Once upon a time, Shakespeare performances were boys-only affairs. But since spring 2004, The Viola Project has been offering girls in the Chicago area the chance to get in touch with the bard through performance-centered, small group workshops—without the opposite sex.
In workshops ranging from a day long during the school year to weeks long in the summer, 10- to 14-year-old girls participate in acting exercises and learn about Shakespeare’s works and writing style. Although The Viola Project doesn’t put on any big productions, its participants perform for family and friends at the end of each session, says Ellie Kaufman, co-founder of The Viola Project.
Tackling Shakespeare can seem daunting, Kaufman says, but participants really claim ownership of the works. "I think a lot of people have this conception that it’s really outdated and dense, but once you put it on its feet instead of just reading it in a book, it becomes really quite accessible," Kaufman says.
The girls-only setting allows participants to open up without the perceived pressure from the opposite sex, Kaufman says. "It’s an atmosphere where they feel like they can try out things," she says. "If they have a creative idea, rather than keeping it to themselves and wondering is this good or not good, we encourage them to try it."
The Viola Project does more than teach Shakespeare’s works, Kaufman says. Participants become more comfortable using their voices and bodies to create characters. They develop confidence in their beliefs and opinions and valuable life skills that extend beyond the stage.
Cora Swise, 14, who has been participating in The Viola Project since she was 10, says the workshops are a good place to make friends.
"It’s such a great experience, especially if you’re interested in acting or if you need a place to build your confidence. It’s a great place to start work on that," Swise says.
Prices vary depending on the time of year and length of workshop. The Viola Project holds workshops at City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. To register for a workshop or for more information, visit www.violaproject.com.