"Shakespeare High": Telluride Mountainfilm's "Rocky"

[click “Play” to hear Susan’s conversation with Tosh and Oscar]

 

Shakespeare Like the Telluride Film Festival, Mountainfilm in Telluride vets hundreds of movies submitted by hopeful directors from across the globe to select the best of the best to screen at its annual event. This year, festival director David Holbrooke whittled down the number of picks to about 60 features, including “Shakespeare High.”

“Shakespeare High” is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of a socio-economic cross-section of teens in Southern California who study Shakespeare to compete in a drama festival run by the many thousand-strong volunteer teacher organization, DTASC (Drama Teachers Association of Southern California). The Festival, now 90 years old, counts among its alumnae Val Kilmer, Richard Dreyfuss, Mare Winningham, Sally Field, Nicolas Cage and Kevin Spacey. Spacey is also an executive producer (through Trigger Street) of the film.

Why do we keep returning to Shakespeare? Short answer: no other writer holds up a truer mirror to human nature. The Bard manages to slice and dice, distill and dramatize emotions that don’t date, and he does that without an apparent agenda. Rather than trying to save mankind with his pen, Shakespeare cuts to the quick with his poetry, which acts like dime store magnifiers that allow us to see what is actually described in the small print. For the young people in “Shakespeare High,” the answer is even simpler: the Bard is a way out of the ‘hood.

The primary focus of “Shakespeare High” is under-served teens, whose immersion in high-school drama programs compels them to overcome difficulties and create better lives. All of the teens face challenges at home, including poverty, gangs, drugs, lack of mentorship/parenting, and the trials and tribulations of just being adolescent. Through their inspirational stories, we see the impact an arts education has on their lives, providing them with community, focus, passion, communication skills, self-confidence, and self-awareness.

The positive impact of theatre skills on the lives of young people is an accepted fact of life around Telluride, where the Telluride Academy’s Mudd Butts and the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s Young People’s Theatre Company flourish. Now “Shakespeare High” brings the message to the general public, underscoring the importance of drama programs in public schools, not a luxury. A necessity. 

We hope there are a few state governors in the audience.

To learn more of the backstories behind “Shakespeare High,” click the “play” button and listen to my interview with two of the film’s stars, Tosh Hall and Oscar Fernandez, and producer/investor Ronnie Planalp.

As an added incentive to see “Shakespeare High,” Tosh and Oscar are scheduled to perform a scene from Shakespeare following the screenings.

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Susan Viebrock

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