Shakespeare LIVE! FAQs
What is Shakespeare LIVE! ?
Shakespeare LIVE! is the largest Shakespeare touring program for young people in our region, as well as The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s most far-reaching education program. The mission of Shakespeare LIVE! is to present dynamic and visually imaginative productions of Shakespeare’s plays to elementary, middle and high school students. Although these productions are abridged for presentation in schools, the beauty and integrity of Shakespeare's language is preserved. We pride ourselves on capturing students' attention without "watering down" the plays themselves. Since 1997, Shakespeare LIVE! has performed for almost 500,000 students and has been honored by the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.
What happens once the Shakespeare LIVE! company arrives at a school?
The troupe of eight professional actors and one tour manager has approximately one hour to unload their van, set up, get into costume and do any necessary warm-up. Prior to the performance, one of the actors introduces the production to the audience. Many of the groups for whom we perform have never seen a live theatre presentation, so we make sure they are aware of what to expect, and politely give them some insights into proper theatre etiquette. Teachers are encouraged to discuss the Theatre's audience etiquette handout with their students prior to the peformance; especially for groups that have never been to a professional production before.
Following the performance, the actors remain onstage and answer questions. During our rehearsal period, the touring actors meet with the Theatre's education staff to learn methods for leading discussion and addressing all types of questions from the students. The actors are also asked to impart five key pieces of information during each discussion, including the fact that Shakespeare wrote in Modern English (not in Old English, as many people think), and the fact that many of the words and phrases invented by Shakespeare are still in use today.
When and how did the Shakespeare LIVE! program develop? What makes it stand out as a unique and important program?
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey launched Shakespeare LIVE! in the spring of 1997 to fill what we perceived to be an unacceptable gap in the educational system. Many students were leaving high school having never seen a live professional performance of a Shakespeare play and, in many cases, never having read more than one of his works. Without this opportunity, many students think that Shakespeare's plays are an insurmountable tome of boring, impossible-to-understand writings that couldn't possibly be interesting or relevant to them. Through Shakespeare LIVE!, we are able to change that perception.
The LIVE! touring program aims at presenting Shakespeare in dynamic and accessible ways. The productions are exciting, witty and visually provocative. We are especially thrilled about touring into middle and elementary schools because it gives us the opportunity to show students how engaging and funny Shakespeare can be, before they begin to be intimidated by him. As an added bonus, the program enables teachers to fulfill specific New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in the areas of Visual and Performing Arts, Language Arts Literacy and Social Studies.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey believes that the reason for the success of Shakespeare LIVE! in the schools goes far beyond the immense creativity and care we put into developing clear and captivating productions. Prior to the performances, teachers are sent a comprehensive study guide with information, exercises and handouts that can be used before and after the students have seen the play. We follow each performance with a question-and-answer period with the students and teachers, giving them an opportunity to discuss with the actors their observations and feelings about the production and about Shakespeare in general. We also offer a variety of interactive workshops that allow students to take an active role in exploring Shakespeare's verse and stories. All these elements, coupled with a Board of Trustees and a staff that are committed to making a difference in the education of young people, have contributed to the success of this program.
How has the Shakespeare LIVE! program grown since its inception?
In Spring 1997, the company launched the Shakespeare LIVE! program with productions of TWELFTH NIGHT and ROMEO AND JULIET. Since that time, our reputation and repertoire has grown with subsequent productions of AS YOU LIKE IT, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, JULIUS CAESAR, MACBETH, THE TEMPEST, OTHELLO, HAMLET: PRINCE OF DENMARK, TWELFTH NIGHT and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.
The schools have responded very strongly and positively to our visually dynamic and clear productions, as well as the accompanying study guides. In 1999 we began reaching out to elementary school students as well, with our touring production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM for grades 3 through 6.
In its Tenth Anniversary season, Shakespeare LIVE! went "beyond the Bard" to include an entirely new touring production, OLD ECHOES, NEW EARS, written and directed by Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte, adapted from the Greek myths. In 2008, Education Director Brian B. Crowe added NEVERMORE, a piece adapted from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. With the addition of these pieces to our repertoire, Shakespeare LIVE! has continued to expand its offerings for elementary and middle school students, and to more fully embrace the Theatre's dedication to all literary classics.
Why is it important for students to learn about and experience live theatre — and Shakespeare,
Says Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte, “From Paul Robeson to Yo Yo Ma to Elvis Presley, there’s nothing like seeing great performances live on stage. The genius of Shakespeare has been enjoyed for centuries through the medium of live theatre, and there is no better tool for teaching Shakespeare than providing an opportunity for students to see his stories and words brought to life in dynamic and accessible performances.”
When originally produced, Shakespeare’s plays were done on a simple, bare stage. The audience was captivated not by special effects, but by riveting stories and rich characters. Kingdoms and heaths and storm-tossed ships were created with the aid of audience imagination. In the age of emails, sound bites and text messaging, when language and even life itself seem to be shrinking, Shakespeare allows us to see the great scope and passion of the human experience more completely than any writer before or since.
The resonance comes from the immediacy of that never-to-be-exactly-duplicated moment that is fresh and new for each audience member. Live theatre also places the audience in the role of active participant. As members of this unique event, audience reactions help shape the drama; their laughter, gasps or rapt silence all contribute to the communal experience that only live theatre can offer.