A school-sponsored trip to Shakespeare’s Globe, in 2008 inspired Shakespeare in the City. Middle School English teacher Martha Douglas-Osmundson witnessed Hamlet performed by over 400 children and imagined staging such a production back home in Providence. She met with Julia Eells, who gave her wholehearted support, and Martha knew her students would be enthusiastic about the challenge.
Martha set about contacting every school principal in the city and asking if they wanted their school to be involved. Her impassioned request was met with confusion and apprehension at first, but soon teachers from 10 schools were convinced to take the chance. Martha cut the script down to a one-hour running time, the teachers rehearsed their respective scenes with their student acting companies, and soon it was time for the one and only group rehearsal on Lincoln’s stage. Hamlet was performed with more than 120 students that year, and it was a phenomenal success. Students from all over the city met each other and performed one of the greatest plays ever written. They played Frisbee and turned cartwheels on Lincoln’s lawn, visited in each other’s ‘green rooms,’ and generally reveled in the uniqueness of the evening.
Each school signed up again for the 2010 production of Romeo and Juliet, but – by now – word had gotten out! Teachers were now contacting Martha, a lovely change from the earlier days when she tried so hard to convince people that this idea could work. In addition to school teachers, Steve Kidd, education director of the GAMM Theatre, heard about the success of Shakespeare in the City, and he contacted Martha to see about how he might get involved. Martha and Steve created a company building session for all of the students, which takes place immediately before the group rehearsal. This has proved to be an exciting way for the students to become better acquainted, and the partnership has continued.
Romeo and Juliet found nearly 200 Providence students from 16 city schools on Lincoln’s stage in 2010. In 2011, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was such a hit, Shakespeare in the City has a record 18 schools signed up to perform Macbeth on May 22, 2012 with the rehearsal and company building scheduled for the previous day.
Ms. D-O (as her students call her) predicts the 2012 show will be at least as wonderful as the three previous productions were. Her Grade 8 English classes rehearse their scenes and plan some of the welcoming activities of the rehearsal day. This uniquely Lincoln program is truly a labor of love for this veteran teacher. As she says, “It provides an extraordinary experience for Lincoln students, which is what it’s all about.” Martha urges you to read this handful of the many testimonials she has received since the first show if you want to know more!
Providence teacher: “It was a lovely experience--and everyone we encountered at Lincoln was generous, enthused and encouraging. Parents seemed positively thrilled.”
Lincoln School parent: “I was so proud of our kids--not just Lincoln's, but Providence's.”
Lincoln grandparent: “That show was GREAT! I could go again tonight. You could tell that the kids were having as much fun as the audience.”
Lincoln parent: “Last night was amazing. I was absolutely blown away by the diversity, talent, and creativity.”
Lincoln administrator: “Yesterday's performance was fantastic! It was so exciting and energizing to see students from such a variety of schools, both public and private, with such a range of ages and grades --- all contributing equally to a performance with such rich variety of directorial styles and visions. This was a highlight of the year! We are all so fortunate that you have made this happen!”
Lincoln parent: “It was incredible!!! I absolutely loved it and what an amazing way to bring the Providence community together!”
Providence teacher: “My favorite part of this project was seeing the kids really performing Shakespeare- understanding it, feeling it, getting it, and being excited about it. It was also really valuable for me to see my students really feel like they could hold their own with students from some of the finest schools in the city - this was a cross-cultural experience for them.”
Providence teacher: “Thank you for a night that our kids, big and little, will never forget. I so enjoyed the range of interpretations and approaches, and my heart pounded for every kid on that stage. What a gift you've given the entire community!”
Providence teacher: “Kudos to you, your students and the Lincoln production team! My students had a great time and were no sooner off the stage when they started to talk about wanting to perform next year...please count [us] in! And for the Scottish play too...can't wait to see everyone's version. I was amazed by the talent, energy and excitement each school brought to the stage. A great night and time were had by all.”
Providence teacher: “Wow! This is high energy stuff. You got all these hundred(s) of kids having the greatest time ever. No wonder in such a short time you have so many wanting to return or join the crew. You will have a lot more next year. This is an unforgettable experience for all of us.”
Pictures from 2012 Macbeth, taken by Glenn Osmundson