CST Director of Education Marilyn Halperin and Director and Adapter Kirsten Kelly developed the the CPS Shakespeare! program together seven years ago. Here, they reflect on their experience working with the tremendous ensemble of CPS students and teachers.
From CST Director of Education Marilyn Halperin
'This experience has given me confidence in my classroom.'
'This process has taught me that I can be a person of worth.'
'This experience has changed my life. Period.'
In our lives each of us seeks to make a mark. To make a difference. To influence real change. This is what we do—as educators, as artists, as citizens. When the CPS Shakespeare! ensemble fills this theater for five weeks, our entire staff—from the Production team backstage, to the Events, Advancement, Guest Services, Marketing and Education teams—galvanizes around this program, bringing all of our professional resources, and passion, to bear.
What is it, exactly, that we all find so compelling about CPS Shakespeare!—whether one is a high school sophomore, a National Board Certified English teacher, or a theater artist at the top of her craft? After seven years of experiencing the work we achieve together, I believe perhaps it is this: that CPS Shakespeare! at its core is an agent of change, a “defy-er” of boundaries. Of racial and cultural boundaries that demarcate one neighborhood from the next. Of boundaries defining our respective roles as students and teachers. Of the perceived boundaries swirling around complex texts, words, language and thought.
Boundaries that protect us from others. And boundaries that protect us from ourselves.
With the help of Shakespeare’s incomparable words, we have come to break down all sorts of walls in our work—and play—together. Taking on the greatest poet in the English language and making his words their own, students (and teachers, too) have come to discover their own voices. These are the lessons from our work as an ensemble.
It is a great privilege given to us that we witness life-changing discoveries, year after year, urged by Shakespeare’s words and nurtured by this wondrous process of exploration, rigor, learning, empathy and teamwork. Together, we have experienced the education process at its best: creative, engaged, collaborative. And full of challenge.
From CPS Shakespeare! Director and Adapter Kirsten Kelly
At the beginning of our CPS Shakespeare! rehearsal process, I spend as much time as I can posing questions. Together, with the artistic support of our design team, we explore the ensemble’s own responses to the story in order to understand what Shakespeare’s Hamlet means to us. We investigate new words, learn about Shakespeare’s text clues, get up on our feet to speak these words, and experiment with becoming these characters. We analyze, have spirited discussions, share how our life experiences, relate to the story, and bring forth our creative ideas. We then make choices about “our” Hamlet. And then we make these choices come alive on stage.
I’ve seen these students and teachers discover so much during this process. We are learning the power of words, to connect words to physical action, to project our voices, to listen to one another, to collaborate, to come to the project with imagination, thought and preparation, and above all, to reach out of our comfort zones and take risks.
For me, the most exciting aspect of the entire process is to see someone’s choice develop from a thought in the rehearsal room into a huge theatrical moment onstage. This year’s ensemble had strong opinions about the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, and felt passionately about leaving it up to the audience to decide whether the he was “a spirit of health, or a goblin damned.” They came to a clear choice about the nature of Gertrude and Claudius’s relationship. And continually drawn to the line, “Yea, from the table of my memory, I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,” they felt it was a key to how Hamlet’s relationship to Ophelia was portrayed.
Hamlet is probably the story I’ve seen most resonate with our CPS Shakespeare! ensembles. Love, betrayal, revenge, family, death, violence–and trying to make a chaotic world right again—are all the themes of Hamlet, and all speak volumes in the lives of our ensemble members. These young people and their teachers have discovered strong and emotional connections to this story. This depth brings our Hamlet to life in a distinctive and powerful way.
We look forward to sharing our interpretation of Shakespeare’s coming-of-age story with you, and hearing your thoughts now, too.
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