By Cassie Mrozinski, Development Associate
In 2012, something magical happened. ISF received a grant from the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation to fund an innovative idea from Education Director, Renee Vomocil. This idea, aptly named the Helena Project (for the All’s Well That Ends Well and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s transformative character who holds unwavering hope) aimed to bring Shakespeare’s works to the children at the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School. These kids, while receiving treatment for chronic and life-threatening illnesses, are able to continue schooling in the hospital so that they may keep up with classmates and return to school once they are able. Teaching artists from the School of Theater work with students at the hospital to analyze, interpret, and perform Shakespeare’s works. This creative outlet is a healing, artistic way to teach young scholars about the Bard, while helping them find their own voice and inspiration, often times while under intense treatments.
The very year the program began, Renee was asked to present the curriculum to educators from across the country at the annual Folger Shakespeare Library conference for educators in Washington, D.C. The second year of the program, she was asked to speak at a national conference for hospital schools. This past spring saw a poignant, touching video produced, called “A Different Kind of Battle” (see below). This short film aims to spread the importance of theater and Shakespeare in the lives of hospital students.
Carla Hart, the head of the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School, is adamant that the Shakespeare program makes a difference. An 11 year-old girl named Grace attended each class and was recovering from a brain tumor. She had never had the opportunity to take a theater class. Grace wore an eye patch as part of her recovery, an accessory that further contributed to her shyness and hesitation to participate. Yet, as the course continued, and she donned exciting costume pieces, Grace lost herself in the characters and gradually came out of her shell, becoming one of the students with the best voice projection.
Shakespeare lived over 400 years ago and often wrote of love, good and evil, laughter, and deep conflict. For sick kids today, fighting their own battles, his voice resonates, gives hope, and enlightens.