Juneau School District (Juneau, AK)

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Freshmen students at Juneau-Douglas High School in Juneau, Alaska, bow at the conclusion of performing a scene from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Barbara Bonner

For nearly 20 years, the Juneau School District has demonstrated its belief in the importance of arts education by hosting artist residencies in the district’s schools. With the help of an FY 2007 NEA Learning in the Arts grant of $10,000, the school district partnered with Perseverance Theatre to allow every ninth-grade student in the district a chance to participate in Perseverance’s Prologue Program. Alaska Content Standards for the Arts states that Alaska students should “refine artistic skills and develop self-discipline through rehearsal, practice, and revision.” The Prologue program helps the students meet this requirement through the process of reading, interpreting, and performing one of Shakespeare’s works.

Beginning on February 4, 2008, three teaching artists from Perseverance worked with 300 ninth-grade students one to two times a week on scenes from William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Apart from vocal and physical acting exercises, the students also participated in activities that help them connect with the emotions and actions in the play and become accustomed to Shakespeare’s language.

Each class was in charge of casting, rehearsing, and performing one scene from Much Ado About Nothing. After six sessions with the teaching artists and a technical rehearsal, all of the classes came together on March 1, 2008 to perform an abridged version of their play for family and friends on Perseverance Theatre’s stage. Following their performance, the students returned to the theater to see a professional production of the same play during a special matinee performance.

For most students, Prologue is their first chance to perform on a stage. Learning about the artistic process demystifies both theater and Shakespeare, two topics that at the start of the program seemed foreign to most students. In addition, Perseverance Theater notices that those involved in the program remain excited by theater and are more likely to attend a performance again and bring their families. By teaching students to appreciate and understand theater, Perseverance Theater is actively building an audience of future theatergoers.

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)