Today is William Shakespeare’s 449th birthday. To honor him, I’m sharing a reminiscence of my first encounter with the Bard.
I was a very energetic child. I’m not sure that irrepressible is exactly the right word, but I did love to run and jump and talk and…well, you get the idea. My teachers didn’t see the charm of all this energy. They were very specific about how misplaced it was. My report cards were filled with comments like “If Catherine spent less time talking…” or “If Catherine focused more on her work…”
By the time I got to sixth grade I was beginning to get the idea that maybe I could be good at school if I put in some effort. Part of what was different about sixth grade was Miss Morency. She brought Drama to our school. The first play we put on an adaptation of The Tempest. I played the part of Stefano, a drunken sailor. The only thing I remember about the play was staggering onto the stage with an empty wine bottle in my hand. Can you imagine? But I also know that I LOVED being onstage.
We were a huge hit, and we begged Miss Morency to put on another play. She agreed, and before long we had the script for an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew in our hands. Needless to say, I wanted the part of Katherine! I practiced and practiced. All my hard work paid off, and, in the spring of 1972, I starred in Burnham School’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy.
This experience was a turning point in my young life. I had never been very successful at anything in school. People were happy to remind me of this on a daily basis. Suddenly, I was good at something! I started putting more effort into school. I started to get better grades. I started to like school.
I performed in a few other productions throughout middle and high school, but I never matched my success as Katherine. But my performance in The Taming of the Shrew gave me the confidence I needed to pursue other dreams.
It seems like the arts are always under fire, the first programs to be cut when budgets are tight. And yet the value of theater, music and the fine arts to education is clearer than ever. The National Task Force on the Arts in Education, in a report to The College Board, states “Studies consistently show that the arts are effective in keeping students in school, engaging students in learning and promoting high achievement.” (p. 5)
Shakespeare knew that “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” I was lucky to have teachers who helped me find that destiny in myself. I pay tribute to them every day by helping my students find their destiny.