Kate Morton spends a great many hours acting in front of the footlights, but she spends much of her time transforming unusual spaces into performance venues. And she is thereby transforming unlikely characters into actors.
Imagine convincing elementary school children to tackle Shakespeare. But that’s what Kate has been doing for three years as she routinely presents a 12-week course called “Shakespeare Without Tears” to children in grades 3 through 5. Kate admits, “Their favorite parts are always the theatre games and my ‘air broadswords’ class, but they do take major strides in learning how to tackle Shakespeare's text.” Each student performs in a scene and has to perform one monologue, and she keeps plenty of resource books handy so they can look up the meaning of all those challenging words. And she teaches them to make the work accessible to the audience by using physicality, imagination, and voices.
Most of the children volunteer for the program so they respond with enthusiasm, but occasionally she is asked to lead the program for an English class studying a particular Shakespearean work. This is when she sometimes encounters a reluctant actor who thinks he or she is “too cool for school.” Kate is undaunted. She refers to the program as a “playshop” – to avoid the word “work,” and she convinces them that the coolest thing they can do is actually participate and have fun. “The ones who were trying to ruin the experience for everyone else are often the ones who look silly in the end.”
Elementary schools aren’t the only unlikely venue for Kate’s drama instruction. She also works through the Salvation Army in Lawrenceville, Ga., to teach acting classes to youngsters who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity for such exposure. She teaches classes for kids as young as kindergarteners and the list of participants includes middle-schoolers, high school aged youth, and even adults. Kate says the kids in this program are very responsive to the training because it’s so unlike anything they do in school. And while some kids say they want to be an actor when they grow up, many are just in it for the fun.
And then there’s camp! Spring break and summer recess allow her time to teach young people through a special curriculum Kate has developed aimed specifically at teaching youth about musical theatre. The week-long experience includes “lessons each day about how rehearsals and the business of theatre works, snack and lunch breaks, and fun arts and crafts activities (it is camp, after all).”
Kate is using drama instruction to teach young people about more than cues and scripts; “The skills and confidence that I can offer them by giving them the courage to get up and perform in front of an audience will serve them in whatever field of study they choose.”
Shakespeare reminds us that “…one man in his time plays many parts,” and while Kate Morton is playing many parts, the running theme of all her productions is about giving a young person opportunities to grow. “I heard one parent recently remarking on their child's participation (in a lead role, mind you) that she just ‘had no idea why a child would want to spend their time this way.’ This spurs me even more to be a positive influence and a strong, encouraging role model in my students' lives. I often have no idea what adversity my children might be facing in order to come and participate in our programs; I just know that what is important to me, and what seems to mean the most to them, is that I am an adult in their life that will always do what I say, and that I will support them in whatever reasonable ways that I can.”
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…”
As You Like It