Over the past week, more than 200 South Dakota high school students learned about acting, stage combat, Elizabethan Costuming, and Shakespeare’s Language through special workshops produced by 14 USD students in a USD “Acting Shakespeare” class. The project, dubbed the Shakespeare School Tour, is a collaborative effort of the USD Theatre Department and the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival.
“The tour has been an inspiring experience, witnessing the engagement, excitement, introspection and growth of all of the students involved,” says class professor and tour organizer Chaya Gordon-Bland, who serves as the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival’s (SDSF) Managing Artistic Director. “It was a phenomenal experience.”
The tour included visits to Wagner High School, Flandreau Indian School, and the Minnehaha Youth Detention Center, where at each location USD students performed Shakespeare scenes and music and taught mini-workshops to the youth. This was the second such biennial Shakespeare School Tour.
“The tour is designed to directly reach young people in South Dakota at their own schools, and to reach students who may not normally have access to live performances of Shakespeare or live theatre arts,” explains Gordon-Bland. “The USD students presented five scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar, plays that the young people have been studying in their own classes.”
All of the stops on the tour were successful, says Gordon-Bland, but the tour’s stop in Flandreau was particularly poignant, she says.
“Our visit to Flandreau Indian School was particularly special, as Flandreau Indian School students prepared and presented performances and cultural experiences to our touring company,” she says. “These included performances of drum songs, dance songs, and teaching traditional hand-games, creating an environment of cultural exchange and joyful interpersonal engagement between the students.”
The Shakespeare School Tour is an important mission of the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival as well as the USD Theatre Department. USD students engaged in community-based learning and research through the project, while high school students were able to witness Shakespeare coming to life and to participate in theater workshops to which they wouldn’t normally have access.
“Through this tour, we expand artistic and educational opportunities for South Dakotan youth, open up windows in the hearts and minds of the youth and the touring artists, and reaffirm our commitment to theatre arts as a vehicle for fostering human understanding, connection, community, inclusiveness, creativity, confidence, communication, and joy,” says Gordon-Bland.
The project is funded in part by USD’s Center for Academic and Global Engagement, with matching funds provided by USD Theatre and SDSF. This support allowed the tour to be brought to the three schools for free.
The tour was directed by Gordon-Bland and co-director Rebecca Bailey, who recently received her MFA in Directing from USD and directed SDSF’s 2017 summer production The Comedy of Errors. Associate Professor of Theatre Scott Mollman is the Production Manager and Assistant Professor of Theatre Caitlin Quinn is the Costume Designer. Acting in the tour were USD students Tabitha Bass, Daniel Frye, Tess Jones, Alyeska Krull, Katie Meirose, Shekendra Morgan, Alex Newcomb-Weiland, Isaac Otterman, Becca Schuster, Rachel Smith, Alexondrea ThongVanh, Andrea Tostado, Austin Vetter, and Drake Zuschlag.
Up next for the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival is the organization’s annual fundraiser, “Wine with Will,” which will take place February 22, 2018, at the John A. Day Gallery in the Warren M. Lee Center for Fine Arts at USD. Tickets for this event will be $50/person and include wine and hors d’oeuvre tastings, live music, Shakespeare performances, and a silent auction. For tickets or further information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The South Dakota Shakespeare Festival is a 501c3 non-profit organization, and relies heavy upon investments from community businesses, patrons and neighbors. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to: SDSF, P.O. Box 30, Vermillion, SD, 57069, or made through PayPal at http://www.sdshakespearefestival.org/donate.
Donations are always welcome, says Gordon-Bland.
“We're free because you give!” she says. “Mark your calendars for our 2018 summer production of Richard III, taking place in Vermillion's beautiful Prentis Park in June 2018.”