Our Past | 1994: Short Shakes is a longstanding tradition

Selected by Karen Larsen

The following includes excerpts of an article run in the Aug. 4, 1994 edition of The Empire Press. That was the 16th year of the Short Shakespeareans. The group is still going strong and this year’s play, “The Taming of the Shrew,” will run at the Riverside Playhouse Aug. 9-12.

 

Children interpret Shakespeare

By Todd Starkweather

For 16 years, Sherry Schreck has headed the Short Shakespeareans, a children’s theater group which revolves specifically around the works of Shakespeare. Schreck is the founder and artistic director of the group. She also teaches drama at Eastmont High School. “I see it as a training ground for young people to learn the basics of drama, specifically Shakespearean drama. I see it as a vehicle for learning that Shakespeare is fun. If children learn this at a young age, they will carry it with them for the rest of their life,” said Schreck.

For this year’s production, “A Comedy of Errors,” the youngest member of the group is 6 and the oldest is 14. The average age is around 10, said Schreck.

Short Shakespeareans launched into existence in 1978. Schreck saw two children performing a scene from “The Taming of the Shrew” in Oregon and “it ignited a spark. It was like a vision,” she said. So during the fall and winter of ’78, she taught a Shakespearean drama class for young children. Their first production, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” occurred during the summer of 1979. Schreck and the group traveled to Ashland, Oregon, as they do every September, to perform the play. “I was on top of the world when we performed at Ashland (in ’79),” remarked Schreck.

While the group gears itself towards children, everyone can enjoy it and participate in it. “We have a lot of input from other adults. This is definitely a family project. A lot of children bring their parents to appreciate theater,” said Schreck. For Schreck, the thrill of the project comes through teaching children to enjoy and understand a higher form of art. “I love that they learn to appreciate beautiful language.”

A casual or nonchalant observer might think that because these thespians only average 10 years in age, they wouldn’t be able to understand or grasp the complexity Shakespeare puts into his works. Schreck is quick to point out, however, that this assumption is false. “The children discuss the script and know the themes, ideas, etc. They engage themselves in the text much more than anybody would believe.”