We know that Shakespeare For Our Children (SFOC) works because of the history of its success. It was developed by Janice Salzberg, a professional actor and member of Actors’ Equity since 1977, who was formally trained at the first children’s class offered at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. The program reflects her belief that children learn most effectively about the Bard when his works are taught alongside the essential skills of performance and stagecraft.
The program began at the Ghent Montessori School in Norfolk, Virginia in the fall of 1992 and subsequently travelled to Roanoke, Virginia in the mid-2000s, where it found a home with the Salem Montessori School. Over the years, we have brought together students of different ages and from different educational backgrounds – public, private, and home-schooled – all of whom grew together as actors in the wonderful community of theatre. Very simply, the students of SFOC learned to love Shakespeare because his genius was illuminated before they ever heard he was anything less than enthralling.
Why have the children at SFOC been so successful and had such real enjoyment in their study of Shakespeare? It is essentially because the plays were presented to them as colourful tales that were meant to be performed. At the beginning of each 8-10 week session, we would focus on the stories of Shakespeare’s plays – thus establishing a familiarity with his world that deepened as students began to read aloud and discuss specific scenes.
From there, we developed entire productions, including Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and two showcases of scenes and monologues from various plays. All of these works were respectfully and judiciously edited to accommodate the requirements of our young performers and their audiences. In each case, the marvellous words of William Shakespeare were never altered, but rather made more readily accessible to the students during the evolution of discussions, scenes, rehearsals and performance.
Please explore the blog and accompanying links to see in more detail the practical resources that facilitated this successful program – and to learn how you, too, can introduce young people to William Shakespeare.
Illustration by C. Walter Hodges, (c) Folger Shakespeare Library, used under CC BY-SA 4.0 license.