Youth Bridge programs raise awareness about under-resourced education systems and promote initiatives that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of students in these schools.
The theater projects in the Republic of the Marshall Islands provide a unique educational activity that uses classic plays to build confidence and literacy skills in students in the Islands. In the summer of 2006 Youth Bridge successfully produced a bilingual production of Romeo and Juliet in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have expanded to support projects in China and Russia and have returned to the Marshall Islands and Bosnia. A full list of our productions can be found below.
Shakespeare & Company Sponsorships
Youth Bridge Global has sent two young Marshallese actors, Duke Gaston and Jobod Silk, to attend this year’s Summer Training Institute at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Professor Emeritus at Dartmouth College Andrew Garrod, the director of Youth Bridge Global, who has worked with Gaston and Silk in many of his own theatre productions in the Marshall Islands, sponsored the boys’ trip to Lenox and wrote both of their recommendation letters. Gaston and Silk submitted an application in late February, part of which included a short video of each reciting a Shakespearean monologue. They were accepted this past March.
In Lenox, Gaston and Silk developed their acting abilities in Shakespeare and Company’s Summer Training Institute, which “provides young actors the opportunity to immerse themselves in Shakespeare six days a week for four weeks.” Out of the 41 members of this year’s cohort, Gaston and Silk were two of only three international students admitted. They were the only Marshallese and are thus the first Marshallese to be accepted into the program.
Gaston and Silk’s acceptance is another success achieved by the partnership between Youth Bridge Global and Shakespeare and Company. YBG has been sending young actors from Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina — and now the Marshall Islands — to train in Lenox since 2013.
Ilija Pujic from Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, was the first YBG alum to train at Shakespeare and Company in 2013 after starring in the “Tempest” as Ferdinand. The following year, three Rwandans — Innocent Munyeshuri, Abdoul Mujyambere, and Jeannine Uwase — attended the summer training workshop after playing in “Romeo and Juliet,” with Munyeshuri and Mujyambere double-cast as Mercutio and Uwase as the Nurse. Mustafa Stupac, also from Mostar, was accepted into the summer institute in 2015, having starred as Malvolio in “Twelfth Night.”
Upon arrival, Gaston and Silk were greeted by Tina Packer, the founding artistic director of Shakespeare and Company. The boys relate that she welcomed them warmly, excited to know more about their background of having grown up in the Marshalls. “She really admired the fact that we are her first Marshallese recruits and she has been asking us questions about our culture, language, and our society.”
Gaston and Silk both noted the challenging emotional and physical demands of the institute’s intensive sessions. Silk says that “the Shakespearean summer [training institute] of 2019 has engaged me in a rigorous schedule, which includes classes from 8 AM to 10 PM six days a week with breakfast lunch and dinner breaks of course.”
After recovering from severe jet lag, Gaston quickly immersed himself in each day’s sessions, memorizing the lines for his capstone performance, practicing techniques for staged combat, and learning about the acting experiences of his fellow actors. “I've made new friends, most of which are brilliant actors and, like me, aspire to finish this intensive.”
On June 23rd, the boys performed a scene for the rest of their cohort. Gaston played Prince Arthur from Act 4 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s history, “The Life and Death of King John,” as well as making a brief appearance as Malvolio from “Twelfth Night” in another scene.
Dody Riggs, a close friend of Professor Garrod’s, who watched nearly all of the final enactments, remarks that Gaston received an extraordinary ovation for his strong performance. “Duke's change of expression from joy to confusion to fear to anger to relief and above all love were breathtaking and so very natural. He has great presence and carries himself like a little god, despite his small stature.”
Silk played Prince Ferdinand in Act 3 Scene 1 of “The Tempest.” His lines included Sonnet 69, which he committed to memory before the end of week 2.
According to Riggs, Silk’s early efforts to master his lines paid off in the form of an eloquent and controlled delivery. “It was witty and sweet, he too moves well, and he has such marvelous light in his eyes, you can see how much he enjoyed the scene. He spoke clearly and well...again an impressive and believable performance.”
Gaston and Silk both received full scholarships that covered the cost of tuition and boarding through the Dennis Krausnick Fellowship Fund. The fund was established last year in honor of the late Shakespeare and Company co-founder and director of actor training Dennis Krausnick. The fund is aimed at providing resources for underrepresented people of color to enrich their acting skills through Shakespearean performance.
A memorial service was held for Mr. Krausnick on June 24th, the day after the summer training institute ended. Both Gaston and Silk were present at the ceremony, with Gaston delivering a short speech in honor of Krausnick’s life and legacy.
After the program ended, Gaston and Silk spent the remainder of their time in the States in Boston and New York City, visiting historic landmarks such as the Bunker Hill Monument, the Stonewall Inn, and Times Square.
Nina Roy, the choreographer for YBG’s most recent production of the Broadway musical “The Music Man,” in which both Gaston and Silk played the lead role of Harold Hill, hosted the boys at her apartment in Brooklyn. While together, the three of them saw a modern interpretation of “Oklahoma!” the American classic in which both boys also performed two years ago in Majuro.
Roy noticed that the boys’ Shakespearean training had already enriched the ways in which they articulate their opinions on theatrical productions.
“I think it was cool for them to see a classic revived in a modern, thought provoking way,” Roy says. “I can tell they picked up a greater vocabulary for discussing art during their time at Shakespeare and Co.”
Gaston, Silk and Roy had dinner with other former YBG team members on their final night in New York: Summer Cody, the music director for “The Music Man,” Zach Gottschall, the music director for “Grease,” and Adlai Coleman, the assistant producer for “Grease.”
Roy remarks that the evening was full of laughter and reminiscing about each other’s time in Majuro. Having worked with Gaston and Silk one-on-one for “The Music Man,” Roy expressed appreciation for having had the opportunity to host them in her city. As with everybody else with whom Gaston and Silk came into contact while abroad, they have made a lasting impression and an enduring friendship. “Those boys have such big hearts,” Roy says, “and I’m so very grateful they are a part of my life.”
Ilija Pujic, who played Ferdinand, the romantic lead in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Orlando, the romantic lead in As You Like It with Youth Bridge Global in 2011 and 2012 attended Shakepeare and Company in Lenox Massachusetts with funding from donors and support from Youth Bridge Global. He writes of his experience in Summer 2013 in this reflection article.
Jeanine Uwase, Abdoulrahim Mujyambere and Innocent Munyeshuri attended the month-long intensive Summer Training Institute in May and June of 2014. The workshop was organized by Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. These three young Rwandans played leading parts in the 2013 trilingual [Kinyarwanda, French and Shakespeare's iambic pentameter] production of Romeo and Juliet produced by Youth Bridge Global and Ishyo Arts Center that played in Kigali, Butare and Gitarama to very enthusiastic audiences.Read More