Becca Finney ’11 tours with Kentucky Shakespeare Living History
February 23, 2012 By Elizabeth Trollinger
production called “The First Five Freedoms,” which she created
in conjunction with the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival. Video
courtesy of Kentucky Shakespeare.
Since graduating last May, Becca Finney ’11, of Versailles, Ky., has been working with the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival to bring history to life in schools across the region.
“Kentucky Shakespeare is the oldest running free Shakespeare festival in the country. In addition to putting on free professional productions every summer in Louisville's Central Park, we are also the state's largest provider of in-school arts education,” Finney says. “We tour a whole array of Shakespeare performances and workshops throughout Kentucky and neighboring states, introducing students to Shakespeare and the world of theater.”
The current touring production features not Shakespearean plays but two inaugural shows for the Living History program called “The First Five Freedoms,” which Finney wrote, designed and is directing.
“The first show is geared toward fifth through eighth grades and the second show is geared toward ninth through twelfth. The shows are similar in format, but the content differs in order to address the different subjects taught in each grade levels,” Finney says. “The tour launched on Jan. 15 and will travel throughout Kentucky and bordering states until the end of the school year.”
Finney and others at the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival developed the Living History program in response to changes in Kentucky educational standards.
“In brief, the ‘arts’ are no longer evaluated through state standardized testing, and therefore are being cut from curricula everywhere,” Finney says. “Our goal with the Living History program is to use the arts to teach core content. This multidisciplinary teaching style — using one subject matter to teach another — has been identified as a great way to engage ‘non-traditional’ learners, as well as encourage critical thinking and creative problem solving.”
After meeting with the Kentucky Department of Education as well as local social studies teachers, Finney and Kentucky Shakespeare were able to identify what content educators most wanted in the touring production, which led to the creation of “The First Five Freedoms.”
“The ‘First Five Freedoms’ teach the value of civic engagement in a democratic society, empowering students to use their own voices to change the community. The shows focus on the First Amendment and the proper way to exercise those rights,” Finney says. “We reenact primary source documents from American history, illustrating moments in our nation's history when citizens spoke out to enact change. The show ends with contemporary examples illustrating the potency of social media as a tool for sparking reform.”
The primary source documents used in the Living History tour include Thomas Paine’s leaflet “Common Sense,” Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and Asmaa Mahfouz’s 2011 addresses to the people of Egypt via YouTube.
“It’s a fast-paced journey through American history, highlighting moments of pride in our nation's history as well as those moments of which we are not so proud,” Finney says. “We hear from well-known and lesser-known Americans from all different economic classes, genders and cultures. We also hear from an eight-foot-tall Red Scare puppet, Whack-A-Goal with the Progressive Movement and a giant Manifest Destiny mouth that devours its new territories.”
Finney has been pleased to see students enjoying and connecting to the performances on the tour.
“So far, the show has received a very positive reception,” she says. “Students are asking great questions at the end of every performance — like, ‘So if I wanted to start a program against bullying in schools, I could?’ — and teachers are wanting more information and deeper engagement with the values presented by the program — such as, ‘Do you have Facebook or Twitter where we could post questions or send in pictures of the First Amendment projects the students create?’”
Despite being immersed in the Living History tour, everyone at Kentucky Shakespeare is already hard at work on their next touring production: a full-scale version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” also to be directed by Finney, who is excited to continue touring.
“We want these great opportunities to reach as many schools as possible, so spread the word to any educators you may know!” she says.
To book a tour date for either the Living History shows or the upcoming tour of “Romeo and Juliet,” call 502-547-9900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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