But—no big surprise here—it seems that for many actors, community leaders, students, teachers, artists, and scholars, “Shakespeare” and “school” go together like “Romeo” and “Juliet.”
What are we talking about? On April 23rd, the Folger celebrated 400 years of Shakespeare and commemorated the day of Shakespeare’s birth and death by hosting a live streaming event called The Wonder of Will LIVE. All kinds of inspiring people shared their personal connections to Shakespeare through stories and performances. In our eyes, of course, the most famous of all are Francisca Piantini, a DC high school senior; Donna Denize, a DC high school teacher; and Kaya Henderson, our beloved Chancellor of DC Public Schools. YAY!
The show was broadcast on C-SPAN2 Book TV and c-span.org and is—great news for everyone!—archived online. You can watch the whole thing here.
And just to give you a sense of how prominent K-12 education was at this event: over the course of the program, the name “Hamlet” was mentioned more than any other character or play—by 6 speakers. The word “school” was mentioned by 10 speakers.
We were deeply moved by all of the Shakespeare stories we heard on Saturday, and we think that you—our dearest teaching colleagues—will especially appreciate these highlights:
Dr. Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library: “Junior high school teachers and high school teachers are the gateway to the arts and humanities. If you arrived in college and had a great professor there is something that happened before that, and we realize that, which is why we want every child who has an experience with Shakespeare before they are 18 to have a fantastic experience… because those doors are going to open…That is the place, and we really love those teachers.”
Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of DC Public Schools: “Othello showed me that people like me could excel. Not only could we excel…in fact, we have been doing it throughout history, for hundreds of years. In my current role, I have the pleasure and the honor of sharing that important lesson with the 50,000 students of DC Public Schools. My students and I, we owe a huge debt to the Bard. Thank you, William Shakespeare, for showing us who we could be in the world.”
Dr. Ellen MacKay, Director of Indiana University’s Institute for the Digital Arts and Humanities: “I respect high school teachers who teach Shakespeare a tremendous amount and I want to send out all my praise and affection to them because once [students] come to me they are already interested. They are already oriented to Shakespeare because of the great work teachers are doing.”
Francisca Piantini, 12TH Grade Student at Bell Multicultural HS in DC: “My Shakespeare story began when I was in ninth grade. I had recently arrived from the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean… I started reading Macbeth with [my school’s] book club. The language of Shakespeare amazed me. It mesmerized me. I was so intrigued by how the language had changed in so many years and how people could still read this and understand it and make ideas out of it. I decided that I was going to keep reading Shakespeare, that I was going to be a fan of his…I came out of my shell and started speaking to other students about it. We were learning together… When I became a tenth grader, we read Julius Caesar [in class] and that’s when I decided to apply for the Lily McKee Fellowship here at the Folger.”
Dr. Jane Chu, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts: “‘Who’s there?’ …When I read Hamlet I was in high school and was slightly younger than the Hamlet character, but like a lot of adolescents I grappled with answering the question of ‘who is there’ for myself.”