Shakespeare in Detroit turns to the schools

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Sam White, founder of the popular Shakespeare in Detroit series of outdoor performances, was planning to stage "The Merry Wives of Windsor" in Campus Martius this summer, but clearly covid-19 got in the way. She's now looking at the summer of 2021.

The Detroit News caught up with White, a 2019 Michiganian of the Year, to talk outdoor vs. indoor theater, her YouTube podcasts, and how she gets truculent ninth-graders to like the Bard.

So how are you doing in the current lockdown?

Sam White: "I’m doing alright. I'm healthy. No complaints. [Laughs.] Anyhow, nothing I can do about it. For me, it’s more just wanting to get on with it."

Sam White is the founder and executive director of Shakespeare in Detroit.

You suspended performance last year to get ready to move into permanent quarters on the Detroit River. What have you been doing with yourself?

"We haven’t done any professional, on-stage programming since 2018, but launched Shakespeare STEAM – working in the Detroit public schools with 3-12th-graders. We teach not just the classical components of putting on a play, but also the technical and engineering sides, like building a set and designing lighting and sound."

Which schools?

"The Boggs School, Clifford Academy, Detroit School of Arts and the School at Marygrove."

How do you sell high-schoolers on Shakespeare?

"Kids go into Shakespeare thinking, 'Oh, this is going to be boring.' Maybe it's just the word 'Shakespeare' -- it seeps into the population that this is dull and intangible. But students usually recognize after spending time with a play that they actually like it."

What about your new permanent home?

"We were supposed to move into a building this year, but I’m relieved that didn’t happen. It would’ve been very disappointing if we’d planned a big grand opening, and then there’s a pandemic."

Shakespeare in Detroit has worked this past year in the schools. Arise Rock and Karrief Hubbard starred in SID's production of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Detroit School of Arts.

What was this summer's production you had to cancel?

"We were going to do 'Merry Wives of Windsor' at Campus Martius in July. It's such a fun, blue-collar play with everyday people -- no kings, queens or dukes. Just folks like me. We were excited, but this isn’t the summer to do it."

When will we see Shakespeare in Detroit in action again?

"We’ll produce another show when it makes sense to do so. Things are so unpredictable, I can’t say precisely when."

Will this be indoors or outdoors?

"I’m pretty sure when we come back to our professional shows it’s going to be outdoors. The beauty of doing theater in the park is it’s such a democratic and empowering way to watch. You can choose where to sit, and your proximity to other people is kind of up to you. And you’re outdoors – in the fresh air."

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy