Delaware Shakespeare program to engage youth in justice system

July 11, 2019

The National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with Arts Midwest, presents Shakespeare in American Communities: Juvenile Justice.

Delaware Shakespeare is one of seven nonprofit organizations across the nation selected to participate to engage youths in the juvenile justice system with the works of Shakespeare through theater education programs.

Delaware Shakespeare has been awarded a $25,000 grant. Through a partnership with the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families, Delaware Shakespeare will use “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Tempest” to help young people identify universal human themes in Shakespeare’s plays and find parallel experiences in their own lives. The program consists of six 10-session acting classes and will be delivered at four juvenile justice facilities from Thursday, Aug.1, to Friday, July 31, 2020. They will start with an acting class focused on “Romeo and Juliet” at The Ferris School. Other facilities include Cleveland C. White School, New Castle County Detention Center and Stevenson House Detention Center in Milford.

Although Shakespeare in American Communities has funded theater companies partnered with the juvenile justice system in the past, this is the first time dedicated federal funds have been targeted for juvenile justice programing.

“Since 2003, the National Endowment for the Arts has brought professional performances of Shakespeare’s plays to millions of middle and high school students in cities and towns across the United States. Not only has the initiative had a cultural impact in our nation’s schools, the program has proven to be transformative in the juvenile justice system,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chair.

"Delaware Shakespeare is honored to be the recipient of this grant,” said David Stradley, producing artistic director of Delaware Shakespeare. “We envision a Delaware where people from all walks of life celebrate and explore their shared humanity through the lens of Shakespearean works. We’re excited to expand upon our decade-plus relationship with the juvenile justice system, allowing students to find themselves in new ways through Shakespeare’s words and characters.”

”Romeo and Juliet” will travel all over Delaware as part of year four of Delaware Shakespeare’s Community Tour. Team members anticipate fostering connections between the literary tale of two youth trying to see their way to a better life, free of violent strife, and present-day youth anticipating their departure from detention facilities.

“The Tempest,” Delaware Shakespeare’s 2020 summer festival production, is Shakespeare’s mythical story of forgiveness; it will allow for an exploration of the theme of restorative justice.

Arts Midwest’s previous work with partners in criminal justice facilities and the NEA’s research into the impact of arts programming for youth and adults in the criminal justice system have both demonstrated great potential for the program to help address some underlying causes of problems such as re-entry from prison to community and reducing recidivism.

“Quantifiable research demonstrates that prison arts self-confidence, self-discipline and creative thinking in participants. We know that the longer someone is involved with a prison arts program, the more likely they are to show positive behavioral changes,” said Carter.

“Delaware Shakespeare has worked with youth at our level IV cottages during the summer the last 10 years, promoting positive life choices through an examination of the choices made by Shakespeare’s characters,” said Angela Porter, education unit supervisor at the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families. “We are very excited to enhance and expand our current partnership. I am confident this will be an invaluable opportunity for our youth, and the benefits will last far beyond their contact with our unit.”


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