There is no better training than theatre to teach life skills to children. And arguably the most powerful, efficient and economical theatre training a young person can undertake is learning to act in Shakespeare’s plays.
The study of acting in all plays teaches young people to read and interpret the body language, verbal, social and status cues they receive constantly from peers and adults, be they on stage or in real life. All theatre harnesses the imagination and creative intellect of the child to the practical project, the challenges and problems of producing and performing a play with a target deadline. All theatre teaches children to conquer their fear of being vulnerable, of exposing their emotions. They learn to trust their cast-mates and themselves, to “do battle”, scene by scene, with each other, live, under lights, in a large room full of strangers.
All acting teaches the child about the magic “if” as in, “if I were her, how would I feel? What would I do and say and what would I mean by it? Why do I say these words instead of some other words?” And there are always more questions: how do I dress and stand and walk and move as if I were someone else. Who are they? Where am I? What is the social and political history of the time period of the play we are acting? What were the customs then?
Yes, all actor training is great for kids, but Shakespeare is tops! For starters, his plots are the best, better than most modern movies and TV series. Once kids act ‘em, they love ‘em! They are like huge melodramas, mega block buster movies like Star Wars, Gone With the Wind, Titanic, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. There is love, hate, danger, intrigue, deceit, skullduggery, clowning, slap stick, running gags, and the best villains, heroines and heroes you’ll ever find!
But you say, “oh, Shakespeare’s old, difficult language! It’s too hard for children, they’ll never understand it or learn it or be able to act it, they’ll be bored!” But I say, “You mistake!” With all due respect, permit me to enlighten you, being as I was a dyslexic kid who did not learn to read until the sixth grade and who fell in love with Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s language is not “old”, it’s raw and new and full of adventure. He created language to suit the needs of his characters, inventing words that are so colorful, so evocative, so descriptive and so exciting to kids today who, typically, say stuff like, “wazzup dude? Nothin’, like totally, whatever, nome-sane?” Instead of having Romeo say, “Hey dude, who’s the babe?”, Shakespeare has him say, “What Ladie’s that which doth enrich the hand of yonder Knight? O, she doth teach the Torches to burne bright. It seemes she hangs upon the cheeke of night, As a rich Jewel in an Ethiope’s eare: Beauty too rich for use, for earth too deare!
In years past, Shakespeare at NEYT has, time and again, turned kids into devoted, even fanatical lovers of language. Why? Because they learned language from Shakespeare. He added more words to the English language than any other writer. Hundreds of words we still use each day. The total vocabulary of the King James Bible is 6,000 words. The total vocabulary in Shakespeare’s plays, 37,000. In fact, 2000 words appear in print for the first time in Shakespeare’s plays. Words like: assassination, suspicious, weird, critical, impartial, uncomfortable, lonely, generous, obscene, vastly, leapfrog, useless, lackluster, puking, and sayings we still use today like: Dead as a doornail; Eaten me out of house and home; Your own flesh and blood; Done me wrong; Sent him packing; Good riddance; Blinking Idiot. Don’t you want your kids to understand that kind of language and where it came from? The NEYT Junior Shakespeare Camp is geared, and fine tuned, to teach this powerful language to children age eleven and up, getting them to play with it, have fun with it and be completely comfortable with it. Peter Gould and David Vann are masters of this and they have been doing it successfully for over thirty years!
And if you think that Shakespeare can’t be sassy, just listen to what Kent says to Oswald in King Lear: “You lily- livered, action- taking, whoreson, glass- gazing, super- serviceable, finickal rogue! One that would be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a Knave, Beggar, Coward, Pander and the Sonne and Heire of a Mongrill Bitch!”
Yes, kids just love to swear using Shakespeare’s words. They love his sword play, his pratt falls, his disguises and cross dressing and battles and storms and the whole wide world brought into a small theatre space which this summer will be NEYT”s brand new outdoor tent where the stage will be set up just like it was in Shakespeare’s day, in his beloved Globe Theatre. So come and join Peter and David for the educational time of your life and it is guaranteed to be a bang up, romping good time and deliver a super “bang for your buck” or my name ain’t Uncle Stevie