Shakespeare at Winedale Outreach

The next generation finds its 'muse of fire'

Shakespeare at Winedale Outreach
Photo By David Finkel

The Winedale family tree is about to get a whole lot bigger.

For the first time in its 34-year history, the UT Shakespeare at Winedale program is offering an ongoing outreach program designed to share with young people – particularly those from schools in low-income and underserved communities, both urban and rural – the powerful experience of studying Shakespeare through performance. A whole new generation is finding its "muse of fire" in a century-old hay barn in the country.

Come out to Winedale some spring or summer morning next year, and you'll see kids ages 8 to 13 from all over the state, radiant in their improvised costumes, leaping onstage to perform fully memorized scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream or The Tempest or Hamlet and speaking Shakespeare's original language with a freshness and passion that is often astounding. They're even teaching the college kids and grownups a thing or two about how to play Shakespeare.

Since last August, when Shakespeare at Winedale Outreach was officially launched – thanks to a grant from the Houston Endowment and donations from individuals – more than 500 students have participated in the program, through yearlong school residencies, classroom workshops, Saturday sessions on the UT campus, special trips to Winedale, or stays at Camp Shakespeare, a two-week residential summer camp that is Winedale founder Jim Ayres' latest innovation. As coordinator, I've had the pleasure of seeing all this firsthand.

This fall my position goes from half-time to full-time, in the hopes of expanding this service to touch the lives of more young students across Texas. Meanwhile, the spirit of Winedale's patron saint – Midsummer's Nick Bottom, a person ready and eager to play every role – is already spreading far and wide. As one of the newest Winedalers, a fourth grader named Jennifer from Langford Elementary in Southeast Austin, wrote this May about her moment in the barn:

"When our scene was over, I was very excited. I went to find my mom, and along the way everybody was telling me I was really good. I felt really proud when I got home, and I wanted to perform again and again."

For more information on Shakespeare at Winedale Outreach, call 471-4726, e-mail [email protected], or visit

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Shakespeare at Winedale, arts education, Shakespeare at Winedale Outreach, Houston Endowment, Jim Ayres, Camp Shakespeare, Langford Elementary

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