Amanda Giguere remembers hearing the words “iambic pentameter” for the first time.
“I signed up for a summer Shakespeare camp for kids,” said Giguere. “I knew nothing about Shakespeare before this camp, and in my 11-year-old brain, Shakespeare was fun, alive, and vibrant.”
She was instantly hooked. Just weeks later, Giguere sat in her Boston-area home stapling green strips of gauze—meant to mimic foliage—to a turquoise unitard for her theater debut as Ariel from The Tempest.
Now, almost 2,000 miles away at CU Boulder, Giguere has dedicated her career to helping share that joy with as many people as possible. As director of outreach for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, a professional theater company in association with CU Boulder, she’s traded in the unitard for more of a business casual look.
Shakespeare was truly the people’s playwright—he wrote about every aspect of humanity.” –Amanda Giguere
Giguere now spends most days tucked away in the cozy two-story house that serves as Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s office. Recently, she’s had more reason to reflect on her earliest Shakespeare memories.
On Friday, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival announced an ambitious initiative to bring live, professional Shakespeare performances to all 64 Colorado counties in the next decade.
“The Colorado Shakespeare Festival recognizes its role in sharing Shakespeare not only with the Front Range, but with people of every corner of the state,” said Giguere. “Shakespeare was truly the people’s playwright—he wrote about every aspect of humanity.”
The $3.2 million Shakespeare Across Colorado initiative will reach an estimated 180,000 audience members in community theaters, school cafeterias and other venues across the state by 2028. Funding for the plan—expected to come from a combination of grants, corporate sponsorships and public gifts—helps support artists’ wages, travel expenses, costumes and other equipment.
“We hope this impacts people who may never have encountered Shakespeare before,” said Giguere. “We hope to make it really clear that Shakespeare is fun and active and relates to all of us.”
Decades of experience
Giguere won’t hesitate to point out the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s status as the nation’s second-oldest Shakespeare festival. It’s a fact that’s hard to forget when you’re surrounded by it.
Each day, after climbing a narrow staircase to her second-floor office, Giguere is greeted by a mass of dusty photo albums stacked nearly to the ceiling. The dozens of albums—filled with decades of photos spanning multiple generations of King Lears, Juliets and Hamlets—serve as a daily reminder of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s long history.
“The Colorado Shakespeare Festival has been producing Shakespeare in Boulder since 1958, and our education programs have been around for more than 20 years, with summer camps, the annual Will Power Festival, and after-school classes,” said Giguere. “I am always interested in ways to improve our programming to better connect people with Shakespeare.”
While the Shakespeare Across Colorado initiative builds on a 61-year tradition of community engagement, Giguere has also looked to modern research in the digital age. One report on the Royal Shakespeare Company recently linked live Shakespeare performances to improved student engagement, language skills and a range of other positive outcomes.
Giguere, maybe more than anyone, knows the importance of first impressions for developing a lifelong relationship with the Bard.
“The plays were written to be performed, and if you encounter these plays in performance, they come to life in very visceral ways,” said Giguere. “Seeing a Shakespeare play, as opposed to reading it on a page, taps into something very human, and connects people to one another in beautiful ways.”
Shakespeare Across Colorado programming will also feature Shakespeare & Violence Prevention classroom visits.
The program combines real-world research and abbreviated Shakespeare performances to teach young students about bullying, empathy, teamwork and upstander behavior.
Founded in 2011 in partnership with the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, the Shakespeare & Violence Prevention has already reached a total of nearly 100,000 students at 264 schools across the state.