Why Shakespeare? Why Not?
Heather Sanderson thinks that it's never too young to start learning about Shakespeare. So, when she taught a summer drama camp last year, she included some Shakespearean elements.
"The children loved learning about [William] Shakespeare, his life and times," said Sanderson, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London with more than 20 years of theatrical experience.
"Each week camp concluded in a showcase for friends and family. At showcase presentation, children wowed their audience with their knowledge of Shakespeare and the lines they had learned from some of the plays."
This year, Sanderson took it to a new level when she started teaching a six-week drama class on Saturday mornings that had an emphasis on Shakespeare. This class resulted from an overflow of students from her Monday afternoon classes, which is for younger children who learn without reading. Sanderson said that she was amazed when a mother of twins said that she heard the children spouting the lines from “All the world's a stage” in the bathroom, while another youngster was heard reciting the lines from Richard III.
WITH THE SATURDAY class focusing primarily on Shakespeare, the children started learning short scenes, in particular the graveyard scene from Hamlet.
"It is a very challenging scene and not one generally picked for children to enact. I wanted, however, for the children to know the importance of small roles in plays (this is the only scene the gravediggers have) and for them to learn where the line 'Alas poor Yorick, I knew him' comes from."
Ellen Woods' daughter, Emily, has participated in all three sessions. Woods said, "She [Emily] loved it, and it's sparked a real interest in Shakespeare. She knows the whole story of the Globe Theater and “Hamlet.” Being able to recite ‘All the world's a stage’ has given her a real confidence."
This past Saturday, the drama class students invited parents and friends to St. Aidan's Episcopal Church to show them what they had learned. Working in groups of three, the 10 students took turns acting out the gravedigger scene from “Hamlet.”
IN ADDITION TO THE Shakespeare scene, the children also took turns reading script from other Shakespearean plays. The presentation culminated in a scarf dance, which is part of the movement-to-music exercise.
Sanderson said that the students, who ranged in age from 8-10, picked out their own props and costumes.
"For me it's like an alternative for kids who aren't into sports," said Sanderson.
After the show, three of the students — Eliza Lore, Jennifer Brinkman and Brianna Burke — went to the Folger Shakespeare Library for a children's celebration of Shakespeare. At the end of the celebration performance, the coordinators of the show asked the girls to come on stage; totally unprompted, they gave the entire “All the world's a stage” speech.
Sanderson said that they ran through it perfectly, and the audience was amazed.
Debra McKeown's two children, Nell and Sarah, participated in the summer camp and enjoyed every minute of it. Nell was in the most recent Saturday class. McKeown said, "My grandfather was a professor at the University of Texas and taught Elizabethan literature for over 50 years."
McKeown, who hadn't really studied Shakespeare much before, said that she didn't really know her grandfather and that this was a way to get to know him.
"I think Shakespeare is timeless," she said. "Heather [Sanderson] has a good way of explaining things to the children."
This was indicated by her daughter Nell's grasp of the many similarities between “Hamlet” and “The Lion King.” Her view of Shakespeare is much more practical than her mother's. "I think it's neat," she said.