To be or not to be: special Hamlet performance teaches kids about Shakespeare

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, June 5, 2024

SALISBURY — William Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers in the English language. His plays have become enduring classics that are still taught in high schools and performed in theaters all over the world. 

The stories Shakespeare has created are so important that many have gone out of their way to expose kids to them as early as possible. Just like how the Disney movie “The Lion King” retold the tragedy of “Hamlet,” Shepherd Shakespeare Company is doing something similar with their fresh take on it.

Throughout this week, Shepherd Shakespeare Company is visiting all four branches of the Rowan Public Library to put on “Hamlet and the Pirates.” The company was formed in 2021 by husband and wife Chester and Katy Shepherd, and ever since, they tour across North Carolina and Virginia in the summers. 

Their previous performances of Shakespeare were “reworked” versions of “The Tempest” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” “done in a quick, fast, funny way for a younger audience,” according to Chester. 

“We saw an opportunity for Shakespeare to be done in a way that was accessible for everyone where people of all ages, of all backgrounds, all levels of familiarity with Shakespeare could enjoy it,” Chester said. 

On June 3, Chester did his one-man show of “Hamlet and the Pirates” at the Salisbury branch to an enthusiastic crowd. The theme of the RPL’s summer reading program is “adventure,” so Shepherd wanted to do a play that went along with it. 

“In ‘Hamlet,’ in the original play, Hamlet is sent away to England and then he comes back and all he says about how he gets back is he sends a letter that says, ‘Hey, we were attacked by pirates and I convinced them to bring me back to Denmark’ and nothing more than that. So, we saw that as an opportunity to fill in what happened when he met up with these pirates and turn it into an adventure story,” Chester said. 

Chester pulled out all the stops for Hamlet and the Pirates. It’s filled with sound effects, history facts, humor and puppets to bring everything to life. To get the kids even more involved, Chester calls on volunteers to participate in the show, which slightly changes how each show turns out on a daily basis. 

“I’ll do this show a bunch of times over the summer, but it’s going to be different and fresh and exciting every time because there’s going to be different groups of kids who are going to give me different responses, who are going to engage in the show in different ways. That’s always fun,” Shepherd said. 

Enon Baptist Church’s Safe Haven Child Enrichment Center, an after school program/summer camp, came to see Hamlet and the Pirates and its director, Stephanie Harkey, said they had a great time at the performance on Monday afternoon. 

“They loved this one,” Harkey said.

Chester has always had a passion for Shakespeare and to him, Shepherd Shakespeare Company is the ideal vehicle to share that affection with others. 

“It is our goal and desire that these timeless stories cross in a way that is accessible to everyone and makes them feel like they own these stories in a way that everyone deserves to and enjoy them,” Chester said.