Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s School Visit Partnership Program explores words of the Bard
Kody Thomas isn’t a fan of Shakespeare. The language is difficult. The storylines are hard to follow. But the Lost River Junior-Senior High School junior had a different view Thursday after participating in a workshop with two Shakespearean actors.
“It was inspiring,” he said after the hour-long session put on by the actors at the high school. During the session, Thomas and his classmates were challenged to act out a scene in “Macbeth” — the murder of Duncan. Everyone had a part, whether they were a guard or the one doing the tragic deed.
“I don’t really like Shakespeare that much, but this is different. It makes me understand the emotions involved. …And it was fun,” Thomas said.
The workshop was one of several Esther Williamson and Armando McClain, actors with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s School Visit Partnership Program, conducted at Lost River and Chiloquin Junior-Senior high schools this week. The actors spent three days teaching hands-on rhetoric and transformation techniques.
Lost River junior Ben Hernandez said the workshops give students who read the plays a different avenue to understand what is a difficult language.
“Comprehension is the hardest part,” he said. “This (workshop) really got me into it, learning about Shakespeare in a different way.”
Lost River English teacher Georgia O’Brien participated in the workshops with her students, encouraged by their engagement and smiles. She just finished teaching a Shakespeare unit on “Romeo and Juliet” to her freshmen English class.
“Shakespeare can be scary,” she said. “(The actors) talk about how to access the language, physically do things that access emotions with the language. I had a freshman tell me they thought it would be hard, but they really liked it.”
This year is the final year in a three-year partnership between the schools and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Lost River English teacher Laurie Ross and Chiloquin English teacher Cynthia Granberg applied for the program, which provides an annual two-day workshop for each school as well as workshops and training for teachers.
Each school pays a small stipend to participate. As part of the program, schools are able to bring students to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The schools are responsible for bussing the students; OSF picks up the tab for the performances and overnight stays. The two schools plan to reapply for the program, saying it fills a gap in the curriculum for both schools, which are not able to offer drama, art, or music classes for students.
This fall, Lost River took a group to Ashland to see a performance of “Alice and Wonderland.” They plan to return to see another performance, likely a Shakespeare play, this spring.
“This is our only art,” O’Brien said. “We have no drama, no music, no art. This is it.” “I’ve taught “Romeo and Juliet” many times and until this particular partnership, I wasn’t teaching it the way it needed to be taught to best reach students,” she said.
O’Brien, Ross, and Granberg trained with the Shakespeare Festival’s education program two summers ago and continue to use that training to bring drama into their English classes, but the annual hands-on workshops taught by the Shakespeare Festival actors really resonate with students.
Both schools are located in rural areas which makes it more difficult for students to access theater programs and performances such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.