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Illinois Shakespeare Festival Engages Youth Through the Bard’s Works

The mission of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival (ISF)'s Educational Outreach program is to promote active engagement with the works of William Shakespeare. By doing so, ISF hopes to nurture respect for the power of language, encourage the examination of complex ideas, fire imaginations, and deepen understanding and tolerance for the richness of human experience.


    The leadership at ISF recognizes that childhood is the ideal time to get involved in the arts. Commonly referred to as the “Four C’s,” that National Education Association has dedicated critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity as key skills for students in the 21st century, all of which can be obtained through the performing arts.
    “I went to a summer camp in Michigan where they dared us to try something that scared us; I tried acting,” said Kevin Rich, artistic director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. “That gave me the courage to audition for the school play, and that was that — I was hooked. Performing brought me out of my shell in a pretty significant way.”
    ISF offers a variety of opportunities for our community’s youth to engage with the works of Shakespeare and works in the spirit of the Bard’s writing.
    “This year is the 10th anniversary of our free Theatre for Young Audiences production, which Deb Alley started in 2008 with an abridged version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, said Rich.
    This season’s main TYA production is Sleeping Beauty, written by Stacey Lane and directed by Enrico Spada.
    “Every year we look for scripts that, like Shakespeare, are creative, imaginative adaptations of classical stories that can be told with humor, music, and imagination,” said Rich. “This adaptation of Sleeping Beauty was a perfect fit!”
    Performances run every Wednesday and Saturday morning at 10am through Aug. 12. All performances of Sleeping Beauty on Wednesday mornings take place at the Ewing Theatre in Bloomington, and all performances of Sleeping Beauty on Saturday mornings take place at the Connie Link Amphitheatre in Normal.
    “Our audiences for the TYA show have grown significantly over the years, often exceeding 200 per production,” noted Rich. “In fact, due to this interest we have added a second TYA show to our 40th season: an abridged Comedy of Errors playing at 6:30 every night featuring Shakespeare's Amazing Cymbeline on the main stage.”
    Three of ISF’s company actors will perform in this all-female, abridged version of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors in the Ewing Manor courtyard. In a partnership between Colorado Shakespeare Festival and CU Boulder’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, this abridgement hopes to use Comedy of Errors to create a dialogue regarding unhealthy relationships.
    This abridgement features gender-swapping and a character (Adriano) who speaks almost entirely in Spanish. Live theatre can teach children how to appreciate people of all kinds and how to respect other points of view and cultures. Shakespeare belongs to everyone, and ISF hopes that when young audiences see a woman playing a role written for a man, or a Spanish-speaking character, it will show Shakespeare’s ability to cross boundaries and connect people of all kinds.
    These family friendly productions benefit the community and especially the children who attend them. The arts can ignite a child’s imagination, inspiring a lifelong passion for the arts.
    “We hope to celebrate imagination and encourage creativity! All young people are natural storytellers — and there's no reason to stop!” said Rich.

    For additional information about the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and our programs throughout the year, visit the organization’s website at IllinoisShakes.com.

 

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