Three local companies receive NEA grants to help kids brush up on their Shakespeare
Well, Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard, not read--which is why the National Endowment for the Arts created Shakespeare for a New Generation, a grant program designed to help theaters bring the Bard to life for middle and high school students.
A Noise Within in Glendale, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles and the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga are among 40 nonprofit professional companies that have been awarded $25,000 New Generation grants this year.
Co-artistic director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott says A Noise Within--which like the Shakespeare Center and Theatricum is a repeat recipient--will use the money to provide 800 to 1,000 scholarships that will allow students to attend performances and pre- and post-show workshops.
"One of the most challenging things for kids is reading Shakespeare," says Rodriguez-Elliott. "But that's not what Shakespeare intended. Experiencing one of his plays in a theater is what he wanted. That is something that's hard to duplicate."
The Theatricum's grant will help pay for its School Days program, which brings students in grades K-12 to the woodsy amphitheater to meet actors portraying Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I, learn Elizabethan dancing and juggling and see a play, followed by a question-and-answer session. (Teaching artists visit schools beforehand to prep each class.)
The Shakespeare Center, formerly known as Shakespeare Festival/LA, used last year's grant to design a "Romeo and Juliet" with high school kids in mind. The show--which was set in Boyle Heights in the 1930s--and accompanying workshops drew more than 3,000 students from 35 schools.
"We think we struck a chord," says artistic director Ben Donenberg, "so we'll do another production next spring."
Shakespeare for a New Generation, which is managed by Arts Midwest, was started in 2003 as part of the NEA's Shakespeare in American Communities initiative.
Photo: JD Cullum and Torri Higginson in "Much Ado About Nothing," which is running through May 21 at A Noise Within. Credit: Craig Schwartz