By Patricia Brotzel
Love goes toward love, as schoolboys from their books. But love from love, towards school with heavy looks. – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, scene II)
Written in iambic pentameter and Elizabethan language, it is not uncommon for students to trudge with a heavy look through their first Shakespearean play.
Shakespeare in Action is a non-profit organization and fully functional theatre company whose mandate is to make Shakespeare accessible and relevant for youth.
The Toronto-based company has created the Shakespeare for Kids Library Club, a free after-school program for children ages 7 to 12. The troupe travels to hold the workshops across a number of city locations.
“Because they’re still young they don’t have that preconceived notion, and they never develop that notion that Shakespeare is scary and difficult,” Shemina Keshvani, general manager of Shakespeare in Action told Humber News.
“We get them on their feet, reading the words, speaking the words and really experiencing the languages,” Keshvani said.
They also utilize Shakespearean puns like “cow suckling” and “periwig pated” to expose the Bard’s sense of humour.
Keshvani said learning Shakespeare puts children at an advantage by giving them more advanced language skills early on.
“The way we use our language allows us to not only communicate but it opens doors for us through our life,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what background you come from, it doesn’t matter whether English is your second language.”
John Bourgeois, program coordinator of Humber’s School of Creative and Preforming Arts, teaches a course in Shakespearean plays to second year acting students, and told Humber News the key to a positive first experience is in the hands of the teacher.
“Like most people it depends on who your first teacher was. If you approach it as an academic subject as opposed to a piece of theatre you generally have a bad relationship with it.”
Bourgeois said he’s worked with high school students in the past and tries to get them involved by asking them how they might direct a particular scene, or how they perceive a character.
“Once you get them to something that they can relate to on their level and they get past the initial resistance, they relate to it as people,” Bourgeois said.