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Going after bullying with lyrical force of Shakespeare

Published 9:21 am, Sunday, May 5, 2013
  • During a recent presentation by members of Shakespeare on the Sound in Stamford, Nicholas Urda, Iris McQuillan-Grace, Chris Smalley and Nedina Senghore act out an anti-bullying sketch. Photo: Contributed
    During a recent presentation by members of Shakespeare on the Sound in Stamford, Nicholas Urda, Iris McQuillan-Grace, Chris Smalley and Nedina Senghore act out an anti-bullying sketch. Photo: Contributed

 

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Shakespeare on the Sound is offering workshops to schools, using the emotional intensity of the Bard's conflicted personalities and poetic expression to address the troubling issue of bullying.

Connecticut has enacted legislation declaring schools as harassment-free environments, and a Connecticut School Health Survey report reveals that at the high school level bullied students are more likely to miss classes because they feel unsafe, suffer depression, carry a weapon to campus or commit suicide.

Shakespeare on the Sound has recruited a corps of Connecticut and New York performers to deliver interactive forums on harassment and conflict resolution refined especially for students from middle to high school.

In collaboration with the teachers and support staff at the schools, the workshops present the actors in staged performances of compulsively viewable conflict drawn from Shakespeare's plays, selected to stimulate improvisational drama and vigorously meaningful give-and-take with the students.

Emily Bryan, of Darien, the director of education at Shakespeare on the Sound, said, "Bullying and peer aggression is generally about an unequal balance of power. The abuse that accompanies the misbehavior often goes undetected because it is psychologically complex and subtle, especially among young people.

"Shakespeare's plays underline the complexities of conflict and power dynamics in human relationships. Even though they are 400 years old or more, the stories resonate profoundly with audiences because the characters and moral vitality are so timelessly universal."

Three of the Bard's classics -- "Romeo and Juliet," "the Merchant of Venice" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- all exposing complicated human beings in agonizing conflict with each other and themselves, have been excerpted and adapted for the educational outreach.

"Speaking Daggers," as the sensitivity training for young minds is called, is inspired by a line from a fourth Shakespeare classic, "Hamlet," where the Prince of Denmark confronts his mother and tells her he will "speak daggers but use none."

"Shakespeare's voice and the theatrical experience," Bryan said, "encourage the students to develop a sense of empathy and forgiveness and make them emphatically more aware of the consequences of their actions and how even words delivered unthinkingly can devastate the lives of others."

Shakespeare on the Sound's workshops have been conducted in schools in Norwalk, Stamford and Hartford.

For information, call 203-299-1300 or visit www.shakespeareonthesound.org.