~by Jess Jung
Shakespeare for a New Generation is a national program of the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest.
When I first walked into Ballou High School I was intimidated. I didn’t exactly…fit in. Nevertheless, I handed my I.D. to the security guard, placed my purse onto the black conveyer belt, passed through the metal detector, and headed towards Ms. Polk’s Acting Two class.
It was instantly clear that the challenge with my Ballou students would be to identify ways they could connect to Shakespeare. To these students, Shakespeare was some dead dude that pretty much wrote in a foreign language. So who cares? Fortunately, Ms. Polk had told me that her students connect to music. In fact, she often plays hip-hop to motivate her students during work time. This seemed to be the best place for us to start.
I began my first lesson with The Beatbox Game (one student starts a beat and each member of the group layers in another sound using their body and/or voice). Ms. Polk’s students, smiling, swiftly created a beatbox melody and we were on our way to our next task – writing a lyric from their favorite song on a piece of paper. I then asked the students to swap papers and read the lyrics. “Why are these lyrics our favorite? What moves us? What do they all have in common?” A discussion ensued that ultimately led to two answers: rhythm and images. “And that’s Shakespeare’s text! Shakespeare’s most famous lines are just like the lyrics you wrote on your paper.”
As I left Ms. Polk’s class I felt successful. Although they were far from Shakespeare experts, Ms. Polk’s students found a connection to Shakespeare through their love of music. It just goes to show that every student can connect to Shakespeare – you just have to plug them into right outlet.
Jess Jung is a Teaching Artist for Folger Teaching Artists in the Schools, a program generously funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest under Shakespeare for a New Generation. Jess earned her MFA in directing from DePaul University, and applies her theatrical and educational talents as a teaching artist for various other programs in the DC area.