Shakespeare in Shades
Department of Theatre
“To be or not to be: that is the question” is perhaps one of the most famous lines from a Shakespearean play. Although they are not performing Hamlet, Knox County middle school students have the opportunity to improve reading proficiency and ease the transition from elementary to middle school through an innovative arts integration program – Shakespeare in Shades.
“This program not only helps us introduce theatre to the next generation, but uses it to help them build their reading skills while boosting their confidence and communication skills,” said Hana Sherman, grants, education, and outreach manager, UT Department of Theatre. “Shakespeare in Shades also provides UT theatre students a hands-on opportunity to use the skills they’ve learned and refine their craft through teaching and mentorship of these middle school students.”
During the summer program, made possible by Great Schools Partnership, UT students serve as theatre assistants and mentors. They use theatre games with Shakespearean texts to develop the skills each student needs to stage the final performance. The UT students work with Knox County teachers and students to produce an adaptation of a middle school novel, which they perform for friends and family at the Clarence Brown Theatre’s Carousel Theatre.
“As we strive to create the best schools in the South, we must be creative,” said Stephanie Welch, president of the Great Schools Partnership. “Shakespeare in Shades taps into one of our community’s creative gems, the Clarence Brown Theatre, to build reading skills among middle school youth.”
On average, students lose nearly 36 percent of their school-year gains in reading during the summer, also known as the summer slide. According to a report from the Great Schools Partnership, students who participated in the 2018 summer session demonstrated an 83 percent growth in their oral reading skills.
Shakespeare in Shades is more than just a summer theatre camp. The program also aims to build confidence, leadership skills, and increase creative expression and classroom participation, using theatre as the vehicle. It prepares rising sixth-graders academically, socially, and emotionally for their new journey into middle school.
“One of the best parts of the Shakespeare in Shades program is the bond that forms between the UT student mentors and the middle school students,” Sherman said. “Not only do the sixth graders have wonderful role models, but our own UT theatre students see how what they study can be used to make a difference in our community.”