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I first came to the Folger as a high school freshman participating in the Secondary School Shakespeare Festival. I was playing Dogberry, the lovable constable with a penchant for malapropism, in my high school Shakespeare Club’s abbreviated staging of Much Ado About Nothing. My first Festival was incredible – the extreme energy and love for Shakespeare I found there were only matched by the equally thrilling second and third Festivals I attended. I was hooked.

Here’s a photo from the 2010 Secondary School Shakespeare Festival at the Folger – I’m playing Perdita, with my friend Ethan as Florizel, in The Winter’s Tale

Here’s a photo from the 2010 Secondary School Shakespeare Festival at the Folger – I’m playing Perdita, with my friend Ethan as Florizel, in The Winter’s Tale.

Having loved the Festivals, I wanted to see if I could get more out of the wonderful resource that is Folger Education. During the fall semester of my senior year of high school, I was accepted to the Folger’s High School Fellowship Program. Twice a week for three months, fifteen fellow students of Shakespeare from around the DC metropolitan area and I got to take advantage of all the Folger had to offer – seeing the Folger’s production of Othello (and chatting with its director, Robert Richmond), discussing Much Ado About Nothing with Folger Director Dr. Michael Witmore, and touring the Folger’s Reading Room were just some of the program’s highlights.

After going to the Festivals and participating in the Fellowship, I knew that I wanted to learn more from the Folger and became a summer intern for the Education Division. This is my second summer working with Education, where every day is unique. Generally, I’ve helped to plan curriculum for Shakespeare for a New Generation and develop the script for the acting ensemble Bill’s Buddies, which has taught me fun various ways to bring Shakespeare into the classroom. Another major benefit to interning at the Folger is the constant opportunity to learn. Between last summer’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute and this summer’s Conference on Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom, there seems to be an endless stream of guest lecturers and entertaining workshops to enjoy.

To any students in the DC metropolitan area, I definitely recommend checking out what the Folger has to offer. Even if you’re not sure how you feel about Shakespeare now, try coming to a Secondary School Festival to see if your mind might change; if you know you’re a die-hard fan, apply to the High School Fellowship Program or the poetry seminar Shakespeare’s Sisters. As for me, I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing as a career – I’m toying with majoring in English, Education, or some combination thereof – but I know that I want to stay connected to the Folger, and I’m excited for whatever the rest of my summer with Education may have in store!

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Image~by Emily DenBleyker

The Taming of the Shrew came first, when I was 7 or 8 – a community theatre production in their tiny theatre in the middle of a cornfield. Then, when I was 9 and bored with the 4th grade reading list, my teacher gave me special permission to read Romeo and Juliet for a book report. My mom and I read it together: first the story from Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, then the actual play, side by side on the couch, trading roles, talking through each scene, playing with the language.

My mother started buying every Shakespeare DVD she could find – filmed theatre productions, movies, specials about Shakespeare – and we would watch them together on quiet nights. I would watch them by myself in my free time or while I was doing homework, internalizing Juliet’s “Wherefore art thou,” and Beatrice’s “What fire is in mine ears?”

I’ve spent this semester as an intern in the Education Division of the Folger, and I’m finding myself more in love with these words than ever before – both how and what they say. It would be cliché to extol the magnificence of Shakespeare’s metaphors and the intricacies of his characterizations, but what I’m marveling over are the lessons and truths he could convey.

At the Secondary School Festival, I saw students who had found the sweetness in the lines years before and I saw students discovering the language for the first time. No matter how new they were to this crazy world we call the theatre, they learned what it feels like to stand in front of a few hundred people and say centuries-old lines that still apply to today. The costumes and the details are a little different, but these stories are told everyday in real life: people lie, fall in love, pretend to be something they’re not.

The biggest thing I’ve learned these past few months is this: to be able to teach these lessons, we have to learn them ourselves. Not literally – I’m not advocating usurping your brother’s dukedom just so you can learn how it feels to be reunited.  In the broader sense, if you look for Shakespeare’s stories in everyday life, you will find them. The words will come alive on the page and your life will be that much more dramatic (in a good way).

Emily DenBleyker is a junior at Gordon College in Massachusetts. She is spending this semester in Washington DC with the American Studies Program and interning with the Education Division of the Folger Shakespeare Library. After graduating next May, Emily hopes to work in theatre education. Or literature. Or film criticism. Or marketing. 

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