Bard to Go introduces students, communities in the Bahamas to Shakespeare through performances
Posted on November 16, 2017
Following a performance at a school in the Bahamas by Grand Valley’s traveling Shakespeare troupe, Bard to Go, a young student walked up to the six members of the cast and said, “You guys inspired me to want to read more Shakespeare.” The student then proceeded to hug every member of the ensemble.
“It was a really special moment and reflected what we’re trying to accomplish by traveling to schools in the U.S. and around the world,” said Ariana Martineau, a senior majoring in history and education. “The point of our show is to educate and excite people about Shakespeare and help them realize how fun his works can be.”
Bard to Go recently traveled to the Bahamas in October to perform at the annual Shakespeare in Paradise Festival in Nassau, and at several local grade schools. Bard to Go was the only international group invited to perform at the festival this year.
During the festival, students performed their 50-minute 2017 Shakespeare Festival show, titled “The Wonder of Will: This Is Your Afterlife!” The play asks what would happen if the Bard was brought back to life and taken on an adventure through his most famous plays. It includes scenes from “Hamlet,” “Richard III,” “The Comedy of Errors,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth” and “The Merchant of Venice.”
Karen Libman, professor of theater and Bard to Go founder, said performing in the Bahamas exposed her students to audience members who are more responsive and vocal than those in the U.S.
“Bahamian audiences cheer and laugh, and they’re really much more viscerally involved than American students who are told to stay in their seats and not make any noise,” explained Libman. “It’s an actor’s dream to get this kind of response, so it was wonderful for our students to experience that.”
“Talk backs” occurred following every performance, giving audience members the opportunity to ask Grand Valley’s students a variety of questions, from the logistics of memorizing lines to favorite Shakespeare plays. Libman said “talk backs” are an intrinsic part of each show.
“In the U.S., the 'talk backs' act as a recruiting and outreach tool, but when we do international programs, they are much more like a cultural diplomacy through the arts,” she explained. “Shakespeare is really cultural currency, and in any country where English is taught or learned, Shakespeare is a part of that education.”
While students were at the festival, they also experienced other performances and events. Libman said she enjoys bringing students abroad because they get to dive into the local cultures. For example, Bard to Go students participated in an International Day, which exposed them to the different cultures of the people who live in the Bahamas.
Libman added that Bard to Go utilizes the works of Shakespeare to create relationships with people all over the world.
"We are sharing our American take on Shakespeare with students and audiences in other countries as a way of being cultural diplomats and as a way of introducing ourselves through the universal language of theater," she said. “That’s certainly something that is important for our students as they go into a future of working and living in a global society."
Traveling and performing internationally is typically a bi-annual experience for students who participate in Bard to Go. The troupe’s first trip was to Jamaica in 2004. Since then, Bard to Go has performed in Italy, China, Canada and the Czech Republic.
In May, Bard to Go students added a Dominican Republic stamp to their passports. The group performed a 45-minute version of “Macbeth” five times at three different schools in Santo Domingo.
During the annual Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival, Michigan’s oldest and largest Shakespeare festival, Bard to Go performs at various secondary schools throughout the state. The troupe additionally performs as an official entry at ArtPrize, the world’s largest open international art competition.
Libman said that Bard to Go, which began in 2001, serves as a method for exposing students to the works of Shakespeare whose schools may not be able to afford bringing students to Grand Valley to watch the Shakespeare Festival’s main stage production each year.
“One of the things that we notice when we perform Shakespeare is that his work really is a foreign language to our students in the United States,” Libman explained. “They are not used to hearing Shakespeare, and a lot of times, when you ask them about Shakespeare, they say they hate reading it, but then they see it live and they are transformed.”