Young Shakespeare Workshop
In this era of video games and other high-tech diversions, it might come as a surprise that nearly 60 Seattle teens choose to spend their summers immersed in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and surrounded by such old-school reference tools as dictionaries and lexicons. The chance to learn some cool moves with rapiers and daggers could partly explain the appeal of the Young Shakespeare Workshop (YSW). But the real draw of the program is the eloquent Bard himself.
Through YSW’s summer program, participants “experience the power and joy of being an incredibly well-spoken human being, at least for a few moments on stage,” Artistic Director Darren Lay says with a laugh. “Then they find they can extend that to claim their own creative voice, in terms of writing or speaking publicly or just speaking out,” he adds.
The 20-year-old, tuition-free program recruits students from a wide range of educational and economic backgrounds through word of mouth as well as through programs YSW offers in lower-income public schools during the academic year. During their first summer, participants dig deeply into the meaning of sonnets, speeches, and scenes and learn how to use their voices and bodies to make those words come alive. Most students return in subsequent summers to join a more advanced group that mounts full plays, performed in venues around the city.
Many students “find themselves” through immersion in Shakespeare’s world. “I saw students who were too shy to make eye contact suddenly experience a breakthrough and become the star of the program,” recalls Amanda Keogh, who participated in the program for three summers. That confidence extends to the academic realm, as well, with virtually all of YSW’s summer students graduating from high school and 95 percent going on to higher education.
The workshops also nurture a sense of community among the highly diverse participants, many of whom might never have crossed paths in any other way. “We have created our own subculture fueled by each other and the need to know more, channeled through a love of Shakespeare and summer days,” observes participant Maeryn Johnston.