News / USA

Juvenile Offenders Sentenced to Shakespeare

Massachusetts teens who act out can end up in drama camp

Tim has discovered there are some aspects he enjoys about performing Shakespeare, especially the sword play.
Tim has discovered there are some aspects he enjoys about performing Shakespeare, especially the sword play.

Multimedia

Audio

For most American teens, performing Shakespeare is an optional activity. For some teens in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, the course is mandatory.

"Some people are here for worse reasons than others. I'm here because of assault and battery," says Tim, 15.

Tim is among 12 teens sentenced by a juvenile court judge to participate in the Shakespeare in the Courts program. "The judge sentenced me here, so my first thoughts were, 'Shakespeare is not my thing. I'd rather not.'"

He decided the punishment could be worse. He could be picking up trash or be locked up.

Developing trust

More than halfway through the five-week program, Tim has discovered there are some aspects he enjoys about performing Shakespeare, especially the sword play.

"Assault and battery and you hand me a sword in Shakespeare? No, I didn't think that was going to happen at all. I'm glad they trust us, though."

The trust and respect director Kevin Coleman shows his young actors is returned in full. The teens clearly enjoy working with him. He has them singing in Latin, dancing to Elizabethan music and inspires them to embrace Shakespeare.

"If you present it to them in a way that engages their imagination, that engages their playfulness, that engages their willingness, they really come alive," Coleman says.

Coleman is director of education for Shakespeare and Company theater in Lenox, Massachusetts. He was first approached to develop a theater program for students more than 30 years ago by Paul Perachi, the principal of a local high school.

Kevin Coleman is director of education for Shakespeare and Company theater in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Kevin Coleman is director of education for Shakespeare and Company theater in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Perachi later became the first presiding juvenile court justice in Berkshire County.

"As soon as that happened he called me up and said, 'This thing we did in the high school, doing Shakespeare with kids, could we do that with the court kids?'" says Coleman.

"When I became a judge," Perachi says, "I thought, these are the same kinds of kids I saw as a principal, they just come before me under different circumstances." He thought that working with professionals at Shakespeare and Company would help them develop self esteem, communication skills and manage their anger.

A decade and more than 200 teens later

The first group of teens went through the program 10 years ago. Since then, more than 200 kids have been sentenced to Shakespeare, and the program has received wide-spread recognition, including a 2006 award from the White House.

There are success stories. One individual Perachi describes as "a rather violent offender" is in her third year of college.

"Even if we only have a few [successes]," he says, "it is worth it."

Kate, 17, gets fitted for her costume for Henry V.
Kate, 17, gets fitted for her costume for Henry V.

Perachi stepped down from the bench last year when he turned 70, the mandatory retirement age for judges in Massachusetts. But teens continue to be referred to the program, and Shakespeare in the Courts is still going strong under Coleman's direction.

His goal is for the kids to complete the program. Not all of them do. Some are asked to leave when they don't participate.

"They come in with a backpack full of hurt and resentment and fear and injustice," Coleman says, adding the program "is not about fixing them." He says many of them will probably get into trouble again. "Will they get into as much trouble? No."

Judge Paul Perachi, now retired, conceived of the Shakespeare in the Courts program, which he says develops good citizens.
Judge Paul Perachi, now retired, conceived of the Shakespeare in the Courts program, which he says develops good citizens.

Positive changes

That's because the teens do change.

Tim says the program has given him more patience. "How long it takes us to do scenes sometimes, we've got to be patient and get through it."

That alone may prevent Tim from ending up in court again.

All of that patience and hard work definitely pay off at the final performance, says Judge Perachi. "A lot of these kids invite their teachers of all people, and their lawyers. And their relatives and the teachers and all are proud of these kids. Everybody has got big smiles and flowers for the kids and little gifts."

For many of the young actors, it's the first time they have been praised for an accomplishment.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs