I have an immense love for theater. I also have another love: education. As a teacher, I love everything about education (okay, maybe not grading): the students, the literature, that amazing light bulb moment. However, one of the things that drew me to education was a man — William Shakespeare to be exact. Imagine my excitement when I began teaching in the city and discovered Shakespeare in the City. And if you haven’t heard of Shakespeare in the City, sit down, because it’s pretty cool!
Shakespeare in the City is the brainchild of Martha Douglas-Osmundson, an English teacher from the Lincoln School, who went on a trip to England in 2008, thusly transforming Shakespeare in Rhode Island. “In 2008 I went to Shakespeare’s Globe in London where I saw Hamlet performed by 400+ students from all over Southwark, a very diverse borough of London that reminds me somewhat of Providence in that regard.” Douglas-Osmundson took this inspiration and started a program that truly was a game changer in urban education. Every year since 2009, Providence schools get together and put on a performance by the Bard. Each school is given a scene, and the show is performed with a revolving cast of teen actors.
The program has grown throughout the years — from nine schools in 2009 to 15 in 2010, and this year, a whopping 25 schools are involved with more on a waiting list! The play is cut to about an hour and 15 minutes and the schools (who won a lottery to be included) are given their scenes. It requires an immense amount of finagling as Douglas-Osmundson notes. “There is always negotiation involved, and flexibility is required, as I can’t give everyone their first choice.” The plays are cast in September, and the entire cast rehearses together the day before the performance. It’s an immense undertaking.
This year there is an added touch to the festival with a documentary showing the process of five schools involved. The documentarian, Anna Steinberg, is evidence of the impression Douglas-Osmundson makes on her students. Steinberg is a former student, now a sophomore at Brown University. In 2009, Steinberg participated in Shakespeare in the City as a sixth grader. Working on the documentary has given Steinberg an additional appreciation for the program. “Now that I’m working on the film, I have the opportunity to distance myself from just one school, and see the program as a whole.”
On May 16, 25 Providence schools will put on Macbeth at the Vets Auditorium in a free performance. Because Steinberg’s documentary is not a student film, they are having trouble finding festivals that will accept it; however, they are planning on showing the film at Brown and other colleges in the state.