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Shakespeare in Detroit connects grade school students to theater

New program gives Detroit students taste of everything that goes into theater

DETROIT – The director of a new program called Shakespeare STEAM is using the stage to give Detroit students the tools they need to succeed -- something she said she missed out on in school.

“That was also one of the inspirations for me,” Sam White said.

White went to Mumford High School in the 1990s. At the time, they had to cut the theater department. But she went on to become a successful director, and now she leads a team of people to bring the arts back to schools.

Shakespeare in Detroit has dedicated its entire season to an educational pilot program that teaches children about Shakespeare and everything that goes into putting on the play.

When you think of Shakespeare, you probably don’t think about carpentry work, but children got to learn how to build a balcony for the play Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare in Detroit is connecting grade school children to theater by providing vocational and artistic training in its program, called “Shakespeare STEAM.”

As the artistic director and a graduate of Detroit Public Schools, the program is personal for White.

“I wanted to give the opportunity for kids who sat in the seats that I once sat in to have the opportunity to learn everything about theater,” White said. “Not just what happens on stage, but behind the scenes, because there are so many job opportunities in painting and set building and set design that I thought it would be really cool to create a gateway there in Detroit for that.”

Children from grades three through 12 are learning the science and technology of lighting and sound design as well as the art of performance.

The set building has already helped students improve their math skills.

“A lot of students are, like, ‘What am I going to use this for in my life? Why do I need to know math?'” White said. “I feel like it gives me a better understanding of the art or to help you create it with more understanding. It’s going to help you so much in the real world and film or theater, because dealing with people’s emotions -- you never know what they could be going through, and for you to be understanding."

She said it also helps students understand the relationship White and other teaching artists have with children.

“We look like their mother, their cousins, their neighbor,” White said. “You can’t buy the type of connection that we have with these kids, so it was imperative in order for me to hold my head up high as a Detroiter and an artist to do this sort of work.”

The program comes at no cost for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, parents or teachers, thanks to some community partners: Strategic Staffing Solutions, Greektown Casino, Chemical Bank and Deloitte.

Residents can still see Romeo and Juliet. There is a matinee at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at the Detroit School of Arts.


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