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By: Alex Rotaru, Director – Shakespeare High
As I prepare for the opening of Shakespeare High at the Film Society of Lincoln Center this week, I think about how my love for Shakespeare goes back as far as I can remember. Growing up in Romania, the first book I ever read was a children's retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream - and I was hooked. Many years later, when I was asked to be a judge for the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California (DTASC)’s annual Shakespeare festival, I recognized the same enthusiasm in these high school students. I watched them perform Shakespeare in unconventional ways, and I knew this was a unique event that had to be shared with the world — especially at a time when arts education is being cut from so many school budgets across the United States.
A group of us decided to band together to make this documentary because we saw the lives of these teenagers radically changed by arts education. Kids who never would have met or hung out with each other joined together under a shared goal of being the best troupe in the festival. We focused on students whose stories have you wondering where they would have ended up were it not for this program. Tosh and Taco are sophomores from East LA and former gang members; Tommy is an indefatigable redhead whose parents were skin-heads before his dad left the family to become a famous anti-racism motivational speaker; and Galvin and Melvin are twin brothers who moved in with their aunt and uncle after their father murdered their mother following a spiteful divorce.
While not all of the students competing have these dramatic backgrounds, the amazing impact of this program is easily seen in all the festival attendees, and it‘s nowhere more evident than in the lives of famous alumni, including our Executive Producer, Kevin Spacey, and Mare Winningham, Val Kilmer, Richard Dreyfuss among many others.
Now, we want the public to be able to share in these stories of optimism and realize that arts programs like this are possible, even without an extravagant budget. It is paramount to realize that in this time of distress for our education system, we still need to hold on to our hopes and values.
Ask these kids - they are the results.
Shakespeare High is screening daily at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City from March 9-22nd. Tickets and show times can be found here.