Keeping the Bard alive at ESU

The Seattle branch of the English Speaking Union's Shakespeare committee (ESU) met at the Queen Anne home of Sara Reed-Plumb, where several Queen Anne and Magnolia residents had gathered to mail out invitations for high school English and drama teachers to attend a six-hour workshop on teaching Shakespeare creatively, taking place on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Cornish College of Arts.

The Seattle branch of the ESU's Shakespeare committee had been sponsoring the Shakespeare competition for local high school students for the past 16 years. The 2006 competition is scheduled for early March at the Fry Art Museum. The winner of the local competition will travel to New York City to compete in the national competition.

The National Shakespeare Competition continues to be ESU's premier educational program, the one that reaches the largest number of students and teachers around the country. The 2004 competition involved more than 16,000 high school students, as well as about 2,000 teachers hailing from 60 branch communities - an incredible testament to the ongoing, seductive power of Shakespeare's words.

A recent report from the national alumni forum reported that many Ivy League schools are dropping Shakespeare from their curriculum, and English majors are no longer required to study the Bard in order to graduate.

It is alarming to think of an English major heading out to teach and having no knowledge of one of the greatest - if not the greatest - writers of all time, in any language.

With this in mind, great credit is due to the dedicated teachers who open up for their students the world of Shakespeare, introducing them the wit and humor, the history, drama and tragedy that celebrates the English language. Shakespeare's work has survived the test of time.

Thanks are also due to the ESU for its encouragement and financial support. A non-profit, non-political educational organization with no ties to the "English First" movement, ESU has its national headquarters in New York with 60 community branches all over the United States. Seattle has been an active and vibrant branch since 1928, offering educational scholarships to study in Britain as well as here in the local community.

This year, ESU's scholarship committee awarded a grant to East Side Literacy, a scholarship to Highline Community College for English as a second language, as well as a three-week course of study at London's Globe Theatre for a course on teaching Shakespeare through performance, which went to a teacher at Juanita High School.

The Shakespeare Committee is responsible for hosting the local high school competition; over the years, the standard of performance by the students and the participation of the schools has grown. The Sept. 24 teacher's workshop sponsored by ESU, a course designed exclusively for educators, will be the first of its kind.

Workshop facilitator, professor Hal Rider, is well acquainted with the Bard, having trained as an actor in London. He also ran a theater company; was a resident at the Mercury Theatre in London; taught drama, Shakespeare and actor-training classes; served as artistic director for a fringe theatre in Orlando and, closer to home, at Snoqualmie and the Open Door theaters.

Rider has been teaching appreciation and acting of Shakespeare at Cornish College of Arts since 1982. During that time he has put on several Shakespeare productions, including "The Twelfth Night." He is a frequent guest artist in many area high schools, and recently worked for the State Department as a cultural specialist in Pakistan, where he lectured at four separate colleges.

Rider is C.E.O. and founder of Shakespeare Plus and Educational Arts Resources Services, offering workshops and service to artists, those who teach artists, and students.

With such impressive credentials, Rider's workshop promises to be a wonderful experience.

On the lighter side, here is the refrain form an old English Musical Hall song:

"What, Shakespeare's dead?/

Poor old Bill/

I didn't know him/

The poor chap was ill."

Sang by Ian Whitcomb, a satire on the extravagant histrionics of Edwardian actors. This 1919 song was originally interpreted by Billy Merson, a stalwart of the Music Hall who died in1947.

The play's is the thing, Shakespeare is alive and well in our fair city.

If you have questions on any of the above, call me at 282-8161. TTFN[[In-content Ad]]