Shakespeare comes alive at Highland Creek library

The Highland Creek library bustled with animated adaptations of Shakespearean plays recently.

The library is one of 30 to host the Shakespeare for Kids Library Club, a literacy program for kids created by Shakespeare in Action, a professional theatre company bringing the playwright’s works to young people across Ontario.

“It’s a starting point for kids to access Shakespeare,” said Mat Howard, general manager of Shakespeare in Action.

The company started in 1988 and created a seasonal kids program seven years ago in partnership with the Toronto Public Library. The program aims to bring literature to children and lessen what can be the daunting experience of learning Shakespeare during their high school years.

“There’s not a lot out there in terms of developing literacy, developing confidence, reading, writing and speaking the language,” Howard said. “[It] gives young people the opportunity to get acquainted with the language.”

Parents approach the program with some hesitation but after just a few weeks are able to see how positively their children respond to the program, according to Howard.

“Children’s brains are able to absorb language and process language in a better way than adults are able to do,” Howard said. “The students have an easier time with the language the earlier you expose them to it.”

With funding from TD Bank Financial Group, Shakespeare in Action was able to hire more professionals, expand the number of plays it teachs and reach children in priority neighbourhoods, where most of the sessions are offered.

From the program, students experience growth in their language and confidence, said Tattiawna Jones, artistic educator for the afternoon session at the Highland Creek library.

“[They’re] able to be themselves and be expressive and not be shy about that,” Jones said.

Her classes start with a warm-up where the students talk about what’s happening in their lives and draw parallels to the characters of the plays they are reading. The plays are abridged versions of the originals adapted by Michael Kelly, founder and artistic director of Shakespeare in Action.

One of Jones’ lessons included her version of the popular kid’s game Mafia. The premise involves a murder among the duelling houses of Montague and Capulet. The kids, who assume roles as citizens of Verona, are assigned the task of catching the killer, making sure to keep the important characters alive.

Like Jones, artistic educators in the program develop activities to teach literacy. Through the program, students become more experimental with language, expand their vocabulary and gain the confidence to explore language, said Howard.

The plays studied are The Tempest, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Twelfth Night.

The Shakespeare for Kids Library Club is offered free of charge to children age 7 to 12 during winter, spring and fall. The last class for 2010 was Dec. 11 but the program will start again in February.