“A lot of times, people hear ‘Shakespeare’ and they say, ‘Oh, my kid’s not an actor,’ or ‘Those words are too hard,’ or, ‘My kid’s not a good reader,’” says Keith McGill, Teaching Artist with Kentucky Shakespeare. “It’s never been about how well you read. Shakespeare was given to people who weren’t allowed to read or didn’t know how to read. And what I want to be able to do is, you are creating a play so that you understand it a lot more than if you were just trying to read the play.”
Kids of all ages come to Camp Shakespeare in Louisville and Frankfort and get the experience of learning, creating, and performing Shakespeare in a welcoming environment.
“At Camp Shakespeare, we create a play, but they also get to invent costumes,” says McGill, “They get to reimagine the play. We play games all day. We learn some acting tools. What’s wonderful about being able to do it at Liberty Hall and Orlando Brown House is that we have this huge garden, so I make sure that we’re outside as much as possible because doing Shakespeare in this wonderful garden gives it that extra lift.”
McGill wants campers to understand that, behind the Elizabethan language and settings, the stories Shakespeare wrote are centered on themes that they can still relate to today.
“This year I wanted to do ‘Merchant of Venice’ because it’s a play about a Jewish man who lives in a world that’s mostly Christian,” says McGill. “He’s already an outsider and he’s being treated as such because he’s Jewish – not because he’s done anything wrong. Not because he’s broken any laws or is a bad person.”
Through working on the play, participants see how those themes come into play in their own lives.
“Am I an outsider because of my race? Am I an outsider because of my gender? Or because I’m a kid and you’re an adult?” says McGill. “And what I really want to do with this is let the kids see that this story is about you.
“I think it’s really important that the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival and Camp Shakespeare go outside of Louisville so that people understand that it’s not just a big city thing or a cosmopolitan thing,” McGill continues. “Shakespeare actually went to people who were farmers, who were servants. And they understood the stories because the stories are about people.”
At the end of the program, campers perform their play for an audience of their family members.
“You’re nervous beforehand, and maybe people don’t know their lines, but it always turns out okay at the end,” says camper Sophie Dufour. “It’s always fun in the moment to say those lines and the audience laughs at the funny lines. It’s really satisfying.”
“The parents that are part of this are so into it,” says McGill. “Seeing your child perform Shakespeare, which has been put on such a pedestal, and saying, ‘I can’t believe my 8-year-old can say these words and they make sense, and I’m into the story.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life #2521, which originally aired on July 25, 2020. Watch the full episode.