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At this season’s star-studded 25th Anniversary Gala, Chelsea Clinton spoke eloquently about the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s role in her coming of age.
“Michael and the Shakespeare Theatre Company provided me the opportunity to think about what it meant to be good and bad, to be noble and ignoble, to be great and ugly—to think about what I would do in different situations, how I might think and feel and act. It enabled me, in a very strange way, to have a normal upbringing.”
Her words hit close to home. I also grew up within the walls of the Lansburgh Theatre. I saw productions (including the 1991 Free For All production of The Merry Wives of Windsor), attended Camp Shakespeare (taught at the time by Ethan McSweeny) and took acting classes that culminated in a performance on the set where Patrick Stewart played Othello. I feel privileged to have had these opportunities but I know now I am one of hundreds, from a variety of backgrounds, who have been animated and educated by STC over the past 25 years.
Theatre, and especially Shakespeare in performance, opens up new worlds for its audiences. As a kid, I took my relationship with the theatre for granted. STC was never a “special occasion” place to me; it was my place. Even if it is not easy to articulate, there is a feeling of ownership that makes students want to keep returning.
Under Michael Kahn’s leadership, providing opportunities for young audiences has always been a priority. Many of our current programs, and those I participated in years ago, were created by the late Stephen Welch, who guided STC’s Education programs until 1995. From the moment that STC began, Stephen joined Michael in the desire to reach the area’s young audiences and fill them with excitement for classical theatre. It worked.
Now I am an employee of STC. When I sit in the theatre with SHAKESPEARIENCE students or watch a Text Alive! production, I remember myself at that age. I’m grateful that there is a new generation of theatregoers feeling the same sense of wonder, excitement and comfort within the walls of STC. My first STC production was The Tempest in 1989, and some lucky audience members at Merry Wives are having their first Shakespeare experience. It’s the work being done today, from educational programming, to the annual Free For All, to every single production on STC’s stages, that adds in numerous ways to the lives of an ever-growing audience—of all ages!