Shakespeare Remix

Shakespeare Remix

Epic Theatre Ensemble
PO Box 720
Planetarium Station
New York, NY 10024
Phone: 212-239-1770
Fax: 212-239-1739

Focus: Theater

Annual Number Participating: 140

Ages: High School

Annual Budget: $167,000


“Although Shakespeare penned some forceful lines for the ghost of Henry VI in his play Richard III, that did not stop a group of young playwrights from Chelsea High School in New York City from adding their own lines.
In their version of the play, the ghost of the deposed ruler materializes on stage much earlier and intones an eloquent introductory line, worthy of the bard himself: “My reality transcends mortality.”

The ghost of Henry VI then joins other ghosts in warning the audience to beware of people like the manipulative hunchbacked Richard, who will destroy everything in their quest for power. At the play’s end, the young authors added these lines:

“Look out for ‘Richards.’ Don’t look for the curved back or misformed shape, ’cause you gotta look inside a man to witness his face.”

Welcome to Shakespeare Remix, an after-school program offered in four underserved New York City public schools by the Epic Theatre Ensemble. During the three-month-long program, teams of actor/mentors spend four afternoons a week with the students, analyzing Shakespeare’s text and writing new material.

As they weave their scenes into the selected play, participants gain an appreciation not only for the beauty of Shakespeare’s language, but for the connections between the play’s dilemmas and modern-day issues, as well. The students also learn about stage lighting, costuming, and sound as they work with theater designers to perform their “remixed” plays in an Off-Broadway theater for audiences of peers and parents.

School faculty help identify participants, many of whom are failing classes or exhibiting discipline problems. Although many students initially join the program just to act in a play, Shakespeare’s compelling plots and fascinating characters draw them in, while the supportive ensemble approach keeps them engaged.

As participants learn to master Shakespeare’s challenging text, their school attendance and grades improve, and their confidence rises. “After our production of The Winter’s Tale, there was this great moment when I asked, ‘How many of you think you’re the smart kids now in school?’ And they all raised their hands,” recalls Education Director Melissa Friedman. Fellow students reinforce those changes: “After the performances, when actors walk down the hallways, they’re rock stars,” Friedman adds.
On average, 95 percent of Shakespeare Remix participants finish high school, and 90 percent of graduates go to college.”

“The rhythm of Shakespeare’s text is the hook, and the students connect it with some of the kinds of poetry that they like, like rap and spoken word. It’s the way into his plays, and they really respond to it. They really don’t say to me, ‘I find this boring.’”

Melissa Friedman Founding Director of Education, Epic Theatre Ensemble