WF: Marvin, we’ll start with you. Can you briefly explain what Shakespearience is?
MK: Shakespearience Performing Arts is a charitable, non-profit organization that delivers dynamic, interactive Shakespeare-focused programs to young people between the ages of 8 and 18.
WF: Why Shakespeare?
MK: We believe immersing students in Shakespeare helps develop the way they think, feel, behave and relate to themselves and each other. The goal is to give them transferable life skills such as critical thinking, imagination, creative problem solving, persistence, empathy, determination, confidence, and communication skills.
WF: D’Nean, can you talk to us about yourself and how Shakespearience introduced you to Shakespeare?
DJ: My name is D’Nean Jarrett, and I am a 17 year old black female in Toronto. My childhood had been difficult to say the least. Growing up, I lived with my physically and emotionally abusive mother, who liberally abused drugs along with my father. Our sole source of income had been welfare, so money was tight and housing was a bedbug infested nightmare. At age 10 years I was put into Foster Care, with its own problems, not to mention the PTSD that I had developed.
I was 13 years old when I first attended Shakespearience. I had zero interest in Shakespeare before then and didn’t know what to expect. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this wasn’t just a fleeting summer program; the work being done at Shakespearience was something special. I was introduced to various Shakespearian plays in a fun and immersive manner, and every day was more exciting than the last.
WF: D’Nean, can you tell us how Shakespeare affected you?
DJ: My favourite play is Othello, hands down. In brief, Iago is an incredibly scheming character who has convinced the black war general, Othello, that his wife, Desdemona, had been cheating on him. This is an elaborate lie born out of jealousy. He convinces Othello that he is just not good enough to be loved.
I hold that near because black people are cursed with an inner Iago. It’s the voice in our heads that convinces us that we are subordinate due to the colour of our skin. It asserts that we don’t deserve love and that we’ll never be as successful as others. I believed these things, but it was subconscious and hidden for years. It manifested through a poisonous self-image. To me, I was a foster kid that was unworthy of love and never for a moment expected to go to College or University.
This, however, didn’t last, and I can wholeheartedly thank Shakespeare for that. The summer I studied Othello at Shakespearience, this self-loathing had been brought to light. It could be compared to the removal of a deep and malignant tumour of the heart. It was only then that I was able confront it and begin my journey of self-healing. It still amazes me that Shakespeare, a 500 year old white man, was able to shine light on many emotions that I didn’t even know I had as a black person.
Now, when I hear an inner voice saying, “Your blackness makes you lesser,” I remember that lago was a liar, and so is that voice. I’m a better person today because of that knowledge. I am an established leader in my school community, being the Co-President of the Agincourt Mentor Council and an executive editor for my school art gazette, The Lancer Voices. In the community, I have recently been accepted to become a mentor for Youth Assisting Youth and have experience working at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. I am an honour roll student and expect to study the Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management at Carleton University in 2021
WF: Marvin, we understand that you often go into high-priority neighbourhoods such as Parkdale and engage students there. What is it exactly that studying Shakespeare offers and makes him so special?
MK: I think what makes Shakespeare special is the way in which the study of his plays provides students with such a sense of confidence and accomplishment when they achieve what they did not think was possible. As one teacher said, the students “felt validated and honoured because you thought they should learn about Shakespeare, and that you had faith that they could be Shakespearean players”
WF: Marvin, has there been any other particular incident or story that stands out since you started the program in 1998 you can share?
We got into a classroom in Riverston over in the UK. It was a special needs school with 60% of the student population being classified as autistic, dyslexic and SLD. Our contact teacher admitted to being unsure as to how a Shakespeare workshop would go over but enthusiastically told us that we “held their attention from the beginning to the very end of the workshop.” I think that, to the extent that we’re successful with marginalized group, it can all be explained by virtue of the fact that even some teachers are confused by Shakepeare’s language so everyone — from the gifted to the more marginalized students — are more or less starting from the same entry point of engagement. And we have literally dozens of stories like this.
WF: To both of you: What do you think makes Shakespeare still relevant today? What can we still learn from his writing? And what do you think he might say to all of us during this pandemic?
DJ: What makes Shakespeare relevant today is the fact that his work is completely and unapologetically human. It’s the one thing we all share: humanity. Only Shakespeare could take painful and beautiful aspects of human behaviour and display them in a way that emerges the audience into his witty, tragic and/or historical work. Shakespeare is universal and can change any life the same way it did mine.
MK: Shakespeare is definitely relevant – and always will be – for the way he found of capturing, in words what being human and alive is all about.
And if Shakespeare had just captured in words what love was all about in Romeo & Juliet, that would have been enough to ensure his place among the immortals. But he also nails, in words, what greed, ambition, the lust for power, envy, family relationships – and every other aspect of the human condition – is all about. Even pandemics:
Hell is empty and all the devils are here. The Tempest Act I, Scene ii
WF: Marvin, now that your program is on-line, is there a way we can watch Shakespearience in action?
You can go to YouTube channel and search: Shakespearience Performing Arts.
Here is the link:
Thank you both for your time. If any of our readers wanted to support your cause, how might they do so?
We are looking for the last bit of support necessary to fund our after-hours program for at-risk youth which, owing to the Covid 19 pandemic this year, will be offered online. Please visit email@example.com .