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Students arrive at 2011's 'Cymbeline' SHAKESPEARIENCE Performance. Photo by Nicole Geldart.

On Thursday, February 16, we had our first SHAKESPEARIENCE Student Matinee of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Driving back to the office, my colleague Dat Ngo said, “That was the best SHAKESPEARIENCE ever! You pump a shotgun on stage, throw a guy off a railing and make-out to U2—the kids will holla! But seriously, it was invigorating and inspiring to watch them be riveted by and devour Shakespeare this morning.”

It was absolutely amazing to see how engaged and riveted every single student was in the theatre for the 2.5-hour production.

More than 1,500 students will see The Two Gentlemen of Verona over the course of five SHAKESPEARIENCE Student Matinee performances this spring. The SHAKESPEARIENCE Student Matinee Program is STC’s largest education program, welcoming more than 5,000 students to the Shakespeare Theatre Company each year. SHAKESPEARIENCE is designed to increase access to classic theatre and the theatrical process and to illuminate the relevancy of Shakespeare for students and teachers in the D.C. metro area. The program includes subsidized reduced-price tickets, preparatory materials, in-school workshops and a talkback discussion with the actors immediately following the performance. Supplemental materials are provided free of charge to all participants.

The pre-performance workshop and the First Folio Student and Teacher Resource Guide are extremely important to the success of the program. The Folio includes a plot synopsis and background information on the world and the characters of the play, as well as pre- and post-performance activities that focus on the themes of the play. The pre-performance workshop creates a dialogue between a Shakespeare Theatre Company teaching artist and the students prior to seeing the production. The pre-performance workshops usually include a plot synopsis game where the students act out the entire plot of the play in small groups and also an activity that highlights the main themes of the play.

For our production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I wanted to make sure that we adequately prepared the students and teachers for the mature themes in our production. In the Folio, we added articles about stage combat and how to make knives and blood look real on stage. During the pre-performance workshop, students discuss how young adults are portrayed on television and in movies and books and compare that to how they see young adults behave in real life. That discussion then leads into a discussion and activity about the characters and themes in Two Gents. The goal of these preparatory materials is to not only have the students and teachers familiar with the story of the play, but to also give them insight into how the Shakespeare Theatre Company has decided to produce it.

In addition to the preparatory materials, we also give students the opportunity to ask questions to the actors during the talkback discussion, which takes place immediately after the performance. Questions range from “what was the rehearsal process like?” to “why did the director choose to make this a modern play in a classical setting?” to my personal favorite, “do you have a girlfriend?” The actors are always amazed with the questions that the students have and with their energy, excitement and understanding about Shakespeare. In turn, the students and teachers are always amazed at how the actors are just like “real” people and appreciate the time they take to answer their questions.

SHAKESPEARIENCE Student Matinee days are some of my favorite times at my job. The students are always extremely thankful for the opportunity and always excited to see more Shakespeare.  I cannot wait for the remaining SHAKESPEARIENCE Student Matinees of Two Gents!

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