Welcome to Riotous Youth Shakespeare

Riotous Youth Shakespeare, like all good things, began as an accident. Scott Emerson Moyle had a decade of stage combat and other theatre experience on his resume before his brother unceremoniously dumped him in front of 20 fifteen-year-olds at the International School of Brussels. Scott found himself teaching an impromptu Shakespeare workshop that would become Riotous Youth Shakespeare. Six years later, we have big dreams of radically inclusive Shakespeare practice, bringing arts-workers into schools and students into the arts.

Riotous Youth Shakespeare is a brand new theatrical organisation that seeks to provide active, inclusive and engaging lessons in Shakespeare where all students can find a place to thrive within in a cultural hallmark so steeped in elitism and centuries of casual oppression.

I’m Coco, and in part I’ll be joining Riotous Youth Shakespeare, as its origins go way back. On the other hand, I’ll be building from scratch, with my partner Scott Emerson Moyle, a program that strives to actually bring the alleged “universal stories” told by ol’ Bill to young people.

How does Riotous Youth Shakespeare operate?

We stand by a few central tenets that we’re still developing:      
  1. That Shakespeare was a playwright, not a novelistShakespeare wrote plays to be performed, not books to be read. When students are forced to sit in their seats and pretend to care about 14-year-olds they have nothing in common with, a crucial opportunity is missed: students can embody Shakespeare’s words, determining their own rhythm and connection to the work that would be more meaningful to Shakespeare-the-playwright than all the essays in Oxford.
  2. That dramaturgy is a pathway to literary analysisBy “putting the play on its feet” students stand in the shoes of the playwright. Performing scaffolded dramaturgical analysis allows students to both embody their own understandings of Shakespeare’s characters and engage with literary analysis of the work without spending more than 2 minutes at a desk. Staging a play produces a problem of inquiry about the literary content that is hard to replicate with just a reading. Students find deeper understanding both of the plot, but also the central themes and characters through staging the work rather than just reading it.
  3. That Shakespeare’s English is everybody’s English. Reading aloud and performing spoken English is not just for native English speakers and Patrick Stewart impersonators. Riotous Youth focuses on respect for the human that fosters respect for the text. Being difficult even for monolingual modern English speakers, Shakespeare’s work presents a challenge that English Language Learners are be better-equipped to tackle – experience and bravery with unfamiliar language can be valuable traits that ELLs model, in a Shakespeare lesson, for their monolingual classmates.
  4. That Shakespeare is dead – unless we bring him to life. And we do that through empathy, through representation of marginalised voices, and though empowering our students to investigate the alleged universality – a quality of his work that is all too often the convenient shared fiction of a privileged sector of society. Riotous Youth Shakespeare does not shy away from difficult subjects in Shakespeare’s work, but through thoughtful, critical dramaturgical analysis, we empower the Riotous Youth to speak their truth.

What will Riotous Youth accomplish in the not-so-distant future?

With Riotous Youth Shakespeare, I hope to create our foundational documents. These are our mission, our philosophy, and our pathway to becoming the rich community organisation we want to be. These will also be our marketing material, our course offerings and curriculum connections (for Ontario English and Drama curricula), and our system for collecting feedback and reaching out to our community. 

Through a growing partnership with teachers at the International School of Brussels, we will hone our craft in a week-long session with students from grades 9-12, and pilot a new cross-curricular project between the English and Drama departments at ISB, allowing students to create a piece together, sharing their learnings between departments.

We want to visit as many Toronto schools as possible so we can continue to grow and develop.

What will Riotous Youth accomplish… eventually?

  • Not-for-profit organisation working with libraries, community centres, and arts and literacy programs for marginalised youth
  • A production-model with a diversely-cast touring version of popular Shakespearean shows (Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice) which, through consultation with teacher partners, can visit almost any course and enable students to tackle a real-world inquiry project based on a portion for the show – whether it’s a drama class acting, a makeup class creating the Weird Sisters, or a shop class building the set.
  • A source of online video content for teachers, where a diverse cast of actors perform short scenes that exemplify commonly taught elements of Shakespeare (rhythm, non-traditional gender casting, stage combat, vocabulary words etc.)
  • A team that is known in the community for modelling inclusion of marginalised students and grownups, including students and performers who are queer, trans, non-binary, and racialized.

Why is Coco trying to do this now?

I was 100% over Shakespeare and all the self-congratulating people who claimed to love his work. Until I saw Scott’s Romeo and (her) Juliet. This play, featured two women as Romeo and Juliet, the action actually took place in a church (Bloor St. United, at the fictional funeral for R&J), and featured a diverse and talented cast – I finally got it. Not the text, that was never the issue, but I finally understood why I should care about the text.

Romeo and (her) Juliet actually felt like the story of two young lovers so trapped by their parents’ expectations that running away and eventually dying for their love seemed like the only option. The idea that Shakespeare’s work is universal seems to be upheld by a privileged few who are unwilling to relinquish his work to others. Seeing how meaningful and touching these universal stories could be – and eventually learning that Scott was already bringing this perspective to young people – inspired me to jump on board. I’m looking forward to building the revolution with what I hope will become a legion of Riotous Youth.

Comments

  1. What an interesting project! It's been a long time since I've engaged with Shakespeare's writing, and it certainly wasn't in an experiential context!
    I like how this project connects English and Drama curricula - definitely a more experiential approach. I'm very excited that you point out that although Shakespeare wrote in a particular time and place, he wrote about universal stories. I like how this will incorporate inquiry, diversity, and inclusivity in various forms, something that's not always thought about when studying Shakespeare. I can't wait to read more!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What does RYS do in the classroom?

Riotous Youth Visits the Linden School

Riotous Youth Visits Brussels!