Students performing in Young Shakespeare Workshop's presentation of 'Othello'.  Photo by Chris Bennion.

Students performing in Young Shakespeare Workshop’s presentation of ‘Othello’.  Photo by Chris Bennion.

Through the On-Site Review program, 4Culture evaluates arts and heritage organizations who receive Sustained Support funding. On-Site Reviewers attend events produced or presented by recipients and write up short reviews, which give the adjudicating Sustained Support panelists a patron’s-eye-view of each organization.  Each month, the 4Culture blog presents excerpts from these reviews.  This month’s review is by Cathy Fields.

 

There were few props, and the dramatic simplicity of a darkened stage and single spotlight for the performers. After a thoughtful and informative introduction by Darren Lay, the Artistic Director, the stage was turned over to the workshop members for their Young Shakespeare Workshop Recital. While a few appeared to have some acting experience, most were less confident and ranged to the point of extreme shyness and obvious stage fright.  The most nervous girl still remembered all of her lines. The eleven members ranged in age from 13 to 18 and came from various schools from all over the area.  They worked in different combinations to present sonnets, a fencing demonstration, and scenes and monologues from a variety of Shakespeare’s plays.

The members seemed to have developed a fellowship and supportive concern for each other on stage.  On a couple occasions when members had trouble with their lines, other members were quick to help them by mouthing the words.  Even without help, they refused to get flustered, and continued on with the show. One member spoke English as a second language, and delivered two monologues at different times during the recital.  The first he did in English, and the second he did in Spanish. His confidence and relaxed manner helped to clarify what the content of his speech was, and he received enthusiastic applause.

It was touching to see teens that are interested in Shakespeare in this era of high tech entertainment. The quality of the program speaks for itself through the interest and dedication of the teen aged participants.   The recital shows what they have learned to this point through instruction with sonnets, speech, scene work and fencing.  This group had received a seven week, intensive workshop, leading to an on stage presentation.  The opportunity reflects the program founder’s intention “to advance scholarship, literacy and skill in performance”, all without a tuition.

I was impressed to learn that there is a tuition free program like this one available to teens that are motivated to apply.  Many kids have come back for up to five years, honing their skills and eventually pursuing higher education.  Some return and serve as role models for young workshop members.  This sense of loyalty speaks to the impact the program has had on its participants.

Young Shakespeare Workshop received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in 2011, one of twelve programs chosen out of 471 nominees.  The organization has both after-school and summer programs; check their website for details.