Shelton’s Perry Hill Elementary School welcomed Valley Shakespeare Festival into its halls and classrooms last week to conduct workshops and performances of William Shakespeare’s “Pericles,
Prince of Tyre.” The four day residency in the school was part of the company’s Education Initiative program which is co-sponsored by the Shelton Board of Education and the Valley Community Foundation. Earlier in the month the group brought their program to fourth grade students in the district’s Booth Hill, Mohegan and Sunnyside Elementary schools.
The program is designed to comply with the State of Connecticut’s Common Core Standards and integrates the study of language arts with geography and history through the magic of live theater.
The program begins with classroom workshops conducted by Valley Shakespeare Festival’s professional teaching artists, during which students are introduced to the major themes of the play, its geographical and historical significance, and language, through games and activities. Valley Shakespeare Festival also provides in-depth study guides to the schools for teachers who wish to even better prepare their students in advance of the program.
The second part of the program is a 70 minute adapted live performance of the play by the very same actors who conducted the classroom workshops. Having already bonded with the performers in the classroom, the students are immediately engaged in the performance, which is not performed on raised stage, but directly on the floor, surrounded by the seated students. The performers actively involve the students, both physically and intellectually, in the action of the play by performing directly with and among them.
The performance phase of the program is immediately followed by a ten to fifteen minute question and answer session during which students are invited to ask the performers any questions about the play, the acting vocation or about the actors themselves.
By beginning its Education Initiative program at the elementary level Valley Shakespeare Festival hopes to instill an appreciation and hunger for studying classical literature, and to alleviate the stigma often associated with what some would call “archaic texts.” The company strives to remind everyone that language is a living and constantly evolving force, and that literature and theater are the oldest, yet most enduring forms of human communication. The themes presented in classical literature are perennial; they deal with the human condition, making them just as relevant today as they were the daythey were written.
Valley Shakespeare Festival hopes to be able to add succeeding grade levels to the program each year to ensure continuity for the students so that, by the time they enter high school (which is when they are usually introduced to Shakespeare’s works), they will be prepared and excited to explore the texts.