Eye of the Tiger

It’s hard to read the bard

High School theatre programs across the district vary in producing Shakespeare

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Back to Article

It’s hard to read the bard

(COURTESY / WOODCREEK PERFORMING ARTS)

(COURTESY / WOODCREEK PERFORMING ARTS)

(COURTESY / WOODCREEK PERFORMING ARTS)

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Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and Macbeth: the required reading every high school student is familiar with. Between read-alouds, movies, and audio books, our teachers do their best to convey the prestige and integrity of Shakespeare’s work, while still making it accessible to those who find the Bard’s language overwhelming, to say the least.

But at the end of the day, Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read. In an era of Common Core that encourages collaboration between subjects, why are the performing arts programs at various schools across the district shying away from doing a Shakespeare production every year?

According to Samantha Howard, drama teacher at Oakmont High School, getting audiences to come to a classical production makes an already strenuous task tougher.

In truth, sometimes it is difficult to bring in audiences for a Shakespeare production,” Howard said. “It’s difficult to bring in audiences period, but that’s a different discussion.”

At Oakmont, Howard has done three Shakespeare productions in ten years: As You Like It, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet.

“Two out of the three plays we’ve done are in the English curriculum—that wasn’t an accident, but a choice made in the hopes the students studying those plays would come see them.” Howard said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t see any differences in our audience sizes by choosing those particular plays.”

Though this is disappointing, it’s not surprising. The plethora of groans and complaints that emerge when Shakespeare is read proves that students aren’t particularly interested in the Bard during class time, so why would they seek it out during their free time?

(COURTESY / WOODCREEK PERFORMING ARTS)

This problem, however, doesn’t seem to affect every school. According to Woodcreek High School drama teacher Adrienne Mars, audience sizes are never an issue when it comes to classical work.

“I do Shakespeare about every three years, and I take my students to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival every other year,” Mars said. “Teachers love it and we have huge audiences.”

Once every three years is a decent amount of the Bard’s work, and falls in line with Oakmont High School’s amount; however, it only ensures one year of Shakespeare for those in the drama program, two if they’re lucky.

This is just for the students who get to spend the months in preparation working on the show, living in the language, and dissecting the text. For student audiences, that means in their four years of high school, they’ll most likely only see two hours of live Shakespeare (if they even decide to go.)

Granite Bay High School, however, finds Shakespeare more of a priority to produce every year. According to Director Kyle Holmes, the program has continuously played with time periods to make the heavy classical text more accessible.

We did a production of Much Ado set at Granite Bay High School, where the set looked like a replica of the school outside,” Holmes said. “The year before that we did Macbeth, [and] set it [in] modern Scotland with a 2016 election flare to it.”

(COURTESY / GRANITE BAY PERFORMING ARTS)

Though Granite Bay has had success through the exploration of Shakespeare, other schools have not been as bold. According to Antelope High School program director, Richard Winters, the level of skill required to put on a high quality classical production can go beyond the caliber of the average high school student.

“If a show is well done audiences love them,” Winters said. “It’s tough for young actors and directors to do Shakespeare well.”

As a senior at Roseville High School who has been very involved in the drama department throughout my four years, our theatre program has not done a Shakespeare production. Under previous Roseville drama teacher Stuart Smith, the department’s cycle worked similarly to other high schools in the district.

“We worked on a rotating-three year schedule, so that every student had a chance to work on three different major points of focus.” Smith said.

According to Smith, the Shakespearean plays usually sold well.

“The plays were quite popular and much talked-about among students, especially when we had good (and gory!) fight scenes,” Smith said.

According to current drama teacher Jennifer Dithridge-Saigeon, Shakespeare is a goal for the program in the near future.

“I would be open to [a Shakespeare production] but I would probably plan it out [for] about a year or so,” Saigeon said. “I have always been interested in doing Romeo and Juliet because all freshmen read it, which means that after freshman year, all students should be familiar with the story.”

The partnership with the English department could also bring audiences in, according to Saigeon.

“I think [Shakespeare] can work hand-in-hand to support the English department’s exploration of Shakespearean texts.” Saigeon said. “Students like the challenge of Shakespeare and the more they read/watch/experience his work, the more they begin to enjoy it.”

Throughout talking to various program directors throughout the district, though some have had more success with audience sizes, one thing is clear: if Shakespeare is to be performed successfully, English departments have to step up.

Whether that means collaborating with drama teachers,

attending productions, or simply making a point to encourage students to gain a better understanding of the Bard, they should. If English teachers show enthusiasm, maybe students will, too.

But it’s hard to enjoy live Shakespeare when you’re only exposed to it once every three years.   

 

About the Writer
AJ WELKER, ARTS EDITOR

AJ Welker is the arts editor and anchor at Eye of the Tiger.
This is Welker's second year in the program.
Welker started as a reporter and anchor in her junior year.
In her free time Welker enjoys the theatre arts, writing, as well as spending time with her friends and family.
Welker has an immense...

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