Shakespearean education is no longer limited to the classroom.
Hosted by the Shakespeare Company at UCLA, the upcoming Bard in the Yard event Tuesday in the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden will center on the theme of love in honor of Valentine’s Day. Styled in the format of an open-mic night, the event is an opportunity for students to explore the works of the Bard himself. Fourth-year theater student Elana Hershman, who works as the company’s education and outreach director, said she wanted to develop a way for students to be introduced to Shakespeare that is more socially oriented than the text workshops the company has put on in the past.
“I realized that right now there isn’t really a way for people to just get in front of people and practice speaking Shakespeare,” Hershman said. “This is going to be an opportunity for people to … perform or read Shakespeare at whatever their comfort level is and to get some of those nerves out of their system.”
Hershman said she originally found inspiration for the new Bard in the Yard series when she noticed that Shakespeare can often leave students feeling intimidated when facing his work in the classroom. Aimed at breaking down that initial barrier, Hershman said Bard in the Yard is her attempt at bringing a sense of community to the experience of breaking down Shakespearean texts.
While the event is centered around students reciting the works of Shakespeare, the requirements are fairly relaxed beyond this. Hershman said all students are welcome, whether they wish to recite full passages from Shakespeare’s text or single lines of his poetry. In addition to providing snacks and a social element, Hershman said the company also aims to educate as a primary goal.
Bard in the Yard may be focused on appreciating the works of Shakespeare for their poetic beauty, but members of the Shakespeare Company will also be in attendance to answer any questions students might have about the historical background of his work.
Rather than have the event take place in one of UCLA’s many classrooms or auditoriums, Bard in the Yard seeks to move Shakespeare to the Sculpture Gardens. Relocating the Bard’s transformative language to this open-air environment is another part of Hershman’s attempt to bring some freedom to the exploration of these texts. Second-year theater student Anthony Crehan works as the company’s social director, and he said the outdoor setting of Bard in the Yard will help breathe life into these 400-year-old texts.
“Theater, especially Elizabethan theater, was a completely aural art form, so making that transition to outside the classroom and just being able to hear other people say it is so much a part of the meaning,” Crehan said. “And I think that also helps to demystify it.”
Crehan said there are plans for upcoming installations of the event to focus on other overarching themes, such as a night focused on the monologues of Shakespeare’s villains. Ultimately, however, the company hopes that Bard in the Yard will develop based on attendee feedback. Third-year film student and Executive Director Sophie Cobarrubia said students should take the first step of showing up, and members of the Shakespeare Company will help them figure out where to go from there.
If students are interested in attending but do not know where to start looking for pieces to recite, they can read from one of the provided printed sheets containing some selected Shakespearean excerpts. Members of the Shakespeare Company will also be available to help students find other pieces that spark their interest. Cobarrubia said that when Shakespeare is read aloud as was originally intended, it can highlight the livelier elements of the texts.
“Mostly Shakespeare is sex jokes and the occasional murder,” Cobarrubia said. “We want to … make people feel like they can have fun with Shakespeare, that it doesn’t have to be this hoity-toity, highly educated thing where you have to know a bunch of stuff to understand what’s going on.”
One of Hershman’s goals with Bard in the Yard is to blend the educational component of the Shakespeare Company with the social element of an outdoor poetry reading. By creating a community free of judgment where students can recite this classic poetry, she said she hopes to engage students throughout the quarter as they rediscover Shakespeare’s works in a fresh, inclusive way.
“We strive to make Shakespeare not so scary, but rather enjoy it for how beautiful it is,” Crehan said.