With the teacher’s cue, small groups of rising sixth-graders scurry onto the stage. Girls huddle stage right, boys huddle stage left.
They sit cross-legged on the floor in a circle with theatre assistants from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville talking about acting and why respect is important in theater. For many of these preteens, this is their first experience with theatre.
One theatre assistant lets a girl braid her hair as she explains the stage will become their safe place, where they can become anyone they want. A shy girl removes the shades she’s worn all morning and gets engaged stage blocking her new role as Ellen in “Number the Stars”. And it’s all just the beginning for Shakespeare in Shades.
Shakespeare in Shades is more than just a summer theatre camp. It’s our latest research and development project with Knox County Schools that combines language arts and theatre activities to improve reading proficiency and ease the transition from elementary to middle school.
“My hope is that kids will leave the program, realizing that Shakespeare and other famous writers were just regular people, writing stories about their everyday lives, which have so many similarities to the themes and struggles that people deal with today,” said Andrew Drake, a recent UT MFA Theatre graduate.
Middle school texts have been adapted into 30 minutes scripts which students will perform at the Clarence Brown Theatre at UT during the final week of camp, June 27-30. Northwest Middle will present an adaptation of “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry and Vine Magnet Middle will be presenting an adaptation of “Holes” by Louis Sachar.
“As we strive to create the best schools in the south, we must be creative,” says Stephanie Welch from Great Schools Partnership. “Shakespeare in Shades taps into one of our communities’ creative gems – UT’s Clarence Brown Theatre – to build reading skills among middle school youth.”