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The Viola Project: Shakespeare For Kids

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BY SARAH TEREZ-ROSENBLUM
At 15, each moment poised and crucial, I could devote an afternoon to interpreting the tone of my crush’s voice when he said hi … to the girl standing next to me. Once, he wrote this incredible song about me, well, I thought it was about me, but it turned out to be an ode to his car. This other time, my friend almost OD’d, but she didn’t and on like, a daily basis, my other friend got beat up, just cause he hung out in the girls’ room, even though he’s a boy.

And sometimes? When it was like, physically impossible to like … stop … tucking my hair behind my ear, I just wished I had an outlet. I wished for the Bard.

So, maybe those aren’t my memories. Maybe those are plot points from “My So-Called Life” (which, by the way, I’m still petitioning ABC to resurrect). Although slightly less eventful than Angela Chase’s, my teenage years included one thing hers lacked: Shakespearean study at a Wisconsin theater school. Enmeshed in hormone-fueled drama, Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers and mistaken identity twists seemed, not implausible or melodramatic, but reflective of my day-to-day ups and downs.

A decade later, who knows if my alma mater survived? But right here in Chicago, Reina Hardy is offering teens an outlet – teenage girls, that is. She founded The Viola Project, an all-girls Shakespeare workshop company, to allow girls to “take a break from the stresses of adolescence, move their bodies around, play pretend, get ugly. Plus, it's the perfect way to reclaim the Western canon, and own a part of [their] cultural heritage.”

Viola, the heroine of Shakespeare’s “The Twelfth Night,” is a shipwrecked girl who cross-dresses to get by. Says Hardy, “we picked her because, out of all of Shakespeare's female characters, she's probably the best role model. Juliet is a bad role model. Ophelia is a terrible role model. Lady Macbeth is strong, but still not someone you want to emulate. Imogen's not from a good enough play. We considered Rosalind, but Viola sounds better.”

TVP’s events aren’t just about positive role models; sometimes a girl needs the chance to flirt with her dark side. October 2 at 9 a.m., teen girls get to do just that at a spooky new workshop. “The Witching Hour: A Shakespearean Halloween,” open to ages 10 to 16, allows participants to embody Shakespeare’s most sinister characters, and play out his goriest scenes. Hardy says the day includes “theater games with a Halloween theme, capped off by a brief performance.

Shakespeare wrote plays with ghosts, witches, monsters and even slashers (“Titus Andronicus!”), so [girls can get their] horror-movie fix in while acting, and upping [their] English class skills.” Source material may include gory Titus and eerie Macbeth, but for Hardy, “the most chilling scene is a bit more psychological: when Iago stabs Roderigo near the end of Othello.”

I guess Hardy’s the expert, but my nomination for most spine-tingling scene in Shakespeare? The one where the heroine, sneaking into her high school on All Hallows Eve, becomes separated from her co-conspirator and is visited by the ghost of Nicky Driscoll. Or maybe that’s just another episode of “My So-Called Life.”

Visit http://www.violaproject.com/index.html to learn more about The Viola Project and to register for the Halloween workshop before it fills.

Sarah Terez Rosenblum (@SarahTerez) is an MFA-holding writer, teacher and Spinning instructor. She's also the Theater Listings Editor for Centerstage Chicago. Look for her posts twice a week.

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