By Kassandra de Hoyos
Shakespeare & Company is a theater company based in Lenox, Massachusetts. For the past seventeen years, the company has run a program called Shakespeare in the Courts.
Much like Shakespeare did to his characters, the teachers that work with the teenagers are instilling a sense of humanity in them. Most of the teenagers are defiant at first to perform Shakespeare – as many people are.
“We take baby steps into it, because they’d rather go to jail than be involved in this project,” said Kevin Coleman, founding member of the Shakespeare & Company, to telegram.com. The teens decide the roles, design the set and costumes, and have to put on a performance at the end of the program.
Teenagers are quite possibly the most vulnerable age group. They are at an age where they are transitioning into being an adult. During the transition, it is difficult for them to find a sense of purpose in the world and often they act out. Putting the responsibility of a production in their hands helps build character.
A troubled kid could easily relate to Hamlet’s To Be or Not to Be soliloquy or feel encouraged with Polonius’ To Thine Own Self Be True speech. To be able to give life to those words that struck a chord with them provides fulfillment.
Paul Perachi, a former principal and now a judge, pitched the idea to the theater company. Since its initial run, the program has helped more than 300 teenagers who have fallen on the wrong side of the law. In 2007, the program won the National “Coming Up Taller” Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Juvenile Judge Joan McMenemy stated to telegram.com, that although the program’s long term effect on the teens is difficult to track, the one indicator of success is the huge smiles on their faces after their performance. The teens are left with a new sense of accomplishment.
Shakespeare transcends time. His work will always be relevant. The fact that these youths can overcome their troubles through his work is a true testament to his genius.