Hamlet in Juvy

This past Memorial Day weekend, a special group of teens came together to perform adapted scenes from Shakespeare for their peers. It’s not a traditional summer holiday activity for kids, that’s for sure; but these kids are in Alameda County Juvenile Hall, where neither beach trips, nor barbecues, nor performing Shakespeare is an everyday occurrence.

For several years, Cal Shakes has worked closely with Write to Read, a program of the Alameda County Library; Juvenile Hall’s head librarian Amy Cheney; and Associate Artist Andy Murray to provide Shakespeare workshops in the hall’s classrooms. This May, we expanded to our first evening residency: three hours per week over four weeks in which students took on selected scenes from Hamlet. With the guidance of new teaching artists Sean Levon Nash and Jade Raybin as well as Cal Shakes Artistic Administrator Daunielle Rasmussen, students read scenes from Hamlet and Hamlet: Blood in the Brain by Naomi Iizuka, then improvised the actions of the play to create performance pieces that recast Shakespeare’s characters in modern times.

On the final night of the residency, six students performed for an audience of fifteen peers and three staff members, a first in our three years of Shakespeare at the Hall. Plans are in the works for further residencies at Alameda County Juvenile Hall and, with the help of consultant Kim Nelson, we are pursuing new partnerships with other organizations and facilities serving juvenile offenders.

Pictured above: Jade Raybin, Sean Levon Nash, Daunielle Rasmussen, and Cal Shakes Director of Artistic Learning Trish Tillman in a curriculum meeting for the Hamlet residency; photo by Brianna Regan.

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