From Aurora to Ouray, actors with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival are visiting schools to prompt discussions of difficult topics like gossip and bullying.
Some 26 percent of high school students report that other students have told lies or spread rumors about them, according to Beverly Kingston, director of CU-Boulder’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.
When the abridged version of “Much Ado About Nothing” arrives in schools, the production focuses on the potential damage caused by gossip and the power of language. Professional actors perform the play and then lead students in small group exercises exploring the issues raised.
“Every day, kids are faced with difficult issues like gossiping and spreading rumors,” Kingston said. “This play brings these issues to life and empowers students to reflect on these topics and see how they can make better choices.”
“Much Ado About Nothing” is the third anti-violence production co-created by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. The highly praised program previously featured versions of “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night.”
More than 46,000 Colorado schoolchildren have participated in the program since 2011. The actors receive special training and also help spread the word to students about Safe2Tell, an anonymous tip line to report bullying.
In “Much Ado About Nothing,” Beatrice and Benedick are “frenemies” known for their constant verbal sparring. Their friends play a prank on them by gossiping within earshot about their mutual affection. In the meantime, the villain Don John fabricates a nasty rumor about Hero’s infidelity, which results in her public humiliation on her wedding day.
“Gossip and rumors can quickly damage a reputation and can have a negative impact on a person’s self-esteem,” said Amanda Giguere, director of outreach for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. “This play explores the power of words.
“When does a ‘merry war’ turn hostile? When does teasing go too far? What kind of damage can rumors cause? It’s a perfect vehicle for engaging students with questions about the cycle of violence and the negative impact gossip can have on a school climate.”
A key goal of the plays and workshops is to help students feel empowered.
“One of the best things schools can do is to promote a positive school climate where students feel physically and emotionally safe,” Kingston said. “School climate is continuously created in every single interaction. This play is a tangible action toward building a positive school climate.”
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is a professional theater company in association with CU-Boulder and has performed the works of Shakespeare every summer since 1958. The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence is part of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Behavioral Science. The anti-violence school tour is funded in part through grants from CU Outreach, the Boulder Arts Commission, the OAK (Outstanding Acts of Kindness) Foundation and One Lafayette.