Lovely people, I need your help. I know this is long, but please read and share.
My former high school has, for the last twenty years or so, participated in a programme called the Fall Festival of Shakespeare.
This programme is run by a professional theatre called Shakespeare & Company. Every fall, they send two directors to each of about ten or so schools in Massachusetts and upstate New York. For eight weeks, these schools rehearse a 90 minute cut of a Shakespeare play. They are professionally costumed, set designed, and lighting designed by the theatre. After a weekend of in-school performances, the schools come together for a four-day Festival on Shakespeare & Co.’s mainstage. All participants are invited to all of these shows, and I’m convinced that there is not a more enthusiastic and generous audience than a theatre packed to the gills with Shakespeare-loving teenagers. They laugh, they cry, they hiss for the villains and cheer for the heroes. It’s incredible.
And this is not fringe group that has only a small following. Last year, at my high school of about 800 students, NINETY students auditioned for the Festival. Over ten percent of the school wanted to get onstage and do Shakespeare. I think that’s pretty awesome.
Here’s the unfortunate part: Taconic High School is in a comparatively poor school district. Shakespeare & Company incurs a cost of about $20,000 for each participating school. They subsidize $7,000 of the cost for Berkshire County schools, but have been subsidizing Taconic much more heavily. Taconic pays only $3,000. And, unfortunately, the theatre can no longer afford this, and have asked that Taconic pay $13,000 going forward. The school simply doesn’t have the money to do this.
I and a number of other alumni and current students have banded together to ensure that the students of Taconic continue to benefit from this amazing programme. I’ve been out of high school (and college!) for a while now, and I have been working in the world of professional theatre. I don’t live in the Berkshires, and I no longer have any direct connections to the school. But for me, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Fall Festival changed my life: without it, I’m not sure I would be a professional actor, I probably wouldn’t like Shakespeare nearly as much as I do, and I certainly wouldn’t have the passion for arts education that I have.
But it’s not only important for people like me who want to do theatre professionally. It’s important (perhaps more so) for the people who are going to to on to be nurses and bank tellers. It’s important for the people who choose not to drop out of school because they look forward to rehearsal. It’s important for the shy girl who has trouble making friends and the kid who is struggling in English class.
We’ve set up a website for donations. We need to raise $13,000. We’ve raised $1,000 in just a day, which is encouraging, but we have a long way to go. If you can give anything, please do. Even a dollar will help, and the more contributors we have, the easier it will be for us to secure grants for the years to come. If you can’t help financially (which I absolutely understand), please share this message so that it may reach someone who can.
I know that if you’re reading, this probably isn’t your school or even your country. But if you believe that arts education is vitally important, and that it must happen on a local level — if you want programmes like this to grow and to reach more people — please consider helping us.
Thank you for reading. Please share.
Andrew in “Birdland” (production shots)
‘Sherlock’ villain Andrew Scott gives an incandescent performance as an imploding rock star in this troubling, intoxicating new play from Simon Stephens.The…
Also met Alex Price after the show, thoroughly nice bloke, had a lovely chat - just wanted to congratulate him on the insane job he’d just done.
Now I wanna be life-long buddies.
Birdland by Simon Stephens
I saw Birdland by Simon Stephens at the Royal Court last night and it was incredible.
Everything about it was just fascinating. 6 actors performing 18 characters, entering at the beginning of the play and exiting only when they’ve said their final line, on the most minimalistic and abstract stage with only the most necessary of props, delivering an entirely absorbing, truthful, believable and thought-provoking performance. Everything about it was insanely clever, under the fantastic direction of Carrie Cracknell. A sublime text (good job Simon) that really delved into the world of empathy, money and fame, with every character was just as real as the last - held together by Andrew Scott and Alex Price, the only two to not multi roll.
I couldn’t look away.