Michele Crain is a licensed teacher with a professional theater background. Along with fellow teacher-actor Chris Wilson, she performs in high schools and middle schools all over Nevada as part of the Shakespeare in School program.
What’s the Shakespeare in School program?
The Nevada Shakespeare Company’s outreach and education program has been going on since 1999. We’ve hit over 130,000 students in all of Nevada. We bring Shakespeare into the schools. We teach the children Shakespeare. We make it really fun and relevant to the students, and they understand it, and it’s cool. It’s a different take on it, so kids appreciate Shakespeare and understand that it’s really fun, interesting and relevant.
And you mostly go to rural schools, right?
Well, when we started, we mostly went to rural schools, but now we go everywhere. … We always try to contact the rural schools because they … have a harder time getting these opportunities.
What’s your territory?
We have gone, honestly, to every county in Nevada. What we go to most often is Northern Nevada. … Reno, Carson, Dayton, Virginia City, Minden, Gardnerville, sometimes Tahoe.
You’re focusing on The Taming of the Shrew?
Yes. We try each year to focus on different plays. So we can get a variety because most of the schools call us to come back. This year is Taming of the Shrew, and we chose it because everybody loves The Taming of the Shrew. 10 Things I Hate About You is a, well, pretty recent movie that’s extended from it, and most young adults know that movie. It really goes well because the kids love the fight scenes. There’s that intimate fight scene between Kate and Petruchio, and it’s one of the most loved comedies in all of Shakespeare.
Is it a fun one to perform?
It’s very fun. Very physical—I get bruises sometimes. It’s a lot of fun. It’s lighthearted. And in the times that are going on right now—with the economy, and the wars—we really want to get to the kids and let them enjoy it and have fun. The world’s under so much distress right now, and a good laugh is always refreshing.
Do you find the students are able to access Shakespearean humor?
Oh yeah. When you come to them in a workshop like this, they understand it. The reason we started doing it is that most people’s view of Shakespeare, when you ask them, is like “Oh, I don’t even understand it. He’s so boring.” We bring it to life in a way that they understand. When we go into the workshop, we introduce ourselves as the professionals before we leave the room and come back as the characters. We talk to the students in their language. For example, I’d say, “There’s this really pretty, cute, sweetie named Bianca, and all the guys like her.” So we set them up in their language, so they know what’s going on, and then the scene is in the Elizabethan language and true to form. We give the teachers, ahead of time, information about the mini performances, so they can teach that to their students, and the students understand what is actually going on in the scene.
Afterwards, we do a culminating activity, where we do an improv game, and this year we’re doing the Dating Game. We take volunteers from the audience to play the other characters, like the sister, Bianca, and the father, and then we do an improv game, so the children get a chance to come up and be the performers.
What attracts you to Shakespeare?
Just like most students, I didn’t care for it. And then, as an actor, I was intimidated by it because I didn’t get it, so I started studying it and performing it … and then I started understanding it, and it was really, really good and really, really fun. And I started to perform it, and it’s like any language, the more you do it, the more you understand.