You don’t often hear high school students calling each other “cankerblossoms,” but that’s what happens when Shakespeare Dallas enters the classroom.
Thanks to a special grant, Shakespeare Dallas comes into high schools such as Thomas Jefferson to share the art of Shakespearean drama.
Not only do the professionals act out a few scenes, but they get student volunteers up on stage and teach them a thing or two about diction, staging, and other relevant topics.
“I tell everybody this is one of my favorite things to do,” from Julie Osborne Watts, education and outreach manager of Shakespeare Dallas. “It’s a catch-all introduction to Shakespeare.”
As part of the 55-minute program called “Speak the Speech: Shakespeare and the Spoken Word,” Watts and actor Seth Magill act out a number of scenes on stage.
The program follows a specific pattern: first, the pros act out a scene — say, the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet — then, they explain a mechanism demonstrated by that theme, such as iambic pentameter. Finally, a handful of students come up to act out an exercise and apply the lesson.
“I like the way we got to participate,” junior Javier Salas said. “It’s fun.”
And that’s just the point — getting the students to see the centuries-old texts as something more than just words on a page.
“When Shakespeare Dallas comes, all the sudden they see the play come to life and they’re like ‘oh, its a guy who likes a chick,’” theater teacher Rachel Harrah said.
Harrah, who has spent three years on the Thomas Jefferson campus, saw the program grow from an average theater program to a full-blown theater company with 300 students. In fact, the group won more awards in UIL One-Act Play last year than any other Dallas ISD school.
“I call it the ‘hidden gem of Dallas,’” Harrah said of the school’s program.
And with Shakespeare Dallas’ help, that tradition will only continue. Each student that participates in a scene as a volunteer gets a ticket to a Shakespeare Dallas production the next season.
“The kids love it, and they get excited about it,” Watts said. “For me, it’s been really inspirational that they’re enjoying it.”
The students get exposed to some of Shakespeare’s greatest and most notable works such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet. They work on elements such as diction (say, for example, “Shakespearean insults”), verse, costuming, and staging.
“There are so many studies that say students do better and have a higher rate of going to college when they are exposed to things like this,” Watts said. “It awakens certain things in your brain.”