Sharing Shakespeare with People Experiencing Homelessness
“Power over your own story”
San Francisco, February 26th- Simply the Basics will host San Francisco Shakespeare Festival for a workshop with people experiencing homelessness. Learning complex communication skills, critical thinking, empathy, reflection – and because everyone has a story worth telling.
Shakespeare might seem like an odd choice, stereotypically relegated to the fodder of English classes and the efforts of British actors, but program proponents espouse its benefits. Studying Shakespeare teaches complex language and literacy skills, critical thinking about human emotions and the consequences of choices, emotional intelligence, empathy, self-reflection and gives rise to the exploration of new ways of thinking. The atmosphere and exercises of theater and performance also teaches cooperation, interpersonal interaction, communication and problem-solving. It assists in breaking down barriers, building bridges, and helps people recreate themselves as their best selves
That is why on February 26th, Simply the Basics will host the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival for a “Shakespeare for All Neighbors” workshop and lunch.
What are the benefits?
Heavy and emotional topics can arise through studying Shakespeare, and working through these via a fictitious character can be immensely helpful for the participants when reflecting on their own situations and past decisions. The “soft skills” they learn in navigating their emotions and pasts are immensely valuable, both on the streets, and as they move into shelter and housing communities.
“This above all - to thine own self be true”- William Shakespeare
Theatre skills are life skills – the ability to focus, to work together as a team, to communicate expressively, to be in contact with our emotions, to combine discipline with creative inspiration, to problem-solve individually and as part of a group, to celebrate our victories, and learn from our mistakes.
For several years, Shakespeare has been taught in prisons to great results. Dameion Brown is just one example of the success of the program. He uses the skills he learned in a prison program to improve his life and those of others. Brown says he identified with the character of Othello, and since his release continues to use Shakespeare to teach the recently incarcerated. Never before has Shakespeare been taught in a setting for people experiencing homelessness.
Theatre breaks down social barriers, creates friendships, reduces stress, and builds bridges between people who might not otherwise have had reasons to interact and learn about each other. As a society - Theatre teaches us empathy, as we imagine other people’s lives. It teaches us to recognize what is similar and what is different between our own lives and the lives of other real and imagined people. It encourages to us reflect about our place in society and in history. The study of acting is the study of the choices we make – who we choose to be, how we choose to act in the world, how we choose to spend our time.
Why Focus on Shakespeare?
Not only is the language of Shakespeare sublimely beautiful and richly poetic, the subject matter of his plays covers the whole gambit of human experience. Shakespeare’s ability to uniquely blend the familiar and strange makes his plays both accessible and fascinating. He expresses a profound knowledge of human behavior and offers insight into the world.
“Shakespeare offers opportunities to explore human interactions, motivations, and the human condition.We will practice being human together. And we will explore choices through the lives of the myriad of characters.For example, in the case of Macbeth, we have the opportunity to discuss the nature of crime: Why does someone choose to break the law? What are the unintended consequences? Above all, it is an opportunity to celebrate the Participants’ stories themselves – there is a power in someone’s story and everyone has a story to tell.” – Meghan Freebeck
In the time of his writing and first performed plays, more than 80% of Londoners would flock to the theatre without a penny to their name to enjoy the new work of William Shakespeare. That accessibility is evident in his writing, with high-brow references for the elite audience members, to low-brow jabs at the injustices in the city.
400 years since his death, Shakespeare’s writing manages to remain the most modern, relatable, and provocative work of our modern world. On February 26th, we will celebrate the stories of our own neighbors in the same respect as those of Shakespeare’s world.