Many students are being exposed for the first time to Shakespeare and live theater

Juanita Olivo, left, and Karen Figueredo perform ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Sandrell Rivers Theater in Liberty City.
Juanita Olivo, left, and Karen Figueredo perform ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Sandrell Rivers Theater in Liberty City.

For Karen Figueredo, her high school theater class was more than just a requirement: It was a shelter.

“I had a really hard life at home. Theater was an escape. It’s crazy to think how many kids in the theater department stay after school because they don’t wanna go home,” Figueredo said.

Now a professional actress, Figueredo is touring Miami-Dade’s public middle and high schools playing Bianca in a one-hour adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The production is GableStage's annual Shakespeare Tour, which has presented classic plays to almost one million Miami-Dade County Public School students over the last 18 years, said Joseph Adler, producing artistic director of GableStage.

The play is adapted and directed by Phillip Church, associate professor in the Theater Department of Florida International University, who also heads up What if Works, a company that offers theater, film and music graduates an opportunity to transition from college to the professional environment.

The seven actors who perform “The Taming of the Shrew” are all FIU grads, and some have also graduated from Miami-Dade public schools.

“This is the first show I saw when I was 10 years old,” said Zack Myers, who plays Petruchio. “From that moment forward, it all snowballed. In high school, I focused on doing Shakespeare, and it grew into this love for me.”

Before the kids see the play, their teachers are given a discussion and writing topics study guide, which helps the students understand the ideologies presented, as well as in-depth explanations of topics discussed in the play, such as “marriage and taming as a paradox” and “the Italian comedy.”

After each performance, a 15-minute open discussion follows in which the students have a chance to ask the actors questions.

Juanita Olivo, who plays Katherine, describes a typical performance: “The reception from the children has actually been quite wonderful. They were paying rapt attention and were really engaged in the Q&A that follows.”

More than 10,000 students will attend the 28 performances through March 17. Many of these youngsters are being exposed to live theater for the first time.

“Going back to the place where it all started for me and being able to somehow impact a student’s life is the most rewarding experience,” Figueredo said. “Theater makes a huge impact in kids’ lives. They feel validated and they feel safe. I think it’s so important to have that growing up.”

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