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Young Patients Star in Bravura Shakespeare Project

December 17, 2014

A violent storm. A foundering boat. A remote island. Magic, a witch, and ghosts.

What’s not to like about all of that if you’re a kid with a vivid imagination?

Libby Klaver studies up for the role of Miranda.

Which is why the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, in partnership with St. Luke’s, is staging The Tempest – at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, with pediatric patients taking top billing.

The play, thought to be the last written by William Shakespeare and one of his best, isn’t simple in the hands of the most seasoned actors and companies.

So what happens when, for example, you have only one actor? Or one actor and her parents? Or one actor weighed down by lots of medical equipment and another who’s too young to read ye olde English?

What happens is extremely good medicine, great fun, and a very welcome diversion for St. Luke’s youngest patients. It’s also a stellar blend of therapy and education that the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital think other pediatric care programs could benefit from knowing about, and why they’ll make the developing curriculum available to anyone who asks.

This is the third year that St. Luke’s has partnered with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival to create dramatic works within the hospital setting; last year, it was Macbeth and the previous year, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The connections between the young actors, their families, and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival have extended beyond the walls of the hospital. Patients and their families have played an honored role at performances at the Shakespeare amphitheater, and the organization has been generous with staff members’ time and with tickets. Youngsters who have attended St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School while they’ve been patients have been included in a spring event showcasing the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s work with Idaho students.

Staging Shakespeare when you don’t know how many participants you’ll have on any given day is an interesting challenge. Carla Hart, supervisor of St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School, and Renee Vomocil, the Shakespeare organization’s director of education, adapt as they go.

This year, they’ve turned The Tempest into a 10-act event, one class per act, one act per week, so that any young patient with the urge to take a turn at drama can do so – and parents can, and often do, get in on the action and round out the cast.

Acts have featured one performer and many, very young children and high-schoolers. Regardless, Shakespeare has been a hit.

“They pick their parts and instead of just words on a page, they bring these characters to life,” Carla Hart said.

This year’s production started in October and, based on how many patients St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital has through the winter, could wrap up about the end of January. St. Luke’s and the festival hope to show a video of the production at the spring event.

During a recent rehearsal and filming, 14-year-old Liberty “Libby” Klaver turned in a top-notch performance in the role of Miranda, the daughter of Prospero. After a fast-paced set of ice-breaker games and word-play exercises, she and another young patient donned a cape and crown to deliver their lines.

Libby’s review of the performance? “Awesome!”