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BWW Interview: Director of Education, Brian B. Crowe Talks About Programming at THE SHAKESPEARE THEATRE OF NJ

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BWW Interview: Director of Education, Brian B. Crowe Talks About Programming at THE SHAKESPEARE THEATRE OF NJ

We are continuing our series with theatre professionals to learn about how some of New Jersey's top organizations are dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak. Brian B. Crowe, the Director of Education at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey gave us significant insights into their programing.

Crowe is in his 25th season with The Shakespeare Theatre where he is the Director of Education. His directing credits include Titus Andronicus, The Bungler, Coriolanus, Pericles, Oliver Twist, Timon of Athens, The School for Wives, The Winter's Tale, Henry VI: Blood & Roses, Julius Caesar, Love's Labour's Lost, The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors on the Main Stage; William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play, Love's Labour's Lost, The Learned Ladies, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew on the Outdoor Stage; as well as scores of productions for the Theatre's education department. Other directing credits include The Human Race Theatre Company, Dayton Playhouse. He is currently teaching at Drew University. He received BFA degrees in Directing and Acting from Wright State University.

We very much appreciate Brian's responses to our questions.

Your education program has a fantastic reputation. Why do you think it is such a standout?

Our educational offerings reach patrons, and young people, and artists in very personal, fun, and often profound ways. The educational and artistic missions of the Theatre are symbiotic; they're intertwined in a way that encourages the highest level of work from the students and the teachers. Everyone is pushed to achieve more than they think is possible in themselves.

The pursuit of excellence and a wholesale rejection of mediocrity is at the heart of our all of our programs. We expect a great deal of our students and they are eager to rise to the challenges put before them. This is true of our residencies (grades 4 - 7), our summer Shakespeare Corps camps (ages 10-18), and our Summer Professional Training Program (college and graduate-level artist training). We have a wonderfully talented team of artists -many of whom have come up through the ranks of our training programs - who challenge and encourage the students to be more than they think they can be.

Our youngest participants are fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders in our in-school residencies. We guide them and give them tools to unlock the power of language. We encourage them to become detectives, deciphering the clues Shakespeare has laid in the forms of imagery, themes, allusions, and sounds. We push the desks away and let them become actors (and athletes and dancers and singers and designers) as they bring these rich, fun, and very accessible stories to life; four-hundred-year-old stories told in their voices and through their imaginations. It is empowering, and for some children it is life-changing. Over the course of a 5-day or 20-day residency, they unlock the power of "Shakespeare!" "Shakespeare," which they have been told is too difficult for them, beyond their abilities. "Shakespeare," which many say is only for elitists and scholars. But through these residencies, our students find that Shakespeare is fun and real and absolutely for them! They understand him. They can perform him. They own him. To see a child, especially one who does not excel in a traditional classroom environment, tackle and triumph over the same "Shakespeare" that they've been told is too difficult for them, is one of the greatest dividends of our work. Language empowers people. As one of our students said, "I can do Shakespeare, now I can do anything!"

The "Summer Shakespeare" theatre camp for kids from 10 to 14 and 14 to 18 is a very popular program. What can participants expect from the 2020 session?

Our summer Shakespeare Corps for young people offers 2- and 3-week summer acting camps for all types of kids. The Junior Corps (ages 10-14) is for first-time performers and budding stars. This program focusses on an ensemble approach to story-telling, language, and the joy of theatre. Students focus on basic acting skills and present a short final ensemble retelling of a piece of classic literature - such as Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or The Odyssey. The Senior Corps (ages 14-18) is a three-week program designed for teens who are looking to grow as performers. In addition to classes and workshops, these students leave the program with fully coached audition monologues and present an abridged Shakespeare play. Our newest summer program is The Young Shakespeareans. Admittance to this two-week all-day performance-based intensive is by audition only. With a focus on the rich language of Shakespeare and the necessity for epic and honest performances, the program sets high expectations for participants. Classic theatre demands the highest levels of discipline, imagination, and rigor from actors. Past groups have tackled Hamlet and Richard III. This summer the troupe will take on Shakespeare's dark romantic comedy Twelfth Night.

Tell us a little about The Summer Professional Training program and how it prepares people for the theatrical arts.

The Summer Professional Training Program was one of the first programs launched by our Artistic Director, Bonnie J. Monte, when she began here 30 years ago. It is a demanding and rewarding program designed to bridge the collegiate and professional worlds. Each year we accept young artists from across the globe, who arrive for a rigorous summer immersion in the world of a professional regional theatre. The three-tier approach to training includes Education (students receive classes, workshops, and master classes in their area of study), Observation (students get to see and discuss professional and student work on stage and off, honing their critical eye and sharpening their vocabulary when addressing theatrical work; they also get to work alongside acclaimed professionals in the field), and Execution (students do what they came to do: actors get to act, designers get to design, etc.). In addition to being involved in the Main Stage and Outdoor Stage productions, students also participate in their own black box series, providing valuable opportunities to apply the skills they are learning in classes as well as showcasing their work to the whole Shakespeare company (from students to staff to guest artists).

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, STNJ has made (and is still making) adjustments to its summer programs in order to keep students and staff safe. For more information, email Education@ShakespeareNJ.org or visit our ShakespeareTraining.org.

We'd love to know about "Shakespeare Live"

Shakespeare LIVE is our flagship education program, reaching 20-30,000 students annually. These abridged touring productions bring energetic, exciting, and engaging Shakespeare right into the schools. Each assembly runs about 75-minutes and includes a post-show discussion with the actors. LIVE was launched with a grand desire to make sure that no student graduated from a New Jersey high school without having the opportunity to see a live performance of Shakespeare. Since its inception, the company has reached nearly 700,000 students, many of whom were seeing their first Shakespeare play. In some cases, it was their first live theatre experience. Introducing the next generation of potential theatre-goers (and artists) to Shakespeare is a responsibility we take very seriously.

We had just launched our productions of Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream when the COVID-19 pandemic began to close down area schools. were able to create a digital recording of our newest production, Caesar, before putting our actors on furlough with the hope of bringing them back together to complete the final few weeks of the tour beginning in mid-May. As that is now looking less likely that schools in our area will be opening at this time, we are looking at ways we can provide online materials to assist teachers in their teaching of Shakespeare. will be launching a resource page on our website for teachers which will include our 70-minute production of Julius Caesar, as well as a short, pre-recorded zoom-style Q&A with the actors to accompany it. will also have study guides and activity packets that teachers can use to supplement their work, as well as selected scenes from our touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. look forward to being back in the schools as soon as we are able.

You can also read our recent interview with the Theatre's Artistic Director, Bonnie J. Monte: /new-jersey/article/BWW-Interview-Bonnie-J-Monte-Artistic-Director-of-THE-SHAKESPEARE-THEATRE-OF-NJ-Gives-Her-Insights-About-the-Metro-Areas-Classic-Venue-20200417

We suggest our readers visit the Julius Caesar video that is up on the Theatre's website. Here's the link: http://shakespearenj.org/Education/COVID.html.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is located at 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road) on the campus of Drew University. For more information, please visit their web site at http://www.shakespearenj.org/.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brian B. Crowe


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