We are Shakespeare Youth Festival, the country’s youngest Shakespeare Troupe.
In the spirit of cultural generosity and with the goal of creative excellence, we create diverse communities of belonging and self-empowerment with children and youth locally and across the globe through the magic of theater … and we do it all in Iambic Pentameter.
We believe in the ability of children to absorb, to comprehend and to delight in the classic works of William Shakespeare, and, finally, to experience on a personal level how universal themes explored in great literature are the connective tissues of the human condition.
We empower our Players to embrace the challenges of the creative process (learning classical text, creating a character, staging a play, performing for an audience), and we invite them to do so with enthusiasm and courage.
We witness our Players emerging from the process, as veterans of a rare experience in camaraderie and community, with a new sense of assurance, autonomy and self-motivation.
Theater is a language through which human beings can engage in active dialogue on what is important to them. It is a lab for problem solving, seeking options and practicing solutions.
The Los Angeles Drama Club started with 5 children at the famous historical Brookledge Theater on a wet January afternoon. Built in 1941 for the purpose of hosting private magic shows, it was here that the Los Angeles Drama Club, now with 12 members, performed for the first time. The youngest Player was 4 years old, the oldest 10. We worked eight long weeks and performed the famous The Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It. There was live music and full costume and 68 teary-eyed audience members.
We learn through experience and experiencing and no one teaches anyone anything.
Founder, American Improvisational Movement
It has been more than fifteen years since that first performance. Our core troupe has grown exponentially, with as many as 80 children participating in our Spring (and sometimes Fall) Festival. We are in residence in multiple LAUSD schools, with new schools contacting us every semester. And this year, we traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico, Botswana, and Kenya, where we found that theater truly is a universal language.
Children from our first production are now in college, and many from the early days are still with us, teaching and directing, and sharing their experience with the students who are just beginning the journey. We mount 6 to 8 full productions (and multiple recitals) of Shakespeare every year, exploring his universal themes and making them personal to our lives. Our children enter the sanctuary of the dark theater (this is true, whether it’s a traditional theater, or wherever our vagabond troupe can find an “empty space” to create a stage), where they begin session with a circle check-in, ice breaker games and exercises that allow and encourage self-expression, self-exploration, and brain and body coordination.
“…We do yoga together to re-direct our breath, we engage in improvisation, role-playing, conflict-resolution, movement, sound current and breath work. And we rehearse the play, having read it and acted out the story together. We personify villains, heroes, everyday people, monsters, fairies, kings and queens, and our imaginations come alive with possibilities. We become them and they us and for that afternoon in Drama Club, our everyday lives rise to a serious level of importance. We know when we climb the steps to the theater on Drama Club day, we have a job to do. We know a lot is expected of us and because our teachers are holding us accountable as a group, we rise to the occasion.”
It is week 9 and the rehearsal process is in the Storming phase. We scream and yell and laugh and struggle and sigh. We now start to embody the characters. The directors are saying, “You DID it! That’s IT!” And we go home and learn lines and bring ourselves back the next week to have that moment again. We charge and trudge wholeheartedly through the toil and sweat of the creative process, and after our shows close, our troupe returns every season to start anew…”
Having the children beg us to tell them what the play will be for the next season warms our hearts. What child of 7 is passionate and knowledgeable even, about the plays of Shakespeare? Each one of ours.
The real reward is in this journey. But that does not detract from the shock of the finished product, which never fails to stun and surprise adult audiences. The thing that has set us apart from other child-Shakespeare productions is, as a group, we believe that we can do anything we decide to do.
When one succeeds in firing the imagination of a child, nothing can quench that enthusiasm – and when one fails, nothing can ignite it. To the child to whom he is introduced as A Very Important Man, indeed, Shakespeare may well remain a distant and impenetrable stranger. To the child fortunate enough to be introduced to him by the right channels, Shakespeare has every chance of being a friend for life.
Richard Monette, Artistic Dir. Stratford Festival