen anything like it. They do everything to let you know that they are with you all the way.

The desire of Kevin Coleman, Director of Education at Shakes and Co, is that the Fall Festival of Shakespeare be reproduced all over the country. Many cities have already taken up the gauntlet. Over 25 years, this program is proven to enrich the lives of teenagers, and I hope it never ends.

Pictures to come.

“These scroyles of Angiers flout you, kings,                                                                                                                                  And stand securely on their battlements,                                                                                                                                         As in a theatre whence they gape and point                                                                                                                                    At your industrious scenes and acts of death.”  ~King John