Jul 28, 2014
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Shakespeare Gets a Cell Phone

Shakespeare on the Sound anti-bullying program "Speaking Daggers" resonates with middle-schoolers

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Aptly named "Speaking Daggers," a pilot program of (SOS) shows that bullying and humiliation are, unfortunately, timeless problems. The program, which partners SOS with the is sponsored by  and demonstrates that through the centuries, the evolution of bullying has reached its modern incarnation: cyber-bullying.

Emily Bryan, Director of Education for  (SOS), explained that most people in lower Fairfield County envision one outdoor play per summer at either at Rowayton's Pinkney Park or Greenwich's Roger Sherman Baldwin Park when they think of SOS. The truth is that Shakespeare on the Sound has expanded into summer camp programs as well as the Speaking Daggers anti-bullying pilot program.

Bryant, a Darien resident who is a former Shakespeare professor with a Ph.D. from Northwestern explained that during the Speaking Daggers middle school visits, she and the actors are on the alert for 'the Shakespeare glaze.' "We ask the performers to freeze in order to do a gut check with the audience before we proceed," said Bryant. "We want to make sure the kids know what's going on before the actors proceed. We want to make Shakespeare both exciting and relatable."

The "Speaking Daggers" program not only makes Shakespeare accessible to middle schoolers, but relates back to the timely topic of bullying, and more specifically, cyber-bullying.

At in Norwalk on Tuesday a group of about 75 students were cautioned by teachers at the outset of the program that the use of any "device" during the presentation would result in confiscation. It would seem that a cell phone is a mundane tool for communication as well as an occasional tool of the bully. 

Seated in every-other-chair in the auditorium, the antsy 11-, 12- and 13-year olds at Nathan Hale were fidgety at first. It was the end of a long day of school and it was sunny and warm outside. Yet the performers—five professional actors from Shakespeare on the Sound who had taken the train from New York City—drew the youngsters in.

At one point, volunteers from the audience had a chance to re-enact a scene from Romeo and Juliet that otherwise ended in murder. Given a chance to defuse tensions from escalating to a crime of passion, a young boy volunteered to improvise an alternate ending. Walking slowly, deliberately, onto the stage, the young boy acted the part of Tybalt. Taking on a submissive demeanor, he quietly explained, "I am sorry." In response, Romeo, taken aback, accepted the apology. Tensions were defused.

During each of three scenes—one from A Midnight Summer's Dream, one from Romeo and Juliet, and a third from Merchant of Venice—the students had ample opportunity to participate. During the famous monologue from Merchant of Venice that includes the words, "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes. Hath not a Jew hands. Organs. Dimensions. Passions. Affections. Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, same diseases and healed by the same means as Christians? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" Other actors used the occasion to substitute the word "Jew," for gay man, geek, tall, or poor to drive the point home.

On a sunny spring day it speaks volumes that an auditorium full of middle schoolers were captivated by five performers. The actors not only shared their love of the stage and Shakespeare, but they succeeded in relating to the constraints of middle-school years and promising that, with patience, it really does get better.

This summer Shakespeare on the Sound will perform Romeo and Juliet. For the first time, the performances will take place in Greenwich at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park before moving to Rowayton. Also, there will be four more performances in Greenwich in order to compensate for potential inclement weather and mitigate overcrowding.

Check the Shakespeare on the Sound website for opportunities to volunteer, information about corporate sponsorship, individual donations or partnerships with and . Romeo and Juliet will be performed outdoors in Greenwich on June 26 to July 8, and in Rowayton July 18 to July 29.

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