Actors pay to perform Shakespeare for young audiences

Kaleb Alexander as MacDuff and David Shelley as Macbeth in a 2011 Shakespeare Challenge production. Photo courtesy Shakespeare in Action. (SHAKESPEARE_EDIT)

Wendy Krekeler used to be a professional actor. However, she couldn’t find enough work to make it her career.

“You get to a certain age and you just realize you have to have a career and think about retirement,” she said. “I loved being an actor. It was the thing that got me get up in the morning.”

Now an English and ESL drama teacher at L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Krekeler will get the chance to perform again, thanks to Shakespeare in Action.

A Toronto not-for-profit classical theatre company, Shakespeare in Action needs 15 adults to participate in its “Shakespeare Challenge.” In its inaugural year, the challenge is a unique fundraising campaign. Participants need to raise at least $1,500 to appear in the company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in February. Proceeds will subsidize tickets for youth in priority neighbourhoods, so they can watch Shakespeare for free.

Michael Kelly is the founder and artistic director of Shakespeare in Action. He said the language barrier children face when trying to understand Shakespeare can only be broken when they watch the plays.

“Often kids can be confused as to why they’re learning Shakespeare. They think the language is old,” Kelly said. “But once they hear it and see it, they understand that these are living, breathing characters.”

As an English teacher, Krekeler agreed. Teaching Shakespeare in school is a bit dry, she admitted.

“I’m sure Shakespeare would be rolling over in his grave if he realized how we’re torturing students these days,” Krekeler said. “The fact that some kids don’t get to see live theatre is tragic. But companies like Shakespeare in Action give us the opportunity to let students see how this material was supposed to be experienced.”

Kelly, who has taught master classes for the Stratford Festival, said the lessons youth can learn from his plays are invaluable.

“It’s ultimately about the idea of good and evil. Shakespeare was a master at drawing that out through his metaphors and his plays,” he said. “It has an inherent kind of mystical power of the language that travels through us. It makes us feel something that we don’t often get today.”