Photo courtesy of New Hazlett Theater
Urban Impact Shakes performers.
By Madeline Smith
Urban Impact Shakes is a group of semi-professional actors from the Northside, featuring youth, ages 15-18, who memorized 100 to 300 lines of Shakespeare in preparation for their performance of The Merchant of Venice, Aug. 6-9 at The New Hazlett Theater in Allegheny Center.
Laura Anderson, stage manager, acting coach and costume designer of Shakes, and her husband, Eric Anderson, director and producer of Shakes and assistant director of Urban Impact’s preforming arts. were looking to start a summer program to work closely and in depth with students who had a lot of potential.
“We wanted to build relationships with students,” Eric said,“and the best relationships I’ve been able to build in my life have been through acting.”
Eric added: “The goal of shakes is to build disciples. Shakespeare is a tool for us to build a foundation of faith in the lives of students that is their own. It’s a fragile privilege to talk about Jesus through acting to people who never set foot in a church, these kids break down barriers.”
Shakes is funded by Urban Impact and free for students who participate. Not only is access to Shakespeare and its rights also free but it challenges students academically and artistically. A dedicated group of teens is formed the second week of June and practice from 10a.m.-4p.m. Monday-Friday until the date of their performances.
“Shakes gives these kids a peer group. Kids find their best friends in Shakes, which is a huge honor; it gives them a support system outside of school. A lot of their schools and homes are dark places spiritually and not supportive emotionally.” Laura said., “They’re not uplifting they’re oppressive and a lot of times failure is expected, it’sthe opposite in Shakes, failure is not an option. Success is mandatory, we will not let them fail.”
“Shakes is like my second family,” Melannie Taylor, 17, a sophomore at Pittsburgh CAPA and an active Shakes member the past four years, shares, “It’s shown me how to be a better person and actor. It has also challenged me to grow in my faith and not lose my identity which I think is really important.”
Acting paired with heart and talent, the Urban Impact Shakes are eager to take the stage and impress hundreds of people.
“Shakes is something the Northside can be really proud of. These are their kids doing professional level Shakespeare. They are ambassadors for the Northside so what you see on the news isn’t all bad, these kids are doing something exceptional.”
Performances start at 8 p.m. Thursday thru Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee time Sunday.
For more information visit New Hazlett’s official website.