Shakespeare & Company (Lenox, MA)

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Maizy Scarpa (l) and Steve Johnson in Chatham High School’s production of King Lear, part of Shakespeare & Company’s Shakespeare in Action education program. Photo by Elizabeth Aspenlieder

Tina Packer, artistic director of Shakespeare & Company, has said, “Engagement with great poetry in a dramatic setting is one of the most important learning opportunities we can provide young people in this country.” And to support that belief, the theater company began Shakespeare in Action, a theater arts residency program for high school students.

In FY 2006, Shakespeare & Company received an NEA Learning in the Arts grant of $50,000 to support the program. Beginning in September 2006, more than 600 students from 11 high schools in Massachusetts and New York participated in the nine-week program comprising in-class curriculum-based teaching sessions and six master classes in stage combat, Elizabethan dance, text in performance, stage management, publicity, and technical theater. Students also worked after school for 20 hours per week with professional artists, including an education artist, actors, a costumer, a set designer, and a production director. Classroom teachers received two weeks of professional development sessions with the theater artists. Each residency culminated in a full-scale, 90-minute production of one of nine Shakespeare plays. These performances were attended by nearly 5,000 teachers and students. In November, students also took part in the Fall Festival of Shakespeare, a noncompetitive festival of student performances.

Shakespeare & Company also participates in the NEA’s Shakespeare in American Communities national initiative— which brings full productions of Shakespeare’s works with educational and community outreach activities to middle and high schools—and received a 2006 Coming Up Taller award for its Shakespeare in the Courts programs, which presents Shakespeare’s work to adjudicated youth.