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Shakespeare in Detroit teaches the Bard’s work in new ways

DETROIT – The worlds of theater and science are coming together in innovative ways for Shakespeare in Detroit’s 2019-20 season. The pioneering group that performed Detroit’s first ever performance of Shakespeare’s work in 2013 is opening the curtains on a new program.

The theater company has stopped its professional performances to dedicate its time to their educational pilot program, Shakespeare STEAM. This artistic and vocational training for grades third through 12th teaches students about the work that goes into a theater production.

Shakespeare STEAM incorporates the science of lighting a production, technology of sound design, engineering or construction of a form or costume, art of classical performance and mathematics of building a set, said Sam White, Shakespeare in Detroit Artistic Director.

“I was a Detroit public school kid and I wanted to give the opportunity for kids who sat in the seats I once sat in to have the opportunity to learn everything about theater, not just what happens on stage but behind the scenes,” she said.

A full stage performance of Romeo and Juliet will take place on Saturday at 12:15 p.m. at the Detroit School of Arts. It will feature 9th and 11th grade students. Younger kids in the program will attend a performance with an understanding of what the play is about and how theater works.

The program was made possible and free to Clippert Academy, Detroit School of Arts and Boggs School thanks to the generosity of many organizations, White said.

Throughout the program, Shakespeare in Detroit is finding that the program is helping improve math skills in third and fourth graders, White said.

“With Shakespeare and classical theater there is iambic pentameter and using those 10 syllables you have to use math and English and it makes them (students) think about the words and the way that they say them,” she said.

Actors and actresses in the performance have also been taught tools used in professional Shakespeare companies and literary skills to help them portray their characters, White said.

Karrief Hubbard, a 16-year-old 11th grade student at Detroit School of Arts, joined Shakespeare STEAM to learn more about the acting skills used to portray the famous playwright’s work, he said. Hubbard plays Romeo in the program’s production.

“It is very difficult to understand Shakespeare language, so I wanted to take myself to different levels and try out new things,” he said. “Oh, my Lord. I was horrible at Shakespeare, reading Shakespeare and everything.”

There are aspects of Juliet that Arise Rock thinks other kids can relate to, she said. Rock is a 15-year-old 10th grade student at Detroit School of Arts and portrays Juliet in the performance.

“She’s [Juliet] a lot like me, like a typical teenage girl,” Rock said. “She has family problems, and sometimes she gets mad at her mother, and she feels like misunderstood.”

White thinks it is important that students in the program are learning about theater from people who came from similar backgrounds, she said.

“We look like their mother, their cousins, their neighbor,” White said. “It’s great if you have fancy degrees and experiences to bring to the table, but you can't buy the type of connection that we have with these kids.”

White and the two other teaching artists all attended Detroit Public Schools, she said.

“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,” White said.

The next Romeo and Juliet performance is Saturday, November 16 at 12:15 p.m. For the cost, there is a suggested donation of $10. To reserve your ticket, click here.