In July, the DAREarts Toronto Summer Camp was evoking drama and creativity at Bloor CI and at the Toronto School of Art. This would not have been possible without the generosity of Wells Fargo via United Way Worldwide; the Toronto School of Art; the TDSB; Coach Canada; and the Stratford Festival. Over twenty inner-city and Rexdale-area teens aged 12 to 17 were engaged in intensive arts workshops centered on Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece, Hamlet, led by DAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon and Artist-Educator Jennifer Parr.
With only seven days ahead of them, the teens were dared to not only learn the plot of Hamlet, but to take on roles as its varied and complex characters. They were also met with two additional dares: making their own set backdrops AND costumes! They only had six days to pull all of this together, with the performance on the seventh. As Polonius says: Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t!
During their first day together, the teens quickly got to know each other and worked with the teaching team to determine who would play each role in their performance. When the end of the day rolled in, each teen had a script in their hands and a nervous look on their face. Over the next several days, nervousness transformed into excitement and enthusiasm as the youth supported each other through their roles, working together to practice lines, discover their character’s quirks, and to master the language and movements needed for a perfect show. Each youth was supported to find their own strengths, and to discover the best ways that they could contribute to the group effort.
To finish off their first week, the teens shifted over to the Toronto School of Art where three 7’ by 9’ canvas panels awaited them. Under the guidance of volunteer visual artist Zlata Huddleston, three groups were formed and designs brainstormed. The melancholy themes of Hamlet surfaced in their drafts, with many of the teens sketching out skulls, castles, and ornate yet dark designs. Each group then voted on the design to paint, and within a few short hours we had taken over not only our studio space, but the outlying hallways with canvases, sketches, paint tools, and teens all over the place, happily focused on bringing their visions to life! During this time, the teens also repurposed clothing to be used as their performance wardrobe.
The day of the performance arrived quickly, but the teens were ready. Before the day’s scheduled start time, the bleachers of Bloor CI’s gymnasium were already filled with the youths reading their scripts, performing their lines amongst themselves as the DAREarts team moved in to set up their makeshift stage. Shooting Stars Productions quickly set up the canvas artworks as the teens rehearsed, and by 2pm the bleachers were filled with different people: parents, siblings, teachers, supporters, and drama enthusiasts! After three solid rehearsals, show time came and went by smoothly, including audience gasps, laughter, and cheers as the teens gracefully portrayed their roles. You can watch their performance in its entirety below, thanks to Incite Creative:
The final day of camp offered a reprieve to the teens after all of their hard work: we journeyed over two hours out of the city to visit the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where the teens had the amazing opportunity to not only see a haunting production of Hamlet on stage, but to meet both Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and actor Mike Shara for behind-the-scenes Q&As! Thank you, Stratford Festival, for organizing this plus a special costume warehouse tour prior to the performance!
We’d like to send special shout-outs to our volunteers including youth mentor Ryan Durham-Sanca, who worked hard to encourage all of our campers to strive for excellence, to teaching assistant Ruma Hussein, who ensured that our team had the support needed to make the camp run smoothly, and to Ronnie Huddleston, who provided support to both the teens and teaching team throughout the week!
DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower youth at-risk to become leaders. Our lead sponsors are Northbridge Insurance, Guy Carpenter, Scotiabank, Ontario Arts Council, and Ontario Trillium Foundation.