Why Shakespeare? Why Outreach?
Performing Shakespeare gives young people a chance to do something extraordinary.
All children crave challenge. There is a desire within us all to excel at something difficult, to go for “great” instead of “good enough.”
The plays of William Shakespeare are a wonderful vehicle for this quest for excellence. They’re dynamic, fun, compelling; they engage a student on many levels at once – intellectual, physical, social, even emotional.
To do Shakespeare well requires discipline, teamwork, concentration, and hours of study. It requires courage, for stepping up onto that stage is not easy, no matter how old you are. It asks children to be generous, to listen carefully, and to seek understanding and empathy for others – not just for their classmates, but also for the “others” in the plays, these strangers who become friends, these amazing characters who seem as real as you or I.
As master 5th grade teacher Rafe Esquith makes clear in the documentary The Hobart Shakespeareans, shown recently on PBS, those of us who do Shakespeare with elementary students are not in the business of training young actors; instead we are seeking, in the short time we have with these children, to give them a powerful and passionate learning experience – a “most rare vision” of their own potential to excel, to go beyond the ordinary.
Shakespeare at Winedale has given college students a “most rare vision” for 35 years; the mission of Winedale Outreach is to share this life-changing UT educational program with the schoolchildren and teachers of Texas, through student workshops, ongoing teacher training, special day trips to Winedale, and long-term “visiting teacher” residencies in upper elementary classrooms – with a special focus on reaching out to students in grades 4-8 who are attending schools in low-income or disadvantaged communities.
Every spring and summer for the past 35 years, the Shakespeare at Winedale program in the Department of English has brought University of Texas students from a variety of disciplines together for a challenging, rigorous course of learning unlike any other in the country. In the unique “classroom” of a century-old hay barn at Winedale -- a historic farming community 80 miles east of Austin – ideas about Shakespeare’s intentions and meanings are tested in action, through ensemble performance. Students open the plays up from the inside, on a wooden stage, attempting to delve deep into the impulses behind Shakespeare’s words.
In undergoing a process of creation and exploration, students are placed in the position of Shakespeare’s original players: How do you bring a character to life, beginning with only language, simple props, and a bare stage? How do you create a world out of words? How do you forge a true ensemble, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?
What results is a “sounding of the self,” an intense and sometimes life-changing confrontation and collaboration between the text and the player, the individual and the group, the plays and the place.
Through Shakespeare at Winedale Outreach, we seek to connect with educators and students in any way we can to share the experience, insights, and resources of the Winedale program with others.