Shakespearience brings bard to life for teens

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Shakespearience adult group leader Bethany Caldarona (left), founder of Twice Upon A Time Theatre Project explains a game of charades based on familiar words and phrases coined by Shakespeare to upper elementary and middle school age students July 2 at Caroline Kennedy Library in Dearborn Heights.

Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS – The search for a different and exciting reading program for children ages 10 to 17 led Caroline Kennedy teen librarian Danielle Hansard to offer Shakespearience for six sessions this summer.

“There are a lot of youth theater groups around here, so I knew they would be interested in it,” Hansard said.

She said that after talking to children’s librarian Jim Moir and library attendees in the target age group, she learned that some local curriculums introduce Shakespeare to students in the ninth grade.

“So all the kids in the area will be learning it eventually,” Hansard said, “so I figured why not make it fun?”

The resultant program, Shakespearience, which began June 24, continues 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through July 23, with a closing session and performance at 4 p.m. July 26 at Caroline Kennedy Library, 24590 George St.

Bethany Caldarona, founder and driving force behind “Twice Upon a Time Theatre Project,” presents the fast-paced program to the children. She said Shakespearience is something she hoped the library would do for quite some time.

She said she and Moir discussed the idea of a reader’s theater for young people in the past. When Hansard joined the staff seven months ago, the timing for a summer Shakespearience seemed right.

Not all of the participating children have theater experience, Caldarona said, but since the program has its basis as a literary program, she uses the theater aspect to add fun to the learning.

“It gives them an excuse to get up on their feet, move around and have fun,” Caldarona said. “It’s taking something that has been turned into the drudgery of ninth-grade English and turned it into a really fun experiential learning thing.”

She has developed learning games, including a charade-like competition in which participants act out familiar words and phrases that Shakespeare coined, which she calls “Alligator or Chomp-a-potamus.”

She said the participants were surprised and impressed that they already knew and used Shakespearean phrases in their everyday lives.

Caldarona said many were surprised to hear that Shakespeare coined phrases like “all the world’s a stage,” “I’ll not budge an inch,” “we have seen better days,” “foregone conclusion,” “one fell swoop,” “neither a borrow nor a lender be,” “all that glitters is not gold,” “break the ice,” “dead as a doornail,” “all’s well that ends well” and even “knock, knock, who’s there.”

Caldarona said students are also surprised to hear that popular culture often mirrors the plots of Shakespeare’s plays, and explains how Disney’s “The Lion King” is similar to the plot of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

“We made a lot of correlations like that and told kids that they already knew Shakespeare, they were already familiar with it, and now this is just a chance to have fun with it,” Caldarona said.

She said they give the participants a chance to choose monologues or scenes, and they learn how to read Shakespeare, listen to it and then get up on their feet and act it out.

“It’s really fun, it’s high energy,” Caldarona said. “I hope as many kids as possible can fill up this space.”

Madison Ganzak, 9, of Dearborn Heights, said she has had fun with the program, and as an aspiring actress, she hopes to learn from it as well.

Surprised by how familiar she already was with Shakespearean quotes, Madison said she is eager to learn more. She said she had fun acting out famous expressions in charade format even though she did not win.

“My favorite part in the whole Shakespearience is meeting all kinds of new friends and getting to know them very well,” Madison said.

Karen Zander, 9, of Dearborn Heights, said she has enjoyed making new friends at Shakespearience. She has been in school plays, but she is new to Shakespeare.

“It’s fun and the teacher is really nice,” Karen said. “We get to meet new friends, and no one is mean and everyone is kind.”

Itidal Bazzi, 10, of Dearborn Heights said she joined the class out of curiosity because she had heard about Shakespeare but wanted to learn about his plays, and she heard the class was fun. She said she also wants to learn to act.

“I want to learn,” Itidal said. “I want to have friends. I want to learn what Shakespeare is. I want to learn a bunch of stuff. I am looking forward to it.”

Matthew Smith, 10, of Allen Park, said he was reading a book about Shakespeare when he heard about a club where the the participants read Shakespeare’s works during the summer, and he knew he wanted to go.

“The library offers programs like this all the time,” Hansard said. “We want feedback from people, and this was something that was requested from the kids, something interactive that they could get involved in rather than having someone present something to them.

“I’m just happy that we could listen to them and know what they wanted.”

For more information, call the Caroline Kennedy Library at 313-791-3800 or go to and click on the calendar listings.