For some juvenile offenders in Lenox, Massachusetts, this sentence may be as bad as time behind bars. Instead of sending convicted kids to detention or community service, Shakespeare & Company is putting them on stage.
Kids who run afoul of the law may choose to perform Shakespeare in place of another sentence. The “punishment” includes reading the bard’s work, taking a role, and memorizing lines. Kids must also come up with costumes and set ideas, rehearse, and finally act out the play or scene for an audience of friends, family, and court personnel.
At first, the participants almost always hate the idea of performing Shakespeare. But by the end of the six-week program, many say it was a positive experience. Some find new friends. Most feel they’ve accomplished something new.
“You would never catch me doing this stuff if I didn’t have to. But it’s taught me teamwork and to just chill out and listen,” says one 17-year-old boy. He will play Macbeth today in a production that includes monologues from various Shakespeare plays.
For the past 17 years, Shakespeare in the Courts has been used with youths accused of a variety of lower-level crimes, including larceny, assault and battery, and vandalism.
Probation officers and others who work in the program hope it helps the teens learn to respect others, fulfill commitments, and see themselves with dignity and worth. Juvenile Court Judge Joan McMenemy says the purpose is to rehabilitate—not simply punish—young lawbreakers.
“This just broadens their horizons beyond what they could have had if they had been sentenced to pick up trash on the side of the road,” McMenemy says.
What do you think? Should courts seek to punish juvenile crime or encourage positive behavior with programs like this one?