For the last three years, Duke City Repertory Theatre has toured our Winter Classic production to local schools and community centers. This year the program launched under its new name, Classrooms Alive!, with a laser focused mission: to bring literature based, curriculum supported, professional theatre to students in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico. We even got a snazzy new logo, courtesy of one of our DCRT Super Friends!
The 2016 Classrooms Alive! tour of Julius Caesar, written by William Shakespeare and directed and adapted by John Hardy, saw almost 1000 students throughout the state of New Mexico. We performed for students at Bosque School, Menaul School, we performed at the historical Kimo Theatre (which allows schools to come to us and therefore makes it more cost effective for them), we drove to Roswell, we traveled to Española (HUGE thanks to Daniel Garcia and the Los Alamos National Laboratories for making that possible!). We got to meet students from the New Mexico Military Institute, Sidney Gutierrez Middle School, McCurdy Charter School, 21st Century Public Academy, Desert Ridge Middle School, Public Academy for the Performing Arts, New Futures School, and Moving Arts Española. We traveled roughly 600 miles around New Mexico. We got up WAY too early. We ate too many Allsup’s burritos.
One of my favorite things about tour is the chance to talk to the young people for whom we are performing. We learn a little about them, they get to see us as human beings (something that is increasingly difficult for live performers in the digital age), and they get to ask questions about us and the work we do. Here are a few of my favorite questions we got during tour:
“Do you think theatre is a better way to learn?” For the record, yes, I do think theatre is a better way to learn. And there are studies to prove it too!
“If Shakespeare had never written a word, do you think literature today would be different?” How great is this question?? Director of Education Katie Becker Colón answered this question so elegantly and suggested that not only would literature be different, but modern Drama would also likely be a completely different animal.
“Why in the world did you guys come to New Mexico to work?!” This question pulled my heartstrings because it is a perfect example of why Classrooms Alive! is such an important program. We got this question in Roswell and it provided an opportunity for those of us who aren’t native New Mexicans to talk about what makes this state a great place to live in and, hopefully, instill in some of these students that they deserve to be proud of where they come from. New Mexico gets a bad rap: people forget that we are part of the Union; when we end up in the national news it’s frequently negative; and people outside of the state think we’re either the Wild West or exactly like Breaking Bad. There is a strong feeling among a lot of people that New Mexico is something to escape rather than something of which to be proud. And in that moment, with those kids, we got to talk about how we have the privilege of living and working in this state. We got to share with them how several of us had willingly made the choice to move here to create art, precisely for people like them. Civic pride is a powerful thing and if we made even one kid think differently about New Mexico, then Classrooms Alive! was an incredible success.
“Why is Brutus a girl?” Gender roles and gender equality!! We were asked this question several times and I assume that we’ll be asked it again while we’re in residence in Albuquerque. Part of the answer is that is was an issue of necessity. The DCRT Acting Company is currently evenly split between male and female (3 females, 3 males) and there is simply no way to do Julius Caesar without some gender bending of the roles, especially with the adaptation written the way that is was. But an extraordinary by-product of this necessity is that we were able to show the young people a world in which women were held in as high esteem as men. Everywhere you look in our Julius Caesar, women are making choices about their futures, they are leading revolutions, they are fighting in battles. The voices of women are just as important as the men’s, women are just as influential, just as powerful, just as capable of leading. Additionally, neither Brutus nor Octavius nor Metellus Cimber (all traditionally male roles played by women in this production) use sex or their bodies to get what they want. That is an incredibly powerful thing for young women to see. And as this article demonstrates, Representation Matters.
What an amazing thing. We took a 400-year-old play about a 2000-year-old subject matter into schools to perform for middle and high schoolers and they got it. They understood it, they cared about it, they laughed, they gasped, they were transported. Oftentimes, people can easily disregard theatre and other arts as merely entertainment and therefore it can be seen as a luxury. Having dedicated my life to creating art and serving audiences, I fully believe this to be hogwash. The need to come together to tell stories and share a human experience isn’t a luxury–it’s a necessity. It’s a primal need. That’s why humans have been doing it for thousands of years. And no other playwright captures the delicate condition of humanity quite like that Shakespeare fellow. It’s why his plays have survived for as long as they have.
2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Our production of Julius Caesar is likely one of thousands of productions by the Bard that will be taking place all over the world this year. I invite you to join us at The Cell Theatre starting March 3rd and be a part of something primal, something ancient, something global. Come sit in the dark with us for 75 minutes and let us tell you a story.
If you are interested in learning more about the work Duke City Rep does with our Classrooms Alive! program or want to know how you can help us reach more students throughout the state of New Mexico, contact Director of Development Josh Heard at firstname.lastname@example.org.