In July of 2017, it became even clearer how important our Shakespeare Intensive for Teens (SIT) camp is for its social value as much as for the artistic. This year’s happened to include several LGBTQA youth of various identities, only one of whom felt supported at school and home. SIT was the first place all year in which they had felt safe to be themselves. These kids were hurting very deeply, and on some days, the Teaching Artists delayed rehearsal in order to just let the kids keep talking and supporting one another. Only a few of these young people intend to pursue artistic careers; most of them participate in SIT in order to have a safe and accepting place in which to find out who they are and what they want to become.
Additionally, we joke about “Saving the World through Iambic Pentameter”, but by using Shakespeare’s texts to teach empathy, tolerance, interpersonal skills, business skills, and articulation, we literally shape our community one classroom at a time. In fact, the real-life, cumulative effect of our programming is best exemplified by the words of Bashel Lewis. We first met Bashel when he was a freshman at Booker T. Washington HS, one of the more at-risk APS schools. He writes, “Needing to find an emotional outlet to cope with the daily struggles of gang violence, economic disenfranchisement, and peer pressure, I joined the Shakespeare Residency. Academically, the Residency helped improve my study habits of analyzing text and annotating books. Emotionally, the Residency put me in a happier place while in school, which was pivotal to the success of my academics. Now, in college I’m able to navigate spaces with confidence, keeping in mind the values that the Atlanta Shakespeare Company taught me”.
Through 3 years of participation in our Residencies, Bashel gained significant skills that he channeled into a life of choice rather than circumstance. Bashel graduated high school with honors, and is now majoring in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. He is on track to graduate in 2019, and credits us with addressing many of his needs as a youth and setting him on a path to success.