Boys and Girls Club: Shaking Up Shakespeare

By Mallory Elver

A whimsical, starry backdrop—handmade by ten Daniels-Mardak Boys & Girls Club Drama Club members--set the stage for a remarkable evening.  As soon as the MYSO and Daniels-Mardak Boys & Girls Club Jazz Ensemble played a smooth prelude, the audience at the final presentation of “An Evening with William Shakespeare” knew that a fantastic performance was in store.

On the evening of Thursday, May 23, the Daniels-Mardak Boys and Girls Club Drama Club treated the audience to their showcase.  A community event open to the public, this presentation celebrated the hard work and life skills these students developed through their involvement with First Stage.  A comical reminder about Shakespeare’s influence on today’s English kicked off the show in an opening skit entitled, “You Are Speaking Shakespeare,” presented by the ten young actors and First Stage Teaching Artist and co-director Bill Jackson.  The performance continued with an entertaining examination of sonnets, including a special presentation of an original sonnet composed by performer Dyamond Jackson.  Hilarious interpretations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which incorporated modern language into the text, created the perfect finale.

Without a doubt, the most outstanding part of the show was the actors.  The passion on stage was tangible, and they clearly conveyed the significance of every line of text.  Bill Jackson explains that understanding the meaning behind Shakespeare’s words is a key lesson for these performers.  “They learn the difference between what you say and what you mean,” Jackson said.  “They teach the audience what they mean.”

Performer Zuri McGowan agrees that Shakespeare is very important today.  “When we get to high school, people will still use and understand Shakespeare.”  Zuri believes that knowing how to crack the Shakespearean code helps young people make sense of this timeless language.

According to Jackson, it certainly does.  “Process of thought, analysis and collaboration” is essential when students read not only the bard’s works, but the works of his contemporaries, in high school and beyond.  “Shakespeare is a gateway classicist,” says Jackson.  Because these actors have acquired such skills through their rehearsal and presentation of this production, “It’s not just a performance; their lives have been changed.”

First Stage Education Director Julia Magnasco explains that this performance was made possible thanks to First Stage’s MPS Partners in the Humanities.  “This partnership allows us to expand our residency program at Daniels-Mardak,” she says.  “It lets us bring students to see performances, have a literacy residency for the youngest students and hold presentations here [at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center].  Thank you, MPS!”

The collaboration between the Boys & Girls Club and First Stage has had an impact on the young actors as well.  Chyla Broxton says that her favorite part of this process was getting to know everybody.  Zuri adds that she loves the First Stage experience.

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