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By Rebekah Altman

While much modern English usage such as the phrase “Cool, dude” would cause 16th-century theater aficionados to scratch their heads, current audiences are often equally at a loss when studying canonical works by William Shakespeare. He may be the best-known playwright in history, but struggling through antiquated language and tricky turns of phrase can discourage even the most industrious student.

So this fall, The Léni Fund, a signature program of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, teamed up with the world-renowned Shakespeare’s Globe to bring the magic of Shakespeare to our local students. Two artist-teachers from Globe Education, Adam Cunis, and Tas Emiabata led workshops in SB Unified junior high and high school classes over the course of several days, plus a storytelling session in one elementary school, reaching a total of more than 1,000 students. Through participatory exercises that involved every member of the class, the workshops immersed the students in the plots and themes of Macbeth with the aim of demystifying centuries-old language and fueling a love of literature. Macbeth is read by all 10th graders in the District, and this experience primed students to dive in with confidence.

Rich Lashua, a performing arts teacher at Santa Barbara Junior High, shares, “By the end of the 90 minutes, my students were not only able to clearly articulate the essential plot elements of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, they were also able to successfully decode a lengthy soliloquy from the text and bring it to life.” One of his students enthused, “I never thought Shakespeare could be so FUN!”

Teachers also participated in a professional development workshop held by the Globe with a focus on techniques for teaching Shakespeare to students across disciplines. San Marcos High School English teacher Susan Thompson describes how following the training, “I went home, revised my lesson plan to include one of the techniques we learned and had a remarkable day of teaching the following day.” The training, she continues, “rejuvenated my teaching and excited my students!”

As an added bonus this fall, Ensemble Theatre Company presented Macbeth to open its 2016-17 season—the first Shakespeare play it has produced in more than 20 years. The company offered student matinees to school groups, and hundreds of SBUSD high school students attended in October, further solidifying their sense of connection with the play. Cool, dude!

Created by Sara Miller McCune, The Léni Fund provides access to professional performing arts for students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District and is a signature program of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation (SBEF). SBEF is the only organization dedicated to supporting all 22 schools and 15,000 schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. To learn more, visit or contact SBEF Executive Director Margie Yahyavi at (805) 284-9125.