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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fostering Children's Engagement With Shakespeare

  • Author(s): Blake Cavanaugh, Kerri Marie
  • Advisor(s): Chemers, Michael M
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

My goal as the production dramaturg for this year’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost was to utilize my skills in dramaturgy to help create a piece that is both engaging (attracting someone’s interest or attention to promote participation and involvement) and thought provoking for young audiences; who may not be emotionally or intellectually mature enough to engage with or even understand his complicated plays. This assertion begs the question, “Are children capable of engaging meaningfully with the works of William Shakespeare?” It is my theory that children are capable of engagement with his work, it is merely the method by which we present Shakespeare to younger students that is prohibiting their engagement and enjoyment.

I went about testing this theory through a series of pre-show workshops to see if the hands on application of dramaturgical strategies could enhance a group of children’s experience with a performance of Shakespeare. I utilized the post show “talk backs” of the performance to quantify their engagement with the work through the questions that they ask; with questions pertaining to the play (plot, themes, and characters) signifying their engagement, whereas seemingly random questions (like, “Do you like Jelly Beans?”) would showcase a lack of engagement. I executed these workshops at one school, working with three different age groups, to see if my interactions with them would differ in their engagement with the piece than those at other schools who did not receive my pre-show assistance.

In my thesis I explain the process and the results of this field study, drawing some interesting conclusions about the nature of the dramaturg’s role in this kind of educational outreach.

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