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Author: Heidi Schmidt and Amanda Giguere

Shakespeare runs in the family

A Boulder mother and daughter team up to teach kids about the power of Shakespeare.

(Above: Caitlin Kline as Ariel in “The Tempest” c. 1996. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Kline and Judy Gilligan.)

In the early 1990s, Judy Gilligan founded a theatre company to teach homeschooled students how to perform Shakespeare. Gilligan’s daughter, Caitlin Kline, was one of her first students.

Now, more than two decades later, the student has become the master.

Caitlin Kline grew up to become a teacher at Whittier Elementary School in Boulder, where she’s taught for the last ten years—where she’s currently on maternity leave. Just like her mother, she’s committed to passing the Bard’s timeless words onto the next generation. On May 15, students from Whittier are set to perform Shakespeare scenes on stage with more than 100 other schoolchildren as part of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Will Power Festival.

“I really remember what it felt like to participate [as a child],” Kline says. “I can remember being in that space of doing acting games and preparing a show. That helps me bring a lot of energy to rehearsing with the kids. I can relate to them in a different way during play rehearsals than I do when I’m teaching generally.”

Every year, Will Power offers students from six Boulder-area schools the opportunity to collaborate on a production of a Shakespeare play; this year, it’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” Almost 150 students from across Boulder Valley have been rehearsing their assigned scenes for months, with help from their teachers and CSF actor Kelsey Didion.

The day begins with a 9:45 a.m. costume parade from Macky Auditorium to the University Theatre, where the student performance begins at approximately 10:15 am. The performance is free and open to the public.

Gilligan first learned about CSF’s newly formed Will Power Festival in 1996, and she and her homeschooled Shakespeare troupe were invited to join the festivities on the CU campus. When she moved on to a teaching position at Whittier Elementary, she kept the annual tradition alive.

Now that Gilligan is retired, her daughter Caitlin carries the Shakespearean torch at Whittier, faithfully leading her class through crash courses in line-learning and staging every spring.

In Gilligan’s 20 years at Whittier, she found that the study of Shakespeare is a great opportunity for students from all walks of life.

“People often think of Shakespeare as a good program for gifted students, but kids who are struggling in school can gain so much,” Gilligan says. “The kids get so much out of it. We can’t not do it.”

Whittier students are given both a written script and an audio recording of the lines to help them learn the language aurally and visually. Gilligan says, “they really rise to the occasion, and their classmates see them in a whole different light.”

CSF actor Kelsey Didion, who played Antiphola of Ephesus in last year’s production of “The Comedy of Errors” at CSF, has been working with all six schools over the last several months.

“It’s amazing to watch students not only understand but also take ownership of Shakespeare’s words, and have a whole lot of fun doing so,” Didion says. “It’s a testament to the idea that Shakespeare is for everyone.”

Kline couldn’t agree more.

“I think one of my favorite things is seeing the kids who are so intimidated at the beginning—‘You want me to do what?’—sometimes even say they don’t want to do it, and in the end come around to having this fabulous experience, really coming out of their shells,” she says. “You get to see a side of them you’ve never seen before.”

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