“We know what we are, but not what we may be.”
— Ophelia, Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare
By Alex Allred
Most people focus on the ranch part of Discovery Ranch for Girls (DRG). The word ranch conjures images of dust, boots, and horses. Dust, boots, and horses are a part of life on the ranch, however, there is also a lot more. In addition to providing residential therapy for troubled teen girls, DRG provides young women with an educational experience which is second to none. That includes a Performing Arts program, which I direct. One of the many experiential learning activities offered by DRG is the Shakespearience.
I love Shakespeare and the amazing power his plays have to teach my students. His plays give them a new depth of human understanding. They teach that no one is fully good or fully bad, we can truly relate to every individual. This perspective shows that it is our actions that determine who we become. Though we learn to see that his villains are often justified, this does not mean that their choices don’t still destroy them and those they love.
Utah Shakespeare Festival
The Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City offers a wonderful, immersive opportunity for students called Shakespearience. Students not only see a Shakespeare play, they also have a post show talk with some of the actors. Students get to hear the actors’ perspectives on the story, the meaning, and the characters they play. In addition to this, they are also given a backstage tour where they see how a play works behind the scenes.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival has three different theatres: a classic style theatre, an open-air theatre, and a smaller black box theatre. Each of these functions in a different way and the students are able to learn all these intricacies and then see it in action during the show.
The last piece of the experience is the actor workshops. There are a few different options for workshops you can take, the most popular are Improvisation and Stage Combat. We tend to do Stage Combat, in which an actor teaches how to perform stunts on stage in a safe way. Stage Combat includes fake punching and sword fighting. It’s a fun way to release some tension and have fun while also being extremely aware and supportive of your partner.
Shakespearience is an opportunity that we provide for all qualifying students, however, the advanced students have additional opportunities. There is an Advanced Group which does an in-depth study of Shakespeare throughout the summer. The Advanced Group see all the plays at the Shakespeare Festival. There are nine plays in total. Four of the plays are Shakespearean, two are musicals, and the others are plays by diverse writers. The Advanced Group ends the summer by competing in what is called the High School Shakespeare Competition.
This competition is a three-day event that involves around 3,000 students from all over the country. The DRG students prepare Shakespeare monologues and scenes that they perform repeatedly throughout the competition, receiving feedback from judges. They also participate in acting, stage makeup, and other workshops with peers from all over as well as watch other schools perform. It is a great chance to get an understanding of the community they can find upon leaving the ranch.
They also learn to let go of their fears, listen to feedback with an open mind and apply it immediately for their next performance. I love to see them support each other in their performances, they cheer each other on and even come up with weird chants to create a unified energy before they walk on stage.
Young women who come to DRG leave transformed. This is by design. The program’s experiential focus relates life-changing transformation to memorable new experiences. This includes the Shakespearience. When students first encounter Shakespeare, many of them are determined that they cannot understand Shakespeare. Once they learn to simply try they find such an intense personal connection to not only his stories but his words and his poetry. It is a wonderfully empowering experience for them when a certain monologue or line clicks. In the end, it is not despite his poetic style that they understand, it is because of it that they understand so much deeper.