Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.
Though the thought of summer may seem a cruel tease just now, if you’re a parent, chances are you’re already well into your summer planning. How to engage and enrich children during the summer months is the preoccupying concern for many parents. If you have an artistic teenager with a flair for the dramatic, then the Young Ruffians Apprenticeship program, run by Toronto’s Shakespeare in the Ruff theatre company — which takes over Riverdale’s Withrow Park for outdoor performances on summer evenings — might be just the ticket.
A free-of-charge acting intensive with an emphasis on performance, the Young Ruffians program provides secondary students with practical artistic experiences through the study of Shakespeare. During the program, the Young Ruffians work with professional actors to hone their skills, capped off by a performance of a collaboratively created ensemble piece. Previous Ruffian mentors have included the actors Jake Epstein and Lesley Robertson. Getting quality coaching — while experiencing combat, corruption, murder, trickery, revenge, thievery, and often-dysfunctional family values through Shakespeare’s works — seems a more lively summer plan for an artistic teen than passively ingesting pervasive, prosaic modern media. And while no parent is eager to expose their child to the dangers of the world, allowing them to explore these dangers in so creative, collaborative and theatrical a context is a pretty cool idea.
According to Lois Adamson, a core company member and Founding Youth Development Coordinator, Shakespeare in the Ruff was created in 2012 with a strong vision to centre itself in both entertainment and engagement. The Young Ruffians program is an extension of that core value. “We want to create in partnership with the people and places we serve, ” she explains. “As a young company, we also want to support the community of emerging artists that Toronto is so blessed to have.” The Young Ruffians program, just now turning 3, is a success precisely when the Ruffians feel “a sense of community together and with their mentors, a valued part of an ensemble, a stronger grasp of and passion for Shakespeare, pride in their work and a desire to continue learning.”
So who might be an ideal Young Ruffian? A teen who is “passionate, a team player, committed, and hungry to learn.” In addition, a Ruffian often brings theatrical experience: “Many of our Young Ruffians are very involved in their school drama programs, as well as the variety of youth programming that exists in professional theatre throughout Toronto.” Some graduates are so keenly inspired and well-equipped that, after high school, they continue in theatre programs in post-secondary institutions across Canada.
So with the bonus of fresh air–and a summer tan–built right into the experience, being a Young Ruffian may seem preferable to, say, planting trees in Northern Ontario. “As rehearsals for our production take place outside, so too does the work of our Young Ruffians – we are outside unless the rain forces us indoors,” Adamson explains. “Though not the same as a Northern Ontario summer (which is actually where I spent all of my childhood and teenage years), July and August in Toronto hold their own charms. What’s wonderful about working and learning outside is the way it both grounds and expands our sense of what’s possible artistically. Withrow Park is an incredible place, not only in its natural beauty, but in the myriad of people who make up its community. It is in being a part of this place that we find continual inspiration to create.”
As a relentless winter wears on, it’s awfully appealing to contemplate the communal experience of Shakespeare under the stars on a summer’s eve. The eagerly-awaited third season of Young Ruffians begins in July 2014, with the due date for applications fast approaching on May 1. So if your teenager has aspirations in theatre or is curious to explore the world of Shakespeare (or both), the one-of-a-kind experiential learning offered by the Young Ruffians program could be an exciting and memorable step in their journey. “It’s very exciting and inspiring for us,” enthuses Adamson, “to see what our Young Ruffians pursue after completing the program. We’re so grateful for having had such an amazing first two seasons — we can’t wait for our third!”
For more information about the program, check out the video on the Young Ruffians’ page on shakespeareintheruff.com.
© Arpita Ghosal 2014