‘Be Not Afraid of Greatness:’ Students Engage With Middle-Schoolers through Theater

For rising sixth-graders, middle school can seem as foreign as Stratford-upon-Avon. Theater students at UT are working with the Great Schools Partnership and Knox County Schools on a reading enrichment pilot program that seeks to smooth this transition period for upcoming middle schoolers.

The program, called Shakespeare in Shades, is aimed at selected rising sixth-graders from Knox County Schools. Teams of UT theater students serve as theater assistants and mentors. This summer enrichment program blends theater games with Shakespearean texts, all while working to stage a final performance of an adapted middle school novel.

Shakespeare in Shades

UT students involved in Shakespeare in Shades, from left to right, are Luis Pedraza, Emily Helton, Julia Stark, and Andrew Drake. Photo by Hana Sherman.

“I’m excited to introduce these kids to a passion for theater and storytelling that people in my life were able to do for me,” said UT Masters of Fine Arts Theatre program graduate Andrew Drake. “My hope is that these children will leave the program knowing that Shakespeare and other famous writers were just regular people, writing stories about their everyday lives, which have so many similarities to the themes and struggles that people deal with today.”

The youth participants are rising middle schoolers who attended Beaumont Magnet, Lonsdale, Norwood, Green Magnet, or Sarah Moore Greene Elementary School and will be attending either Northwest Middle or Vine Magnet Middle School in the fall.

“Shakespeare in Shades is a program where we have the opportunity to instill in students a love of theater by teaching reading creatively and inspiring them to use their imaginations,” said Julia Stark, one of the UT Theatre students helping to lead the class.

Camp-goers will rehearse on campus in the Clarence Brown Theatre’s Carousel Theatre during the final week of the program, June 27–30. Vine Magnet Middle will be presenting an adaptation of Holes by Louis Sachar, and Northwest Middle will present an adaptation of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.

“The Clarence Brown Theatre is honored to be collaborating with Great Schools Partnership and Knox County Schools on Shakespeare in Shades this summer, as it is the first program of its kind in our region,” said Clarence Brown Theatre Managing Director David Byrd. “In addition to fostering a love of the arts, the experience will increase reading proficiency through the practice of theater for the rising sixth-graders. UT students will gain just as much as the middle schoolers through this unique partnership.”

Shakespeare in Shades is made possible through the Great Schools Partnership, in partnership with Knox County Schools and the Clarence Brown Theatre. In addition to the UT theater students, Knox County teachers serve as reading and theater faculty advisers at each site.

“As we strive to create the best schools in the South, we must be creative,” said Stephanie Welch from Great Schools Partnership. “Shakespeare in Shades taps into one of our communities’ creative gems—UT’s Clarence Brown Theatre—to build reading skills among middle school youth.”

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

Catherine Willis (865-974-2125, cwillis@utk.edu)