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Bringing Shakespeare’s King Lear to Life for our Students

posted on Mon, Jan 30 2017 2:39 pm by Amy B.

Above: Eight Minneapolis Public School students on the stage of Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London, participating in an acting class with a member of the theater company.

If you want to really understand Shakespeare, what better place to start than England? 

In November 2016, Project SUCCESS partnered with the Guthrie Theater to bring eight Minneapolis high school students to see King Lear in London.

The trip prepared the students to serve as ambassadors for their schools when we bring thousands of students on field trips to the Guthrie’s production of the Shakespearean tragedy in March.

Since our foundation, Project SUCCESS has used theater as a tool to transport students to a different world, broadening their horizons and jumpstarting important discussions about themselves and their future. We believe in the potential for students to connect to their peers through art, empower each other to think critically as theater goers, and act as leaders as they explore complex topics together.

That’s the powerful notion that led us to design this multi-faceted, immersive experience that brings King Lear from London to Minneapolis and throughout our community.

ACT I: King Lear in London

Together with the Guthrie Theater and eight students from each of our partner high schools, we traveled to London for an immersive theatrical and cultural enrichment experience with Shakespeare’s King Lear at the center of it all. 

In addition to attending the Old Vic’s production of King Lear, students participated in a backstage tour and acting class at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, attended a production of One Night in Miami, and took in historical sites around London. 

This unique opportunity fostered powerful conversations among the students about the impact of Shakespeare and the arts, as they learned about the history, culture, and community of London. "Project SUCCESS literally helped us dream with our eyes open," said Riccarah, trip participant and Longfellow Alternative High School student.

In addition to the in-depth discussions around theater, being immersed in a different culture through this global experience opened up a new world of possibilities for the students.

"The diversity made me feel comfortable and welcome in London," said Rehko, South High School student. "I have gained an entire side of me that I have been trying to find through comfort, dignity, and love. I have a complete understanding of what it means to live, and what it means to be happy!"

I gained a lot of confidence," said Claire, a student at Southwest High School. "The most important thing for me was just walking down the street and experiencing the different culture. It definitely broadened my worldview.

As we prepare to bring students from all of our partner high schools to the Guthrie’s upcoming King Lear production, the eight students will serve as ambassadors to help guide peer conversations around the topics of the play and their own cultural experiences in the city.

ACT II: King Lear at the Guthrie

In March, Project SUCCESS will partner with the Guthrie Theater to bring students to King Lear. More than 4,000 Minneapolis Public Schools 9th -12th grade students — including all students from Patrick Henry High School — will have the opportunity to see this world-class theater production thanks to the longstanding partnership between Project SUCCESS and the Guthrie.

The story of King Lear centers around the themes of loyalty, forgiveness, and the value of relationships, among others. Beginning in February, Project SUCCESS facilitators will guide discussions around King Lear as a key component of their monthly in-class workshops, opening up conversations about the way the play relates to students' own lives. The classroom preparation for students is in collaboration with Guthrie teaching artists, Project SUCCESS facilitators and our Minneapolis Public Schools partner teachers.

Right: Students participating in a post-trip brainstorm to begin planning their artistic response that they will share with their peers.

ACT III: King Lear in our Community

To further the community conversation, the London students are creating a multimedia reflection on their experience. Project SUCCESS facilitators and the Guthrie's education department will guide them through this process, and the final multimedia reflection will be documented in a video produced by the Guthrie. The video will be used as a post-play conversation starter for the Minneapolis Public Schools students attending King Lear

This artistic response will connect their own lives and experiences with King Lear to inspire their fellow students to do the same. 

"I gained knowledge of the artistic/cultural similarities and differences between London and Minneapolis," said Bella, a student from Washburn High School. "I was able to learn from the experience itself, but also the perspectives/experiences of my peers."

UPDATE: King Lear in our Partner Schools

In February, the students met to brainstorm how they wanted to share this experience with the rest of the students at their schools in response to King Lear. This reflection was shared with the 9th grade classes and other high school students who saw the Guthrie’s production of the show as a post-play conversation starter. This work was self-directed by the students, who did a beautiful job collaborating with each other and the Guthrie/Project SUCCESS staff to produce this incredible piece:

UPDATE: King Lear in the News

A number of local sources covered our King Lear experience, including KSTP and The Southwest Journal. For an outside perspective on the global experience and field trips, check out these pieces:

This segment covers one of our three field trips to see King Lear this march, and aired on KSTP on March 14, 2017.

Southwest Journal highlights the London experience and Project SUCCESS programming bringing 4,000 students to King Lear at the Guthrie Theater.

The Guthrie Theater produced a video highlighting the student matinee experience, which was shared on across their social media platforms. 

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