By Ph.D. Student Elizabeth Harelik
In May 2015, Ohio State held a Shakespeare and Education Festival to celebrate the culmination of a second three-year partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Festival ran from Thursday May 14 to Saturday May 16, and honored several elements of the Ohio State University/RSC partnership. Kelly Hunter, the creator of the Hunter Heartbeat Method (HHM), which uses Shakespeare to break through the communicative blocks of autism, was in residence and led several workshops over the three days. In these workshops, Kelly taught students, community members, and theatre artists from across the country the fundamentals of the HHM. Kelly also remounted her production of The Tempest, which had its North American premiere in Columbus in July 2014, co-produced by The Ohio State University and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Kelly adapted and directed this production specifically for young people with autism, and it uses the games and tenets of the Hunter Heartbeat Method to tell the story of The Tempest. The cast was made up of several Ohio State actors, including faculty members Kevin McClatchy and Robin Post, and alumni Aaron Lopez, Melonie Mazibuko, Sifiso Mazibuko, Andrew Trimmer, and Sarah Ware.
The Festival also marked the culmination of a three-year longitudinal research project on the Hunter Heartbeat Method, led by a team from Ohio State’s Nisonger Center. On Thursday, May 14, Dr. Marc Tasse presented the results from this research study, and he and PhD candidate Maggie Mehling discussed possible future research on the effectiveness of HHM as an intervention for children on the spectrum. The Department of Theatre also hosted a book launch reception, celebrating Kelly Hunter’s recently published book Shakespeare’s Heartbeat.
In addition to Kelly Hunter, several theatre artists visited Ohio State for the Festival and led workshops on active approaches to Shakespeare. These artists included Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education at the Royal Shakespeare Company; Debbie Korley, a teaching artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company; and Peggy O’Brien, Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Festival attendees had the opportunity to see multiple Shakespeare-related performances throughout the weekend. On Thursday, May 14 and Saturday, May 16, the 2015 MFA class remounted their devised show In Here Out There, inspired by the cohort’s work, at Haugland Learning Center in Columbus, implementing the Hunter Heartbeat Method with young people on the spectrum. The Thursday performance included a talkback, moderated by Peggy O’Brien, with the cast, director Mo Ryan, outreach coordinator Robin Post, and Kelly Hunter. On Friday, May 15, students from Indianola K-8, Hilltonia Middle School, and Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School performed in Transformation, Trust, and Love, a collection of scenes from or inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.
On Saturday, May 16, the Department of Teaching and Learning hosted the conference “Teaching Shakespeare for a Change.” The conference included presentations on classroom practice by several Columbus teachers who had participated in the RSC training, as well as a panel on Shakespeare initiatives in professional theatres, and a keynote speech by Cecily O’Neill.