Shakespeare Festival’s Latest Production for Kids Opens up a Dialogue About Divorce

Watching their parents go through a divorce can leave children confused, sad and angry. But to remain strong for their family and friends, so many kids bottle up their emotions, scared what might happen if they let the world know how they really feel.

But through its award-winning Education Tour, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is giving the Bard himself the chance to open the doors to communication – to let kids know it’s ok to let those feelings out and to help their classmates understand the challenges they’re facing. With the newly-commissioned play Found at Sea, playwright-in-residence Nancy Bell explores the relationship between a father and his young daughter with humor and wit, with the works of Shakespeare blended in.

Now through April 16, the Festival will bring Bell’s production – along with a retelling of Julius Caesar – to 65 schools throughout the metro area and rural Missouri. And on March 18, they’ll join Kids in the Middle (KITM), a nonprofit that helps children, parents and families thrive during and after divorce, for a special presentation to discuss what young people face when the two most special people in their lives are separating.

Helping children connect to Shakespeare and with each other

Since 2002, the Festival has delivered educational programming to more than 300,000 students throughout the state, giving many kids their first taste of both live theater and Shakespeare. In addition to spotlighting works that tackle the topics affecting kids today, the Festival offers student workshops, providing tools that allow kids to solve the moral dilemmas plaguing Shakespeare’s characters and to write their own theatrical masterpieces.

The Festival’s latest presentation, Found at Sea, directed by Rick Dildene, explores the relationship between a dad and his daughter Marnie, a little girl who’s grappling with the news of her parents’ divorce. As a storm rages outside their window, the father uses their shared love of Shakespeare’s stories, including King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Pericles, to show that family and love always endure, no matter what obstacles stand in their way.

By importing Shakespeare’s swashbuckling heroes, daring adventures and enduring comedy into her work, Bell tackles a tough subject with humor, giving kids an opening to share their experiences with each other.

“There’s really two things I want kids to walk away with after seeing the performance,” said Bell. “First, that’s it’s ok to talk about your feelings with a grown up or someone you trust. That’s really hard for kids – sometimes they just don’t have words for what they’re going through. It can really feel scary and risky. Second, I want kids to understand that their parents are still their parents and will always be there for them. You’re held in by a family, even though your parents are divorced.”

To ensure they was cognizant of the different emotions the story can stir up, Festival staff partnered with KITM to get their expert opinions on the delivery of the message and to offer resources about adjusting to divorce to teachers, students and families at every performance. On March 18 at 2 p.m., the Festival will spotlight a free public presentation of Found at Sea at the St. Louis Public Library Central Branch location, followed by a talkback and Q& A session with Randi Borroff, MSW, LCWS, ACSW, clinical supervisor and community outreach counselor at KITM.

According to Borroff, Found at Sea offers “absolute hope” to everyone who watches it. “The play does a great job of modeling how the conversation between a parent and child should go. The father creatively finds ways to connect with his daughter as he always has. He reiterates how much he loves her, he doesn’t get defensive, and he doesn’t badmouth her mom. It’s really a lovely way to show how relationships can work in this situation.”

For Bell, whose own family faced divorce and benefited from the services of KITM, Found at Sea is truly a work from the heart.

“The play is in some ways a love letter to my daughter and my daughter’s father. I wanted to lay out the vision that a divorced family is still a family, even if they don’t live together. Everyone who has co-parented knows you still function as a family, and we still think of ourselves in that way. Kids need to know that even in the middle of a divorce, you still have loved ones who are there for you and that you’ll always be connected with.”

 

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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