Arnaud & Shinjini – “Redesigning Shakespeare for the Great Lakes Theater”

Our mission: To “redesign Shakespeare” for the Cleveland-based Great Lakes Theatre (GLT).

Our solution: To repurpose the GLT’s two-week “Shakespeare Summer Camp” into a more extensive, community-focused series of workshops that take advantage of the empty theater and classroom spaces of the quiet summer months as well as the GLT’s already-existing network of connections with schools, public libraries, and local performance venues.

Our client: GLT advertises itself as “northeast Ohio’s professional classic theatre,” driven by its ambition of bringing “the pleasure, power and relevance of classic theatre to the widest possible audience.” Although the GLT brings several low-cost performances to local libraries and schools and runs theater workshops within the school system, the substantive part of GLT’s repertoire, and the substantive part of its revenue, is based on main-stage productions of Shakespeare. Throughout all of April this year, for instance, the company will be performing nothing but Hamlet, hoping to attract both traditionalist and more progressive audiences by alternating between a male and a female actor for the play’s titular role.

The problem: The theater’s financial situation, as it is specified on GLT’s website, is unpromising. The GLT is not receiving sufficiently many or sufficiently large donations to produce more than three long-term main-stage productions a year, let alone try to launch an advertising campaign for those plays or promote a touring troupe. Moreover, the cost-prohibitive $55 ticket-entry for regular adults seems to be both a side-effect and a vector of the financial problem. Audiences, increasingly accustomed to movie-theater prices for stage entertainment, are preferring either not to come at all or to purchase cheaper seats on the wings and far corners of the theater rather than pay for the best spots, many of which remain vacant from performance to performance. Even the GLT’s decision to provide on-stage seating at a significantly cheaper rate ($15) is failing to attract audiences who might wish to sit close to the play’s action. Another important problem: the company stages plays only during the school year (from September through May) and makes no profits with which to pay the cost of the theater house during the long summer months, besides a brief two weeks in June during its youth summer theater camp.

Our three big-picture goals: (1) to reinvigorate the funding situation of the GLT; (2) to renegotiate its image as a theater of “classics” in order to avoid the hint of elitism associated with theater (as opposed, for instance, to movie-theaters or Netflix); and (3) to expand the depth of its interaction with the local community and thereby foster greater audiences.

We also have a few procedural goals: In order to keep costs down and solicit more crowd-sourced feedback in the GLT’s redesigning of Shakespeare, we wish to draw especially on the GLT’s existing human and spatial resources: its connections with local schools and public libraries. We hope that in doing so we can help the GLT remaster its trademark as a “classic” theater to signify something closer to “community” rather than “canonical” or “aristocratic.” We hope also to reverse the standard equation that thinks of Shakespeare-appreciation as the end and the theater-house as the means; we wish to make the theater-house, the GLT itself, the end of the Cleveland community’s efforts, and let Shakespeare be the means.

Our product: The So You Think You Know Shakespeare? Summer Series (SYTYKS)

We propose to remodel the two-week youth summer theater camp into a two-month-long fleet of workshops, seminars, camps, tutored reading clubs, and for-credit high-school and college-level summer courses that would take place in various public venues around the GLT’s Hannah Theater, as well as throughout the Cleveland metroplex. Staying true to the GLT’s mission statement of catering to the widest possible clientele, the SYTYKS summer series is designed to be scalable and adaptable to the interests and availabilities of participants, aiming to make Shakespeare a meeting ground for a broad range of activities, hobbies, and curiosities. It divides generally into three elements: the theater camp, the high-school and college-level summer courses, and the adult-oriented workshops.

  1. The central pillar of the SYTYKS summer series builds on the GLT’s already-existing and growing summer camp. The redesigned summer camp (composed of a “Summer Shakespeare Playhouse” for children < 10 yrs. of age and a “Summer Shakespeare Intensive” for children > 13) would distance itself pedagogically from the frustrations and clichés of traditional summer camps and theater workshops. Rather than have every camp-day be dedicated to the all-consuming goal of a final pre-determined performance, for which props, lighting, and costume-design are a secondary thought, often hastily brought together at the last second by volunteering but exploited “drama-moms” and “drama-dads,” the redesigned summer camp would be based on a “build-your-own” and “maker-community” model.

    1. The Playhouse. Primary school children (aged 5-10 years) signed up for the “Summer Shakespeare Playhouse” would partake in age-appropriate role-playing, art-making, and even game-making activities after the Kill Shakespeare model. Visited daily by storytellers who adapt Shakespeare’s plays to young audiences to foster their imaginations, the kids would be encouraged to build their own Shakespeare-themed games or build props or parts of sets for their own using LEGOs, cushions, pillows, mattresses, papier-maché, and other non-hazardous arts-and-crafts materials. Final projects of especial merit would be displayed at their local schools or at public libraries. Sessions would take place at local recreation centers.

