Amount Funded: $1,000.00
Number of Students Served by Project: 32
The Ruus Shakespeareans is an after-school program for 5th and 6th graders who put together an annual unabridged production of one of Shakespeare's plays. Within each play, the students also perform a full set list of contemporary music that helps to tell the story. Each song, typically a rock song, is related to the theme of the play. The band's instruments include guitars, keyboard, drums, and vocals. The Ruus Shakespeareans learn about language and diction, teamwork, focus, discipline, patience, and commitment, among other things. Throughout the year the students attend daily rehearsals, while also getting music lessons to their specific instruments.
We've gotten a grant from HEF for the Ruus Shakespeareans many years ago which helped to pay for our stage and risers. However, the one thing we haven't had are guard rails. For many years I had to borrow them from a nearby staging company, just to make sure that our guests were seated safely at the performances. We're trying to get our guard rails so that we have them for all future productions.
The Ruus Shakespeareans objectives are designed to teach the students skills which will help them for the rest of their lives. Here are the objectives:
• Will learn large amounts of new vocabulary;
• will increase their ability to focus for long periods of time;
• will improve their patience;
• will learn to work as a team;
• will learn to stand up and speak confidently in front of others;
• will learn not to be afraid of making mistakes;
• will be supportive of peers who struggle;
• will practice independently to perfect skills; and
• will make a yearlong commitment to a project and finish what they start.
These skills are worked on every rehearsal, and there is little mention or focus given to performances. Working as a team, they constantly work at speaking Shakespeare's words correctly and telling the story through the text and music. Their development as teammates and problem solvers is emphasized every rehearsal, as many mistakes are presented as a chance to solve a problem and figuring out how they would solve it. The question given every year is ""what will you do when things go wrong?"" They're constantly reminded that staying calm and continuing on is usually the best choice.
A project like this doesn't work unless students learn the value and importance of practice, patience, and responsibility. This is a difficult lesson to teach. The students learn from the beginning that they’re expected to go home, practice, and come back better the next rehearsal. If a scene or song being reviewed doesn’t improve as planned, the students are reminded of the importance responsibility, as they don't only hurt themselves but also the entire team. But more often than not, they see themselves improve significantly, even though they didn't even believe it was possible at first. With these improvements, the students raise their own expectations of themselves and that is a beautiful moment.
The musicians specifically are taught to read sheet music so as to be more independent. It would take too much time to teach them all instruments and how to play a song. Instead, by knowing how to read sheet music, they have the skills to independently practice and the opportunity to show their responsibility to come prepared every rehearsal.
It's easy and simultaneously difficult to evaluate something involved in the performing arts. Perhaps some examples of what we've done in the past will answer this question.
We had a scene in our production of Much Ado About Nothing that combined text, music, and dance all into one moment. We took a party scene with many characters speaking, and tied in the song Jump, Jive An' Wail along with an intricate swing dance number. The timing of the lines, music and dance were so intertwined and dependent upon one another, and the students quickly understood that every person in that scene mattered. If any part of the scene was off, everyone involved was set back. When everything finally clicked, they knew it was because of their perseverance and belief that every person in that moment mattered and their success meant the entire team was successful.
We have another instance of that in last year’s production, where we’ve taken a long speech by a character and blended in music, dance, and sign language. In Katherine’s important speech at the end of The Taming of the Shrew, we combined it with Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed. The timing of her speech, song, dance, and sign language made a speech that was supposed to be for one person now involve 18 people who are all depending on each other to have their responsibilities down correctly and on time.
Another moment to highlight would be in this year’s production of The Tempest, where we have Prospero giving his speech to Miranda of how they came to the island, while the band also plays Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street to assist in creating the mood of the scene and the tone of the lines. Both the actors and musicians have to listen to each other and be prepared with their parts. It take a scene meant for two people, and allows 10 people on stage to help tell the story.
By combining Shakespeare, music, and dance, the students have a tremendously fun time learning about being a team, and more students get to be involved in scenes that were originally meant for only one or a few actors. By combining so many elements together, they really must learn to work as a team. By doing so, they see that they can accomplish much more by working together than by working alone.
Throughout the year, we always emphasize each rehearsal should be better than the one before it. At the beginning of the year, there are always a million things wrong with a scene, song, dance, etc. However, we make sure to emphasize what has gotten better since the last time the scene was reviewed. After doing this for several months, combined with the knowledge that the previous year's students were able to accomplish it as well, it creates that belief in the students that they can keep improving and keep getting better. It comes together beautifully by the end of the year.
Because we combine so many elements into a production (acting, music, dance, sign language, tech, etc.) there is a part for everyone who is interested, and they can work to their strengths while still being a part of a team. This way, more students get to be involved and contribute.
Since the program is after school, any 5th or 6th grade student is welcome to join. Communication with each teacher is kept open as to how the students are doing in class first and foremost. However, there is a culture of high expectations created amongst the students and it carries over into the classroom. On top of that, it's wonderful to see teachers come to the performances to cheer on their students who decided to join the program, and strongly recommend it to future students as well.
By making it after school and opening it to all 5th and 6th graders, this isn't just some exclusive club meant for just one classroom of students. It allows students who aren't normally in the same class together to work on a challenging project together that they normally wouldn't have had the opportunity to do during the day. Also, the lessons they learn from the program get carried with them into their regular day classroom. Teachers are often asked about the students in the Shakespeare program to see if their focus and work ethic have improved and show in their academic work.
We’ve also pieced together little concerts on top of our Shakespeare productions in previous years, and played pieces of it to most classes throughout the school. We typically get a very excited “Yes” when we ask a class if they would like to come and hear a bit of what the students have worked on. Also, because we’ve now been doing this for 9 years, we’re now at the point of getting the younger siblings of former students who got to watch what we’ve done for several years, and they’re excited that it will soon be their turn to be in the program. Currently, I’ve got 6 students this year who had an older sibling in the program from before.
A teacher at our school had her husband come to one of our performances of The Taming of the Shrew last year. He enjoyed it so much that he wanted to do us a favor. He happens to work with HARD, and got us a performance at the Douglas Morrisson Theatre. It’s our first ever performance in a large and professional theater, and it would never have happened without that type of support.