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The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

“Midnight Shakespeare” Gets At-Risk Youths
Engaged in Education through Drama

The very witching hour for many San Francisco Bay-area at-risk youths are between school letting out and midnight. The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival participates in a program called Midnight Shakespeare, created in 1994, to address the need for healthy and safe educational activities for these youths during after-school and evening hours.

San Francisco Shakespeare Festival logoMidnight Shakespeare serves participants at Oakland’s Civicorps School; San Jose’s Cadwallader Elementary, Morrill Middle, and Ley Va Middle schools; and Antioch’s Park Middle School.

Sessions are conducted two to three times each week over 10 weeks, and focus on acting exercises and an in-depth study of Shakespeare’s language. Participants sign a contract at the beginning of the session, pledging to attend all workshops. The program culminates with a final performance of a Shakespeare play for the local community.

Midnight Shakespeare participants are selected based on need, willingness to work with others, enthusiasm, and demonstrated hunger for the program. Nearly 100 percent of the participants are ethnic minorities, and many are children of immigrants. Through involvement in Midnight Shakespeare, participants learn valuable academic and social skills necessary for their development into successful, well-adjusted adults, including self-esteem, cooperation, personal empowerment, goal achievement, cognitive competence, academic discipline, and fundamental problem solving skills.

An in-depth study of Shakespeare and drama has been shown to play a significant role in the continual development of students' reading comprehension skills. A series of studies noted, among many results:

Moreover, besides improved reading comprehension, those who take part in drama see an increase in standardized test scores. In 2005, students involved in drama outscored the national average SAT score by 35 points on the verbal portion and 25 points on the math section. Another improvement among participants in drama is better attendance records. Students who participate in drama are three times more likely to win an award for school attendance, and students who are considered high-risk for dropping out of high school cite drama and other arts programming as their main reason for remaining in school.

Further, research indicates that drama activities can improve and help to maintain social and language skills of remedial readers students with learning disabilities and remedial readers. A 1999 Champions of Change study cites theater arts as a source for "gains in ready proficiency, gains in self-concept and motivation, and higher levels of empathy and tolerance toward others" among youth of low socio-economic status. All these point to the power of Shakespeare and the performing arts to drastically improve the education skills of participants.

Midnight Shakespeare’ssuccess has earned it widespread attention for its potential as a model for after-school outreach programs nationwide. The program has been featured on KQED’s Independent View, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” in The San Francisco Examiner, The San Jose Mercury News, and The Independent, and was featured in “Coming up Taller,” a President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities report on arts education.

This marks the 14th year that Midnight Shakespeare has served the at-risk youth of West Oakland. The local community partner has been Civicorps (formerly the East Bay Conservation Corp.) for this entire time.

The Fall 2012 final performance of Much Ado About Nothing takes place Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Garden Center at Lake Merritt, 666 Bellevue Avenue, Oakland, Calif. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, call the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival at 415-558-0888 or visit www.sfshakes.org.

The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival accomplishes its mission through the presentation of Free Shakespeare in the Park as well as four arts education programs: Shakespeare on Tour, Midnight Shakespeare, Civic Arts Stage Company, and Bay Area Shakespeare Camps.

Each year, the Festival produces camps for ages 4–6, 7–13, and 12–18 throughout the Bay Area, and brings Shakespeare on Tour to local libraries for free public performances. The Festival has been collaborating with Pleasanton’s Civic Arts Stage Company since 2008 to bring children’s theater, drama classes, and workshops to the Tri-Valley area.

October 28, 2012

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