Shakespeare troupe stays busy in the off season

By AUTUMN TOENNIS/Montana State News

The work of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks does not end after their summer tour – in fact, it gets even busier. This spring, the organization rolls right into MONTANA SHAKES!, a tour aimed at bringing Shakespeare to elementary students off the beaten track.

“It’s a program designed to introduce students K-6 at a time when they are most receptive to learning about Shakespeare,” said Susan Dickerson, the director of Educational Programs for Shakespeare in the Parks. “It’s a positive, fun experience that helps them learn without the apprehension that may come with learning about Shakespeare when they’re in high school or later.”

MONTANA SHAKES! travels to 45 schools within Montana and Wyoming to bring Shakespeare to life for elementary students the way it was meant to performed: live. At each school, a troupe of three professional actors perform a 30 minute “play within a play” that consists of original writing mixed with scenes from Shakespearean works to introduce the students to his plays. After the play, there is a 15 minute talk-back and the students separate. Then the actors lead three individual workshops.

“It’s all totally active,” said Dickerson. “The kids are always on their feet – it’s never a sit down lecture.” Student volunteers take part in the play and are involved with the workshops afterwards.

This year’s original play is called, “All the West’s a Stage: Brave New Words.” In the story, the main character Johnny Dropbottom is enlisted by Shakespeare in order to help him finish his last great work “The Really Big Storm” more commonly known as “The Tempest.” As the story unfolds, students will learn the basic elements of a story: character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme.

Dickerson and her husband write the plays each year, with creative insight from the artistic director, Joel Jahnke.

SHAKES! is funded by various grants and individual donations.

The program is in its fifth year of production and hopes to keep growing. Dickerson  said they would like to expand to both the fall and spring in conjunction with the high school program, Montana Shakespeare in the Schools.

“Shakespeare in the Schools has been going for 20 years, and we hope that one day MONTANA SHAKES! will be,” Dickerson said.

This year’s program kicks off on March 18 and continues until May 17. For more information contact Susan Dickerson at susan@montana.edu, or visit the website at www.shakespeareintheparks.org/montana-shakes.

Edited by John Kirk Vincent

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