    2. The Summer Shakespeare Intensive. Middle-school and high-school age groups would begin their six-week “Summer Shakespeare Intensive” by exploring the possibilities of set-design, costume-design, and lighting by collaborating in hands-on workshops with volunteer stage technicians and various kinds of craftsmen and -women, including carpenters, jewellers, 3-D printers, seamstresses, &c. In small teams, the students would then decide what kinds of props, costumes, and set-design elements they want to play with and can feasibly build within one week. Using those various items, they would then begin exploring the possibilities of stage performance through improv sessions and performance workshops with the help of visiting volunteer actors, including perhaps the Hip Hop Shakespeare company or other touring troupes like Notre Dame Young Company. After gaining more confidence on stage, students would then begin adapting 15-minute one-act plays from Shakespeare original, and begin scheduling their rehearsals. A final performance and reception would then be held at the Hannah Theater, with tickets at student-pricing for all.
    Note: The Summer Shakespeare Intensive is on application-basis only, but it welcomes especially students with disabilities and from lower-income economic classes, and can offer some financial assistance to deflate costs of participation for accepted participants.

  2. Shakespeare For-Credit. For students less interested in performance, the SYTYKS summer series proposes a duo of three-week long for-credit summer classes for high-school and college students: “Shakespeare + Music” and “Shakespeare + Science.”

    1. Students attending the “Shakespeare and Music” course will have the opportunity to study the history of music in theater and film in order to inform their decisions as original song-writers and composers. Using monologues, sonnets, and other verse forms by Shakespeare and his contemporaries as inspiration, students will adapt and set 16th-17th century verse to music, or compose original scores for potential stage or film productions using GarageBand and other digital audio recording softwares. Classes will take place at local community colleges, in technology classrooms outfitted with keyboards and synthesizers. Students are encouraged to bring their own talents and instruments for three-hour creativity “sprints.” Final evaluations are based on short writing assignments and a capstone performance hosted at a downtown café, open to the general public. Students are made responsible for the set-up, tear-down, and advertising of the capstone performance.

    2. Students in the “Shakespeare + Science” course will begin by studying theories of matter, physics, and health from medieval and early modern medicine and science, as they’re found in the writings of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and comparing them critically with up-to-date theories of quantum physics, astrophysics, germ-theory, and molecular chemistry. The course will focus the majority of its attention on a series of lab sessions in which students will reenact basic alchemical experiments, optical experiments, anatomical dissections, and astronomical experiments that shook and defined the early modern period. Outcomes of these courses include literary-critical skills from direct engagement with primary texts of the early modern period, historical-critical skills, and an understanding of the methods and processes of elementary modern science. Two courses are designed, one for aspiring science majors in high school, the other for non-science-major undergraduates.
  3. Shakesparenting. The SYTYKS summer series wants to be especially attractive to students, since they are the future of Shakespeare and of theater-appreciation. But in line with the community-based approach of GLT, we propose to include a series of reading/book clubs, seminars, and informal get-togethers for parents and for retired members of the community, centering on themes of family and adult life. Weekly, flexible, evening meet-ups and group-ons (both directed and self-directed) at local cafés and bars will focus on the plays of the Bard, as well as modern adaptations (possible group names: The Bard on Tap, BrewBard, Coffee and the Bard, Ladies who Bard). At retirement homes and hospice centers, Shakespeare’s plays will serve as the basis both of arts-and-crafts workshops (e.g. Shakespeare in Needlepoint) and of directed reading groups organized by Case Western medical students in Medical Humanities classes. At YMCA centers and parishes of various religious denominations, seminars on the tragedies and comedies, facilitated by literature professors and parenting specialists, will help parents and expecting parents model, reflect on, and anticipate on present-day real life scenarios in family life.

Our promotion plan: Finally, as part of our advertising campaign for the SYTYKS summer series, we offer to revise the existing webpage to better promote the event. The single photo on the current webpage, albeit cute, hearkens only to a homogeneous community (white, upper-middle class, nuclear-family). We propose to replace it by a photo gallery, containing photos of participants from diverse racial and ethnic communities, signaling especially to disabled members of the Cleveland community that they are welcome to perform on the GLT stage, not just to sit in its seats. Trusting student-interest to drive parent-interest more effectively that parent-interest will drive student-interest, we propose to promote the SYTYKS theater camp more heavily at schools and on social media platforms, keeping traditional paper advertising costs for the “Shakesparenting” events, which will be published in parish bulletins, Sunday morning radio talk-shows, &c.

Our hope and vision: To rejuvenate the community’s interest first and foremost in its theater, the Great Lakes Theatre. We believe the works of Shakespeare carry sufficient cultural cachet, sufficient sentimental attachment, and sufficient intellectual depth to assemble participants from youth to retirement age who are already looking for non-financial ways to participate in the GLT’s passion for classic theater. We are certain that a reinvestment in the space of the theater, especially familiarizing young students with the stage and the back-stage, would help promote audiences, especially audiences who want to be as close to and familiar with the stage as possible. The usual benefits of Summer Shakespeare camps and workshops include helping students grow social and public skills as well as pass the obligatory academic hurdle of reading Shakespeare, aka “passing the Bard exam.” In addition to helping young learners build social skills, public speaking, team-work, leadership, &c.; in addition to helping high-school and college-age students earn hard skills in science, arts, crafts, music, literature, and history; in addition to forming future Shakespeare-enthusiasts, builders, makers, and artisans; in addition to helping parents and retired members of the community navigate difficult obstacles of adult life, we hope the So You Think You Know Shakespeare? summer series will help Cleveland rediscover the cross-generational, “classic” appeal of its very own Great Lakes Theater.