Setting the Stage for Learning

They’ve never seen Shakespeare quite like this

11/20/2009  |  JENNIFER CHAMBERS
arts festival

During the 2009/2010 school year, Hampton Roads and Southeastern Virginia students will have a unique opportunity through the Virginia Arts Festival’s WorldClass Education Program to experience the Bard’s plays — all 37 of them in just 97 whirlwind minutes — in a way that’s sure to have them laughing and learning at the same time.

The critically acclaimed and outrageously funny Complete Works of Williams Shakespeare (abridged), presented by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, is one of two performances that will let area students get up close and personal with the world’s greatest playwright.

The American Shakespeare Center on Tour will also conduct workshops for students and present a performance of All’s Well That Ends Well, offering a hands-on artistic adventure.

“It really gives kids a full picture of what it’s like to be a performer, but also to see the performers in action,”says Virginia Arts Festival Education Director Megan DiPaolo.

For the 14th year, the Virginia Arts Festival will reach out to area students by presenting once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see world class artists immersed in their crafts through student matinees and in-school performances.

But the Virginia Arts Festival’s education programs are much more than just performances.

“Teachers have the option of bringing the artists into their schools,”says DiPaolo,“and having one-on-one, more intimate experienceswith theseartists.”In-SchoolWorkshops and Master Classes give students a chance to interact with artists in ways that can be life-changing.

Just during this season alone, the Virginia Arts Festival will offer Master Classes with teachers from three eminent dance companies, including Garth Fagan Dance, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Pilobolus Dance Theater.

The Festival continues its fruitful partnership with The Rhythm Project, which showcases the infectious intensity of West African and Caribbean drumming.A special performance by the Rhythm Projects All Stars lets kids have a chance to see other kids at their best. “It gives students in the audience an example of what they can achieve if they really apply themselves,” explains DiPaolo.

A student favorite every year is the Virginia International Tattoo, a non-stop parade of marching bands, drill teams and other performers from around the world.

During last year’s festival, one student, who had been going through a challenging personal time, told his teacher the experience was the “best day of his life.”

“If we can create those kinds of experiences for children,” DiPaolo says,“I think we’re definitely succeeding in what we’re trying to do.”

The Virginia Arts Festival has made an ambitious commitment to reach every student in Hampton Roads at least once through its Arts For Everyone initiative, which specifically targets students who might otherwise never get to have an artistic experience of this type.

And teachers can enhance the experience with valuable insight and tools from the Virginia Festival’s SOL-based study guides.

“Music, and all of the arts really, just enhance the way a child learns,”says DiPaolo.“It grows community;it grows with them as cooperative people within a classroom setting. It’s a great teaching tool for any teacher to use, not just a teacher of the arts.”

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