Theater company helps bring Shakespeare to life for students

The Highland Foundation Literacy Grant brought the Great Lakes Theater Company’s School Residency Program to the classrooms and stage of Highland High School this past spring, enabling students to view, act out scenes and discuss the plays of William Shakespeare. 

Specially trained actor-teachers from the Great Lakes Theater Company visited for five consecutive days, bringing lessons to augment the learning experience of a specific Shakespearean play for each grade level. The freshman class read “Romeo and Juliet,” sophomores read “Julius Caesar,” and seniors read “Macbeth.” Some days, the students watched the actors perform various scenes, while other days, the students became the actors with the professionals as their directors. Sometimes, the students and actors rehearsed and performed side-by-side. 

“Our students enjoy this opportunity to work with professional actors and experience Shakespeare’s plays firsthand,” acknowledged HHS language arts teacher Tanya Dolata. “By providing this grant, The Highland Foundation allows students to learn by hearing, seeing and doing. This multi-sensory approach not only enhances the learning experience of students but also improves retention and their understanding of the material.”

Using an interactive, hands-on approach, the actors brought various tools including scripts, props, costumes and even swords made out of PVC pipe, foam and duct tape to turn students into an acting troupe.

Learning stage combat seemed to be one of the students’ favorite lessons. “The onstage battling helped me learn more in depth about the story; it made me feel like I was in it,” said HHS freshman Chase Piazza.

Giving students time to explore classic literature from an actor’s point of view provides another perspective to Shakespeare’s stories, allowing students to see the relevance of the material and connect with it on a more realistic basis. HHS language arts teacher and grant writer Alex Jones said the Great Lakes Theater Company brings the plays of Shakespeare to life for students.

“They are practicing experiential learning and are having fun while doing it. I am grateful the Highland Foundation supports this grant,” she said.

The Highland Foundation for Educational Excellence is an independent, non-profit organization, run entirely by members of our community. Founded in 2000, our work supports enrichment opportunities in the areas of literacy, fine arts, community enrichment, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), special education and intercultural studies. We work closely with each Highland school to promote classroom innovation and excellence. Since our inception, more than $2 million has been committed for projects in the form of scholarships, classroom grants, and other long-term investments to enhance the educational environment for Highland students and staff. For more information visit:

Photo: Highland High School students act out one of the scenes from a Shakespeare play during language arts class. Photo submitted.