At home many of them face poverty, gangs, drugs, and a lack of role models. But in their high school drama programs, a diverse group of SoCal teens finds a chance to create a better life. Following several students as they prepare for and compete in the 90th Drama Teachers Association of Southern California Shakespeare Festival, this uplifting documentary voices the dramatic personal stories of a cross-section of youth from the Los Angeles area who find redemption, camaraderie, and a creative outlet on the stage and in the classroom.
Director Alex Rotaru's portrait of promising and dedicated students and their teachers features interviews with DTASC alumni including Richard Dreyfuss, Val Kilmer, Mare Winningham, and executive producer Kevin Spacey. A galvanizing film that reminds us of the positive impact of performance education on impressionable youth, Shakespeare High offers a powerful message in support of the arts at a time when budget cuts facing many schools put the future of these curricula in peril.
Director's Statement Collapse
Growing up in Communist Romania, my love of the arts was the one thing which allowed me to show up, study, and eventually excel in school. Even when my surroundings seemed hopeless, I found endless hope and inspiration in theater, music, literature, and film. I was especially affected by the works of William Shakespeare, to which I was exposed at a very early age by my parents: Maria, an actress, and Eugen, a playwright. Many parents in their generation used exposure to the arts to insulate their children—teenagers in the dreaded Communist Eighties!—against the intellectually oppressive environment of the time, and to stimulate the unimpeded growth of our imagination and self-worth.
When I came to the US on a college scholarship, a few years after the fall of Communism in 1989, I began noticing that the same principle applied here, even though—of course!—the challenges thrown in the path of teens growing up in the U.S. are essentially different and extremely diverse. The passion for the arts and education survived my various transformations and eventually carried over to filmmaking. It first took shape in PBS P.O.V.'s The Hobart Shakespeareans, which I co-authored with my mentor, doc giant Mel Stuart; then in They Came To Play, a film about the Van Cliburn Amateur Piano Competition, which, I'm glad to say, was very well received here in New York and elsewhere; and in Kids With Cameras, which shows autistic children using filmmaking and theater arts to connect and communicate with the world, and was recently selected by the Department of State to represent U.S. values abroad in its American Documentary Showcase.
With Shakespeare High, the cycle is complete, on what I pray the audiences will agree is a strong, upbeat note, despite the current budgetary climate which has arts education against a wall and denied funding. I can only hope that the simple lessons of our film will be used by parents, educators and—why not?—legislators, empowering other teens to become, in their turn, part of "the happy few," since this kind of achievement is indeed accessible to everyone.
Cast & Credits Collapse
Primary Cast Tosh Hall, Melvin Emesibe, Sam Sterns, Colleen Greenhalgh, Marisa Gold, Galvin Emeslbe
Director Alex Rotaru
Producer Brad Koepenick, Lori Miller, Ronnie Planalp, Alex Rotaru
Executive Producer Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, Dean Devlin, Eugen Rotaru
Director of Photography Brian O'Connell
Editor Drew Kilcoin
Composer Nathaniel Blume
Co-Producer Brian O'Connell