Shortly after becoming the first American company to produce all 39 plays currently attributed to Shakespeare, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company received an acknowledgement of ‘artistic excellence’ from the National Endowment for the Arts(NEA). The NEA has awarded the company a coveted Access to Artistic Excellence grant for their educational work with Atlanta Public Schools during the 2011-2012 school year.
This year will see the continuation of a partnership between the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and Atlanta Public Schools that stretches back seven years. For the past three years the professional theater ensemble has taken an intensive 8-week Shakespeare Performance Residency to at least one APS high school. These Residencies have brought three professional actors to campus every day after school to mentor high school students from all grades and academic concentrations. While learning a variety of Shakespeare performance techniques, from textual analysis to safe stage combat, Residency participants also rehearse their own version of a classic Shakespeare play to perform for their peers.
Each of the five Residencies so far–three with D.M. Therrell Educational Complex and two with the New Schools at Carver–have ended with a final student performance on stage at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s professional theater, the New American Shakespeare Tavern.
This year’s programming will take the company back to D.M. Therrell for another 8-week Residency with students, but the company also wished to expand its Residency programming to work with rising high school students as well. With help from the NEA grant, APS middle school students will receive introductions to Shakespeare and the company’s education programs a year early.
While many theater companies offer professional matinee performances and in-class workshops as regular educational programming, this particular company felt that a crucial piece was missing: a chance for younger economically disadvantaged students to watch older members from their own communities performing on stage. ASC thus developed a new three-part approach for introducing middle school students to Shakespeare.
This year 7th and 8th grade students from two middle schools in Atlanta will attend a professional ASC matinee production and create theater themselves during an in-school interactive workshop led by ASC’s Education Artists, but the program doesn’t stop there. They will also watch members of their own community creating theater by attending one of the high school Residency’s final performances. The company hopes this pilot program, made possible by the Access to Artistic Excellence grant and support from local partners, will not only create excitement about participating in future Residencies among the rising high school students but will also give the high school Residency participants a chance to be positive role models.
For additional information on education programs please email Kristin Hall, Education and Development Manager, kristinhall(at)shakespearetavern(dot)com.
For more information about the Atlanta Shakespeare Company please contact Jeannette Meierhofer, jeanette(at)shakespearetavern(dot)com.
The Shakespeare Tavern is a registered 501 ( C ) 3 non-profit organization and is a member of The Actor’s Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers.