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    Posted August 7, 2012 by
    santa monica, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    What’s wrong with America’s school system?

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    Gets get high on Shakespear High

    Standing on the stage with twenty other students, the 5 from Los Angeles’ Chatsworth High hold hands. Sweating under the klieg lights, they feel their knees collectively shake; not from nerves gone wild, but adrenaline.

    All year they’ve been working towards this moment when the annual winners of the Shakespeare festival would be announced.

    As the master of ceremonies started, “…and the winner is…” a collective breath was sucked in by everyone in the auditorium. Drama teachers, coaches, students, parents, friends. It was that moment of anticipation before the release of tension in the finale which marks all great stories.

    Shakespeare isn’t an easy piece of theatrics for many performers today. If it’s handled badly, many of the Bard’s plays can seem hopelessly melodramatic.

    The updates provided by Shakespeare High though knock the ball out of the park and the Bard can stop spinning in his grave.

    Stephen Holden of the New York Times said, “Most of the performances shown are inventive and energetic, and you wish more were shared in the film, along with the rehearsals that produced them.”

    “One teacher talks about the “natural high” of theater, and you can feel it throughout. The stories of the Emesibe twins and Luis suggest that whole movies could be made about their lives,” said Holden.

    Shakespeare High is sponsored every year by Drama Teachers Association of Southern California (DTASC). DTASC is a group of educators and film professional who believe every child in school has the right to a well-rounded education and that the arts are an essential ingredient.

    Their vision for Shakespeare High is to work to inspire educators, policy makers and parents to fundamentally change the American educational system.

    Each year, the association chooses three Shakespeare plays to be performed by drama students from around schools in the Los Angeles Country area in California.

    The competing students have the option of condensing a play into a scene that cannot be longer than eight minutes or perform a single five minute scene.

    While no costumes, props, sets (except for four chairs) are allowed, the students have considerable license to modify a play as long as the meaning isn’t changed.

    Appearing in the film, are Val Kilmer, Mare Winningham and Richard Dreyfuss. All are alumni of the Shakespeare Festival. Also appearing is Executive Producer Kevin Spacey. Serving as the spokesman for the movie, Spacey connects his professional success directly to his participation in the program while at Chatsworth High School in Los Angeles.

    “The first little bits of confidence and self-esteem that I began to obtain happened in this room. I can actually pinpoint the moment I realized I no longer wanted to be an actor; I was an actor,” says Spacey.

    The film which concentrates on a relative small number of schools that make it into the finals represent a cross slice of schools in Los Angeles County. Upscale LACHS for the Arts is more conventional in its approach to Shakespeare and students, as well as teachers, come across with an air of superiority.

    Hesperia High in a blue collar town in the Mojave Desert has two popular students. Melvin and Galvin Emesibe.

    The Emesibe twins were persuaded to act in “Othello” when they weren’t busy playing football for the team.

    Confident and friendly, they mention on camera that their father is in prison for killing their mother and grandmother when they were 8.

    Moving in with an aunt and uncle after surfing through three foster homes, they emerged apparently unaffected by the family tragedy.

    Students from other poor schools include Tommy, a red-headed, freckled kid who wants to be a stand-up comic appears in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and whose parents are former skinheads. There’s Tosh, who had a choice to make between joining a gang or the drama program; Luis, nicknamed Taco, a former gangbanger.

    “It has to do with learning about collaborating, learning about confidence, learning about self-esteem, maybe even learning about how you view yourself, and that to me translates into how somebody presents themselves to the world,” Mr. Spacey says. “The theater does that.”


    The documentary was kicked off at the Palm Springs International Film Festival with a screening for 1,000 students as part of the festival’s Educational Outreach Program, followed by workshops by the teachers and students from the film. The film’s producers are seeking additional school systems in which to host more screenings.

    To get more information about hosting a screening, please email us at info@shakespearehigh.org

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