Amidst unprecedented budget cuts, arts education in elementary and secondary schools seems to be, well, a dying art, according to a 2009 survey by the U.S. Department of Education. In fact, in most districts, schoolchildren are lucky to receive arts-specific instruction just once or twice per week.
Yet, within these students, creativity thrives, as evidenced by the overwhelming success of the High School Shakespeare Competition year after year.
In its 34th season, this annual competition brings students from more than 95 schools together to showcase their talents in front of peers, mentors, and professional judges from some of the nation’s top performance arts institutions.
And every year, this annual competition proves itself a guiding light for soon-to-be college students looking to marry interests and academics into plans for a future of which they can remain impassioned.
Take, for example, Wade Arave, an SUU alumnus who attended the competition a few years ago as a young high school actor. The chance to perform, to compete and to focus his talents was the push Arave needed to envision a future in the arts.
He now teaches theatre at Canyon View High School. And with limited resources, Arave looks to the Shakespeare Competition as an important teaching tool, with the intent of giving his students the same opportunities within arts education that he had.
“It’s really a staple for what students need to be learning,” Arave said. He credits the competition for providing “invaluable opportunities for students to work in a competitive setting and attend workshops navigated by some of the most talented people in the business.”
Forty-five of Arave's students will be participating in this year's competition.
Though not as far along in his journey, Canyon View High School senior Matt Smith has been similarly inspired by the annual competition at SUU. In fact, he will join the campus community full time next year as a freshman theatre major.
"There is something amazing about the energy at this competition; everyone is completely invested in the art – in Shakespeare," Smith said.
Of this energy and its influence on budding artists and young students, education director for the Utah Shakespearean Festival Michael Bahr explained, “The collaborative spirit that joins many departments here at SUU with The Festival reminds me why I, myself, loved going to school here.”
And why he returned after teaching theatre at a local public school. He continued, “We are changing people’s lives, and these changes – their passion for the arts manifest in their work beyond high school – will impact those around them for years to come in many positive avenues.”
The Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespearean Festival will host the High School Shakespeare Competition October 7 - 9. Though centered on theatre, the annual event is comprised of many artistic forums, with the plays and themes of William Shakespeare as its foundation. Stemming from humble beginnings, with only 8 schools in attendance, the popularity of this event has grown to over 95 participating schools from various states, making it the largest competition of its kind in the nation.