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Shakespeare Theatre on F Street

Shakespeare Theatre hopes to bring historical plays to youth, offers acting lessons

Shakespeare Theatre Company on F Street began its annual acting sessions for children, teens, and adults in November. The company is hoping to bring Shakespeare’s plays to today’s world and and show similarities of the past and future.

Shakespeare Theatre Company has opened the 2022-2023 season theater classes for children, teens, and adults on its Penn Quarter campus.

The first class session took place on Nov. 4 for children aged six to 11 and teens aged 12 to 18. Adults began their Shakespeare experience on Nov. 7. Classes in both sections will conclude by mid-December.

Shakespeare Theatre learning coordinator Raine Ensign said topics and classes range from introduction to acting to understanding Shakespeare and his plays. Julius Caesar, Richard II, and Coriolanus will be among the scenes selected for youth classes.

“Shakespeare is a really incredible tool for learning and understanding the world and improving literacy that at the end of the day it is about community and this space we can provide for people to learn and have fun and be themselves,” Ensign said.

A series of Shakespeare’s plays

The company is providing scholarships to participants whose income level is not suitable to cover the cost of the 6-week program. Applicants can get partial or full tuition reimbursement depending on their yearly earnings. Ensign said the scholarship application is simple, and Shakespeare Theatre provides applicants with “what they need so they can participate in the program.”

“I think the reason that I got into education is because I, as a young person who was participating in theater, found that community I didn’t find anywhere else,” Ensign said. “The reason I got into education is because I wanted to provide that [education] for other people as well.”

Like other companies, Shakespeare Theatre was unfamiliar with online learning tools before the pandemic. But beginning in the winter of 2020, the company switched its lessons to remote and resumed partial in-person practices last fall. For the 2022 season, virtual lessons are offered in addition to in-person visits.

The effectiveness of remote learning provided Shakespeare Theatre with a secret tool to expand its reach beyond the borders of the United States. Acting students from Canada and Mexico have participated in the company’s educational program through online learning.

“Kids learning to perform Shakespeare is almost like performing in a foreign language,” John Douglass, former associate professor at American University, said. “It’s great training for learning to present oneself in front of an audience.”

The Theatre teaches several plays by Shakespeare. Tragedies and comedies on the agenda include Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Richard II, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest.

In the Revolutionary Shakespeare class, children and young adults will have the opportunity to practice Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which was first performed in 1599. The tragedy tells the story of Roman statesman Julius Caesar who was to be assassinated by a group of conspirators, and Brutus, a Roman senator whom Caesar called “Et Tu, Brute?” – roughly translated as “You too, Brutus” in the first scene of the third act.

A collection of Shakespeare plays

Coriolanus, another Revolutionary Shakespeare play, tells the story of Roman leader Caius Coriolanus whose expulsion from Rome leads him to join the Volscians, rivals of the Republic. A tragedy of betrayal and revenge, Coriolanus represents what makes someone a hero and where one’s pride leads them to.

Creators through writing, film, art and other media “have felt the need to portray and respond to Shakespeare” for centuries, Benjamin Djain, a professorial lecturer at American University, said.

Shakespeare Theatre aims to adapt the old writings of Shakespeare to today’s world and show similarities between the past and future. Ensign said Revolutionary Shakespeare hopes to bring Shakespeare to the modern day and apply it to the social justice movement, albeit it did not start with the death of George Floyd.

“To persist with Shakespeare means connecting current generations with the excellent stories of the past and present,” Djain said. “Learning to read Shakespeare shows students that the past is accessible, that the decisions that many of us wrestle with today aren’t new.”

Ibrahim Aksoy

Ibrahim 'Abe' Aksoy is a graduate student at American University pursuing a master's degree in journalism and public affairs international specialty. Abe is also an investigative reporting intern at the Investigative Reporting Workshop where he covers immigration.

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