Arkansas Schools Tour 2011 - The Poe Show

Morgan: TheatreSquared has begun an exciting journey through the state of Arkansas. In the next 11 days, we'll hit every region of the state and visit a wide variety of schools. Some urban -- but most very rural. We specifically sought out partnerships with schools where the students have limited access to arts and arts integration in the classrooms. We were looking for the schools that needed us the most -- and we found 22 of them. With more funding, we feel that this program could and should be offered to many more schools, but for now we are thrilled with the impact that we know we will be having in the coming weeks.

The idea for the tour came last fall when Dr. David Jolliffe, who holds the Brown Chair of English Literacy at the University of Arkansas, was approached by Wes Whitaker, an English teacher from Valley Springs. Wes had attended TheatreSquared's production of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" and expressed regret that his student had not had a chance to see it. This casual conversation became a moment of inspiration. When Dr. Jolliffe came to me to float the idea of a touring version of the show, I immediately jumped on board! The actors were still around. We had the props. Why not hop in the van and take the show on the road? Of course, there were several other logistics to work out...but the seed was planted.

With funding from the Arkansas Arts Council and the Brown Chair of English Literacy at the University, we were able to create a short Shakespeare show and take it to eight schools in the fall of 2010, including a visit to Valley Springs. The show was paired with an in-class workshop to provide greater curricular tie-in. We had a blast, but we knew that we wanted the initiative to have an even larger scope. There are so many schools that we wanted to visit, but time and money were at a premium.

This year, as we began to plan the tour, we again sought the counsel of Dr. Jolliffe. He has led several literacy initiatives in the Arkansas Delta and was able, along with some generous funding, to provide us with several vital contacts that made it possible to add several schools in that region to our map. Dr. Jolliffe's work in Augusta and the surrounding area has been incredibly significant, and his seal of approval certainly started us out on the right foot with the teachers and administrators there. We are also thrilled to be able to connect to so many other schools in the Northwest and Central areas of the state. We cannot wait to get started. There are so many students to meet and so much work to do and fun to be had.

Last year, we visited eight schools and roughly 2400 students. This year the show will be performed for 22 schools and roughly 6500 students. There are hundreds of other schools in the state and tens of thousands of students. We are hopeful that this program will receive the recognition and funding that will allow us to create access to the arts for many more students in the years to come. We are in debt to Dr. Jolliffe, The University of Arkansas, and the Arkansas Arts Council for making this program possible.