NEA Arts Magazine

The Bard Hits Main Street America

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Lloyd Notice as Othello and Kathryn Merry as Desdemona in the final scene of the Aquila Theatre Company’s production of Othello

Lloyd Notice as Othello and Kathryn Merry as Desdemona in the final scene of the Aquila Theatre Company’s production of Othello. Photo: A. Vincent Scarano

For Shakespeare in American Communities, the NEA has also partnered with The Sallie Mae Fund and Arts Midwest to bring professional theater productions of Shakespeare and related educational activities to more than 100 small and mid-size communities in all 50 states. In addition, the tours will reach military bases with the aid of a $1 million appropriation from the Department of Defense.

Seven professional, non-profit theater companies are touring five plays that represent a cross-section of Shakespeare's histories, tragedies, and comedies—Richard III, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In addition to performances, the tours include artistic and technical workshops, symposia about the productions, and education programs in local schools. The NEA developed a comprehensive educational resource kit for teachers that features an audio CD, workbooks, a timeline poster of Shakespeare's life, and an exciting, engaging educational video.

The Sallie Mae Fund also sponsors "The Sallie Mae Fund Seats for Students" program, which provides 50 complimentary tickets to deserving high school students and a parent or chaperone at each of the performances.

The performances have given communities in small towns and cities, students and parents alike, a unique opportunity. Here are just a few of the reviews from around the country:

"It is a rare and wonderful opportunity to be able to attend a professional theater company's presentation of a Shakespearean play." - Teacher in Hammond, LA

"The most exciting, insightful, and wise conversation I have ever had the class engage in. No class I have ever taught has understood the play this well or been this emotionally engaged with the characters. Truly, Shakespeare was meant to be seen!" - Teacher in Waycross, GA

"I enjoyed how the actor of Juliet played the part. She knew what Shakespeare was trying to say and portrayed it very well in her acting. Seeing the actions of the actors and actresses with the words made everything come alive and make sense." - Student in Fremont, MI

"The demographics of our students are lower income, troubled families for the most part. This really goes along with the anger management, character building, and teaching we use. Also, for many of them, this is the closest they've ever been to a real theatrical presentation." - Teacher in Hammond, LA

"Many of the students attending were talking about how the feud between the families and the feelings shared by Romeo and Juliet were areas that they could identify with." - Presenter in Paducah, KY

"The Hermon High School Advanced Placement English students enjoyed the Aquila Theatre's production of Othello after reading and discussing the play. It drew them back to the text for a lively discussion of character traits, motivations, and choices." - Teacher in Hermon, ME

"We base our curriculum on integrating the arts, so experiencing live theater is important." - Teacher in Hammond, LA