MARTINSVILLE-Area high school students sampled the milk of human kindness, thanks to two trips to The American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton. They were both sponsored by the For Alison Foundation.
Barbara Parker, mother of the late Alison Parker and board member of the For Alison Foundation, said the non-profit foundation’s mission is to give students arts opportunities they might not have otherwise.
With that in mind, the foundation sponsored two trips to the Blackfriars Playhouse. Last Thursday, students from Magna Vista High School traveled to the theatre to see Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” and this Thursday, students from Bassett High School will travel to Staunton to see the show.
High school students often have to read Shakespeare’s works, Parker said, but his plays were not meant to be read; they were meant to be performed.
“They read it, and they don’t get it,” Parker said. “It’s like a foreign language, and they’re bored.”
But seeing the plays performed causes a wholly different reaction. Parker said that the Magna Vista students who saw the play last week thoroughly enjoyed it.
“To see those kids’ faces when they suddenly see that Shakespeare is funny and bawdy … it was worth the price of admission,” she said.
The American Shakespeare Center offers one of the most authentic Shakespeare experiences available, barring the use of a time machine.
“Blackfriars is a model of the only indoor theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were mounted during his era,” Parker said. “They leave the lights on like they would have back then. There’s a line of stools on each side of the stage where audience members sit on the stage. Some of the Magna Vista students got to sit on the stage, and the actors actually interact with them during the show.”
“Before the show and at intermission, the actors sing contemporary songs and play period instruments,” Parker continued. “You might have the Rolling Stones being played on a lute. It’s just so fun … it gives kids a completely different idea of who Shakespeare was. He wrote for the Queen of England, but he also wrote for the people who could maybe only pay a penny to come in and stand in front of the stage. He knew he had to entertain both.”
The Magna Vista students were engaged with the play, she said, and they weren’t afraid to ask questions during the talk-back after the show. Students asked the actors why they decided to devote themselves to Shakespearian plays, or asked how long it took them to understand the language.
“Students understand Shakespeare a lot more when they can see it on-stage,” said Magna Vista teacher Melody Margrave, whose students attended Blackfriars last Thursday. “They were surprised at how much they enjoyed the day. We did discuss it in class … but sitting and reading Shakespeare and seeing it performed are two entirely different things. I think that’s what made the trip so enjoyable. A lot of them had never been to a real live performance, and they were really close to the stage. The whole front row was within feet of the stage, and there were six students from Magna Vista that actually got to sit on-stage.”
Margrave said the late Alison Parker was a vibrant young woman who supported the arts, and that field trips like the Blackfriars trips are a wonderful way to honor her memory.
Since the For Alison Foundation was founded in February, Parker said, it has provided four scholarships to the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s summer camp at Hollins University; helped sponsor a free Roanoke Symphony concert at Elmwood Park in Roanoke; provided state-of-the-art video equipment for WMHS-8, the student-run news crew at Martinsville High School; sponsored a Martinsville Middle School trip to see a touring Edgar Allan Poe production in Roanoke at the end of the month; and arranged through DePaul Community Resources in Roanoke for a family day for foster children and their families at the Taubman Museum of Art on April 1.
“Alison had opportunities that a lot of kids don’t have,” Parker said. “She just appreciated the arts and what they could do. … She wanted the arts to be accessible and available to all children.”
Those wishing to make a tax-deductible contribution to the For Alison Foundation are invited to mail a check to For Alison Foundation, P.O. Box 1207, Collinsville, Va. 24078, or go online to foralison.org and make an online donation.