California Shakespeare Theater
California Shakespeare Theater, founded in 1974, strives for everyone, regardless of age, circumstance, or background, to discover the relevance of Shakespeare and the classics in their lives by making boldly imagined and deeply entertaining interpretations of Shakespeare and the classics, providing in-depth, far-reaching creative educational opportunities, and bringing disparate communities together around the creation of new American plays inspired by classic literature. The company expands access to the arts and builds ownership of creative vitality through three inter-related programs that serve diverse Bay Area communities that include: mainstage productions of both new works and responses to Shakespeare and the classics; The Triangle Lab, a long-term partnership with San Francisco-based Intersection for the Arts, to engage with diverse communities in an exploration of theater-making; and the Artistic Learning program, started in 2003, which cultivates students’ creative minds and voices through summer and after-school theater training and through their Student Discovery program, which integrates arts-based learning with core academic subjects.
California Shakespeare Theater presented student matinees of Hamlet directed by Liesl Tommy, as part of the company’s Student Discovery program. In addition, the company provided an educator’s night, teacher’s guide, pre- and post-performance workshops, residencies, on-site activities, post-performance discussions, and transportation subsidies. A total of 10 performances and 227 educational activities benefitted more than 2,900 middle- and high- high school students from 57 schools located in California.
The play’s multiethnic casting reflected the student audience and prompted many conversations during the post-performance discussions. Three of the leading actors were black. Students frequently noted that Hamlet’s mother was white and father was black, but Hamlet himself was black; and Ophelia had a white father and a brother who was black. It was striking how strong an impression these facts made on the students. Their natural curiosity, sparked by our production, helped us to re-conceive how to make the best of the workshops that followed.