Shakespeare can save your life

April 16, 2016
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT
Tana McLane,
Special to the Democrat

 
Back in the 1990s, during the Southern Shakespeare Festival, we took our play’s director and principle actors into a prison in Blountstown and provided a panel discussion of our current play. We spent the better part of a day there and found the prison inmates to be well-groomed and attentive.

After every visit to the prison, Southern Shakespeare received letters of thanks from those inmates. The ones we liked the best, the ones that brought tears to our eyes, were the ones whose writers told us of their passion for Shakespeare now, and how they wished they had encountered the Bard when they were younger, before they’d made the mistakes in life that landed them with long prison sentences.

I know myself, as a working artist, that art can save your life. Shakespeare can, too. We got a glimpse of this with our prison visits. We get another glimpse of this when we see young people connecting with Shakespeare’s works in a variety of ways.

Making Shakespeare fun is making it accessible. And reaching youth with Shakespeare can set them on a path that is deep and rich, innovative and thoughtful.

Enter “Sonnet Man,” also known as Devon Glover.

It is interesting that Shakespeare first saved Devon’s life, and now he’s busy bringing it to others, to save theirs.

Devon was running out of resources as he neared the end of his college degree and wasn’t finding help anywhere. Finally, an educator hired him to help high school students tackle a book that was required for graduation, a book many were finding too boring or difficult to learn. Only after Devon agreed to delve into the book and find a way to connect it to those students was he told that the book was “Othello.”

So he tackled it, at first with difficulty. But he soon caught on to its rhythm and meter and really began to understand it. He became a self-taught reader of Shakespeare and the character of Sonnet Man began to germinate.

Devon is a math teacher (he ultimately did finish his degree), a writer, a performer, and a rap artist in Brooklyn, New York. This will be his second Southern Shakespeare Festival in Tallahassee.

He studied Shakespeare’s sonnets and soliloquies and set them to hip-hop. It’s amazing how powerful they are in this form. He first performs them verbatim, in the Bard’s own words. And then translates those words into our modern language and breaks them down, quatrain by quatrain, or line by line, to a level everyone understands.

He reveals how Shakespeare’s writing includes the entire scope of issues, oppressions, triumphs and failures, love and hate, treachery and fellowship – the ingredients of human life in whatever age, at whatever age.

He is quick to point out that while students may find Shakespeare difficult, he succeeded at it. He tells them that if he can do it, they can, too.

Soon, students are reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and even writing some of their own. His is an interactive process that awakens students’ connectivity to each other, and therefore to all of us. He invites them into the experience of a sonnet. And this changes their lives.

The Southern Shakespeare Festival is excited to have Sonnet Man a part of its Friday and Saturday evening pre-show event at 7 p.m. on the Amphitheatre stage at Cascades Park.

And the Tallahassee community, via Leon County Schools, will see Sonnet Man in classes and workshops and performances in the days leading up to “The Comedy of Errors” in Cascades park this weekend.

Tana McLane is a local artist in Tallahassee. She makes silver jewelry and writes in her studio. In the original Southern Shakespeare Festival, she served as the Education Committee Chair for two years.

What is a sonnet?

Sonnets are love poems whose structure is 3 quatrains (4-line stanzas) plus a final couplet. Usually by the third quatrain, the poet has experienced an epiphany or revelation. Shakespeare is credited with154 sonnets!

More information

Southern Shakespeare Company on Facebook

Website: www.southernshakes.org

The Sonnet Man/Sonnet Man on Facebook

Sonnet Man website: www.thesonnetman.com