Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Highlights of "Shakespeare In Our Time" at the Playhouse

October 11, 2011
by Angela Marroy Boerger
Education & Community Programs Coordinator

As Education and Community Programs Coordinator at the Playhouse, I work to create programs that support our mission by fostering conversations about theater, literature, and the deeper questions about living in our world that we hope the plays on our stage call forth. 

This past January, when we first started thinking through projects that we hoped to create over the course of 2011, we immediately knew that Twelfth Night, or What You Will, the last show of our season, would also provide an occasion for the largest number of education and enrichment events.  Over the course of the year, we’ve been hard at work creating a myriad of ways for people – theater-goers, students, teachers, and those who think of themselves as the uninitiated – to engage with the Bard.  The fruit of this work is a series of events we’ve termed Shakespeare In Our Time, a title which we hope communicates this essential truth:  that Shakespeare, though long-dead, is alive; that his works can be funny, hip, wrenching, and more; and that Shakespeare isn’t some crumbling relic in a museum, but is powerfully timely, today.

The programming we’ve developed as part of Shakespeare In Our Time aims to create inroads to dialoguing with Shakespeare.  For instance, we hosted two professional development workshops for teachers this fall, as we welcomed experts from the Folger Shakespeare Library (repository of the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s works) and The Acting Company (America’s foremost touring company of classical literature) to our campus.  Close to fifty teachers from across the region joined us at the two workshops to learn integrative teaching techniques for Shakespeare.  As oftentimes the first person to start a conversation with students about Shakespeare, teachers are an essential component of our mission to inspire engagement and discussion.

We’ve also developed a partnership with the Housatonic Community College Art and Theater programs, whereby their students have used Twelfth Night, or What You Will as the kernel of inspiration for their own artistic expression.  In each of their classes, whether from the standpoint of color theory, graphic design, computer-aided design, or poster design, students mined the text of Twelfth Night, or What You Will to find themes that spoke to them in inspiring the creation of their art.  A selection of these artworks are on display in the Playhouse lobby throughout the run of Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

One of the most personally rewarding aspects of my job at the Playhouse is my work to bring local students to our campus at a student matinee.  In conjunction with Twelfth Night, or What You Will and Shakespeare In Our Time, we are presenting five student matinees, where we hope to welcome close to three thousand students to our theater.  The atmosphere is positively electric when we have a house filled to the brim with students.  I can’t think of any other experience in our world where students so communally participate in an artwork.  Playing host to these student matinees is a gift that all of us at the Playhouse are honored to be a part of. 

Aside from the matinees themselves, we have also been hard at work producing an in-depth study guide and video introduction to Twelfth Night, or What You Will, which we are providing to all schools participating in the matinees.  The video guide contains commentary by Artistic Director Mark Lamos, who is directing the play, along with actors, designers, and other experts on Shakespeare’s text.  It aims to bring the wealth of knowledge of our creative team directly into the classroom, as well as provide an advance peek into the interpretation of our own production. 

This is just a sampling of the events included in Shakespeare In Our Time; please visit our website for a comprehensive list.  But in the meantime, I hope that our work will inspire you to start a conversation, that what we do is worth talking about.  I’ll see you at the theater!

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