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Shakespeare in Shades

Shakespeare in Shades

This past June marked the first year that the Shakespeare in Shades summer program was operated by the Clarence Brown Theatre. The program began in 2016 with the collaboration of the Great Schools Partnership, Knox County Schools, and the Clarence Brown Theatre and was developed to help bridge the gap from elementary to middle school by improving reading and building confidence among rising sixth grade students.

The program utilizes teams of two KCS teachers (English and theatre) to work alongside four UT theatre students during the month of June. The mentors assist teachers as they work on the reading skills necessary to help stage an adaptation of a middle school novel. This year our teachers Rebecca Dudash and Lauren Andrejko, along with mentors Crystal-Marie Alberson, Elizabeth Clark, McKinley Merritt, Julia Stark, and Derrick Washington worked with nearly 30 students at Vine Middle School while staging an adaptation of Hoot. Twenty students completed the program and performed for more than 100 of their family and friends in the Carousel Theatre.

Shakespeare in Shades

The program consisted of students who were born and raised in Knoxville to students who had only lived in the United States for a few months and everyone in between. Half of the participants were English Language Learners, coming from homes where English was a secondary language. Nearly 78 percent of students demonstrated growth in their reading abilities. Some students saw a gain of more than 20+ words read per minute while others demonstrated significant growth in their reading accuracy, comprehension, expression, phrasing, smoothness, and pace. Ninety-five percent of students showed growth in behavior, teamwork, and creative expression, while 100 percent of participants saw an increase in confidence.

The rising sixth graders benefit from this program, but so do our UT theatre students. It provides a paid, hands-on opportunity for them to work within an actual classroom while utilizing the tools they’ve learned developing their craft.

“For the past four years, I have worked as a mentor with the Shakespeare in Shades program, teaching theatre and building relationships with rising sixth graders who struggle with reading and confidence. Throughout my time with the program, I have come to appreciate the unique outreach structure and the incredible level of impact for the students and teachers alike. I have watched students who struggled with confidence and reading and speaking skills gain self-assurance onstage and in the classroom in just a few short weeks. I remember one student who did not speak English very well and was a few years older than the rest of the students. I was concerned at first because he was struggling to read and speak and I wasn’t sure how he could survive onstage. After a week or two in the program, however, I saw him smiling proudly onstage with the rest of the students and later in the classroom slowly tracking the reading section with his finger and then smiling happily when he pronounced a word correctly. I remember how proud we all were when we saw his progress. On that last day at the Carousel Theatre, as another mentor and I sadly watched the students pile onto the bus probably never to see them again, it was then that I realized that I had come into this program thinking that I would be able to help struggling students, but really the students were the ones who had blessed me in more ways than they could ever know. Because of many experiences like this in the program, I was inspired to create Performing Arts Outreach as my focus in the College Scholars Program, with the hope of one day creating similar programs. Shakespeare in Shades allowed me to share skills I had learned in the college classroom and apply them in a real-life teaching and outreach environment with students who needed it the most.”

– Julia Stark

Shakespeare in Shades was made possible through the generous support of The Great Schools Partnership with additional help from the Scripps Howard Foundation and VOLStarter. To learn about this program and how you can help make a difference in the lives of our youth, please contact Hana Sherman at

Read more about the program and VOLStarter Campaign.