For Alison Foundation gives Opportunities to Local Students
October 20, 2016
by Ben E. Williams, Bulletin Staff Writer
MARTINSVILLE Area high school students sampled the milk of human kindness, thanks to two trips to The American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton. They were both sponsored by the For Alison Foundation.
Barbara Parker, mother of the late Alison Parker and director of the For Alison Foundation, said the nonprofit foundation’s mission is to give students arts opportunities they might not have otherwise.
With that in mind, the foundation sponsored two trips to the Blackfriars Playhouse. This month students from Magna Vista and Bassett High Schools traveled to the theatre to see Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night."
High school students often have to read Shakespeare’s works, Parker said, but his plays were not meant to be read? they were meant to be performed. “They read it, and they don’t get it,” Parker said. “It’s like a foreign language, and they’re bored.”But seeing the plays performed causes a wholly different reaction. Parker said that the Magna Vista students who saw the play last week thoroughly enjoyed it. “To see those kids’ faces when they suddenly see that Shakespeare is funny and bawdy … it was worth the price of admission,” she said.
The American Shakespeare Center offers one of the most authentic Shakespeare experiences available, barring the use of a time machine. “Blackfriars is a model of the only indoor theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were mounted during his era,” Parker said. “They leave the lights on like they would have back then. There’s a line of stools on each side of the stage where audience members sit on the stage. Some of the students sat there and actually participated in the show.
“Before the show and at intermission, the actors sing contemporary songs and play period instruments,” Parker continued. “You might have the Rolling Stones being played on a lute. It’s just so fun … it gives kids a completely different idea of who Shakespeare was. He wrote for the Queen of England, but he also wrote for the people who could maybe only pay a penny to come in and stand in front of the stage. He knew he had to entertain both.”
The students were engaged with the play, she said, and they weren’t afraid to ask questions during the talkback after the show. Students asked the actors why they decided to devote themselves to Shakespearian plays, or asked how long it took them to understand the language.
“Students understand Shakespeare a lot more when they can see it onstage,” said Magna Vista teacher Melody Margrave, whose students attended Blackfriars last Thursday. “They were surprised at how much they enjoyed the day. We did discuss it in class … but sitting and reading
Shakespeare and seeing it performed are two entirely different things. I think that’s what made the trip so enjoyable. A lot of them had never been to a real live performance.
Margrave said the late Alison Parker was a vibrant young woman who supported the arts, and that field trips like the Blackfriars trips are a wonderful way to honor her memory.
Since the For Alison Foundation was founded in February, Parker said, it has provided four scholarships to the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s summer camp at Hollins University? helped sponsor a free Roanoke Symphony concert at Elmwood Park in Roanoke? provided stateoftheart video equipment for WMHS8, the studentrun news crew at Martinsville High School? sponsored a Martinsville Middle School trip to see a touring Edgar Allan Poe production in Roanoke at the end of the month? and arranged through DePaul Community Resources in Roanoke for a family day for foster children and their families at the Taubman Museum of Art.
“Alison had opportunities that a lot of kids don’t have,” Parker said. “She just appreciated the arts and what they could do. … She wanted the arts to be accessible and available to all children.”
Those wishing to make a taxdeductible contribution to the For Alison Foundation are invited to mail a check to For Alison Foundation, P.O. Box 1207, Collinsville, Va. 24078, or go online to foralison.org and make an online donation.
Ben Williams reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org