The Sonnet Man performs the sonnet he wrote especially for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 2021.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) is offering a virtual workshop series this summer aimed at connecting kids 12–18 years old with the work of William Shakespeare.
The Shakespeare Lab features seven unique masterclasses taught by CSF actors and theater experts from across the country.
This year's virtual platform allowed CSF to host new and unexpected professionals from outside Colorado, including a brilliant rap artist who will teach attendees how to blend Shakespeare’s classical sonnets with contemporary hip-hop beats.
Devon Glover, AKA The Sonnet Man, travels to classrooms around the world setting Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets to hip-hop, to both entertain and educate young audiences in a genre they can relate to.
For this year’s virtual Shakespeare Lab, Glover will teach attendees how to relate personally with Shakespeare’s work, and how to write, perform and rap a Shakespearean sonnet.
And, as a long-time fan of CSF, he created and recorded a custom sonnet specifically for this year’s festival.
The birth of The Sonnet Man
Like many young people, Glover was never a fan of Shakespeare growing up.
“The first time I was introduced to Shakespeare was in my high school English class when they gave us King Lear to read,” he said. “All of us students looked at each other like: I ain’t reading this.“
He even switched his major from English literature to math education during his first year at Ithaca College because he didn’t want to study Shakespeare.
“It’s sort of surreal that I'm working with Shakespeare today when I used to avoid that man,” Glover said.
Glover dropped out of college with 1 credit remaining due to financial reasons, which led him to a new opportunity working for Flocabulary, a Brooklyn-based company that creates educational hip-hop songs, videos and additional materials for students in grades K-12.
He visited classrooms teaching math, writing and English to students whose teachers felt they needed a creative push to get them interested in their lesson plans. In the ultimate irony, he found that Shakespeare in particular really resonated with hip-hop rhythm.
“As a hip-hop artist, I was able to notice the couplets and the rhythm of his sonnets, and that there was a meter or cadence to his work that really connected with the genre.”
He was eventually introduced to his then-manager, Arje Shaw, a Broadway producer, music producer, playwright and author. Shaw, who has since passed away, had the idea of bringing sonnets to music for 20 years before he met Glover.
“Arje knew that whoever was gonna be the artist representing this project was gonna be called The Sonnet Man, which I was not a fan of at first,” Glover said. “It sounds like a superhero, but I ran with it and I’m so happy I did.”
Glover has since taught and conducted workshops and performances in England, Canada, Netherlands, Bermuda, Prague and more. He was also featured on NBC’s The Today Show and received tremendous national response––so much so that an anonymous donor paid for Glover to finish his college degree.
Bridging the gap
Glover is continuously looking for connections between Shakespeare and hip-hop culture. He pointed out that in his day, Shakespeare bent the rules of language to make it understandable to his audience and shocked them with his blatant insults and raunchy humor.
“It’s similar to when hip-hop first started, and society tried to censor the artists,” he said. “Rappers had to make their own lane, just like Shakespeare.”
But, Glover is adamant that anyone, even those who aren't hip-hop fanatics, can resonate with Shakespeare’s work.
“There's a myth that Shakespeare isn't for everybody, or that you can’t write like him,” Glover said. “If you can write a line with 10 syllables, and you can rhyme two words, you’re already halfway there.”
In his workshops, Glover encourages his students to relate Shakespeare’s work to their personal lives by asking them three questions: Have you ever had a disagreement with a parent or friend? Have you ever been insulted by somebody? Have you ever done something behind someone’s back, or had it done to you?
“Shakespeare wrote three different genres: the histories, the comedies and the tragedies. No matter which one of these you pick, you're gonna see all of these themes,” Glover said.
“It's like reality TV, and kids, especially high school students, can relate to that.”
The Sonnet Man: Hip Hop Hamlet, To Be Or Not To Be
The Sonnet Man: Hip Hop Hamlet, To Be Or Not To Be
Glover was born and raised along with two brothers by a single mom in Brooklyn, New York––the home of some of the world’s greatest rappers including The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z and Nas. Yet, arts programs are limited.
“I never learned any fine arts growing up in Brooklyn. I went to a good school but we never had a fine arts program, just sports,” he said.
Glover firmly believes that fine arts should be incorporated in the curriculum of all students.
“There are so many fine arts educational programs and extracurricular activities that have been shut down in low income areas,” he said. “I watched my own neighborhood disintegrate the moment that our afterschool school programs were cancelled.”
Glover hopes to continue to teach and perform at schools across the world, and one day develop his own theater program in the Brooklyn community he grew up in to offer kids a place to get creative.
“I want to give back to my community and be another representative for writers, artists, introverts and students of color.”
About Colorado Shakespeare Festival
CSF has been running education programs focused on bringing Shakespeare to young audiences for over 20 years, according to CSF’s Director of Outreach Amanda Giguere.
“It’s important for kids to connect with a time beyond our own, and studying and performing Shakespeare allows you to step into a different century and connect with art that was created over 400 years ago,” she said.
Giguere also thinks it's important for kids to grapple with the complex storylines of Shakespeare’s work.
“It teaches kids how to think about the world from someone else's perspective,” she said.
This is CSF’s first year offering a virtual workshop series.
During a typical summer, Giguere would hire CSF actors to teach master classes in-person at CU Boulder's Mary Rippon Theatre, but the coronavirus pandemic forced them to remain socially distanced through summer.
“It's a new creation,” she said. “Given that we have to keep our actors in a bubble this year, to keep them safe per equity guidelines, this virtual offering seemed like a great alternative.”
Registration for the full Shakespeare Lab package has closed, but drop-in students can register for the remaining classes here.
To learn more about Devon Glover’s work, you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter at @ThesonnetmanNYC.