Shakespeare Travels Around New Orleans

September 23, 2001

Alex Wahl, <i>Hullabaloo</i> contributing writer
Phone: (504) 865-5210

"We want to show students how powerful words can be," Tulane professor Aimee Michel said of Shakespeare on the Road. The traveling branch of The Shakespeare Festival has gained widespread recognition for its efforts to get local youth excited about the British playwright.

Over the past two years, Shakespeare on the Road has traveled to the most challenged schools in the New Orleans area performing brief shows that integrate a variety of popular Shakespearian plot lines for interactive student audiences. Shakespeare on the Road is many of these students' first exposure to Shakespeare, as most of the schools visited have little or no arts programs. The organization wants to make the exposure enticing.

The idea is "to hook students early before they're turned off by the difficult language," Michel said. "If students can find a way to relate to what Shakespeare is communicating, then they become interested. The professional actors who perform for this festival accomplish this through lively, original interpretations and showing the students that "many of the words we use everyday were invented by Shakespeare."

Michel, who runs the festival, has also directed most of the on-campus shows that the organization has performed. There are three such plays each summer. Two feature professional actors and one features student interns. There is also a performance in January that features professional actors.

Although the majority of the players are from Tulane, students from colleges all over New Orleans participate in the festival's summer internship program, where they can earn course credit and money while working with professional actors. Although two of the summer performances hire only professional actors, students occupy some backstage positions.

In addition, interns are cast in the final summer performance. Interestingly, some participants were first attracted to the program through Shakespeare on the Road at their high school. Louisiana law requires Shakespeare to be taught in public schools, yet lack of funding and training makes it difficult to follow this educational guideline. Michel explains that after the first Shakespeare on the Road tour, teachers loved the program and wanted the company to return.

Unfortunately, local schools did not have sufficient funds to maintain Shakespeare on the Road. However, early in the history of the festival, the Entergy Corporation agreed to fund the performances for those schools that could not afford them. The festival gained local recognition through television ads for Lighting the Way to Literacy. Now, the festival is at the height of its popularity.

There are currently six-week Shakespeare on the Road tours scheduled for the spring and fall in addition to the summer performances at the Lupin Theatre and the January show in Dixon Hall. Students do not have to be involved with the Tulane arts program in order to participate. Those who are interested in becoming involved in the summer internship program should contact Production Manager Brad Robbert at x1788.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000