Tennessee Shakespeare Company takes on youth violence with literature

Members of the Romeo and Juliet Project use Shakespeare's much-loved play to discuss youth violence.

Tucked away in a busy Germantown shopping center, a group of artists are combatting blood shed with literature that is over 400 years old.

While theft and property crimes have been on a downward trend in Memphis for the past five years, violence is still on the rise, with young people committing 54 percent of all violent crimes. In 2016, the murder rate in Shelby County is up 47 percent from the same time last year.

Tennessee Shakespeare Company is spearheading a program called the Romeo and Juliet Project to help combat these numbers. Instead of the scared-straight tactics made popular by an A&E TV show, Stephanie Shine, the creator of the project, said that the project relates characters in the much-loved Shakespeare play to the youth in Memphis classrooms.

“These kids (the characters) in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are making decisions of whether they are going to live or die,” Shine said. “It gave us a forum to teach them some life skills.”

This program is not a one-time event. The majority of students will watch a live performance of the play and then attend three classes. Shine said that integrating a professional arts company into the public school curriculum is an unusual break from curriculums centered around standardized testing.

While Tennessee Shakespeare is working with children in the classroom, Operation Safe Community is trying to bring about change in neighborhoods. Organizers of the program also are listening to what Memphians have to say. They held a town hall meeting at Lemoyne Owens College on April 9th.

“What is good for Germantown isn’t good for the University district,” said consultant and former councilman Harold Collins. “That’s why we need to hear how we can help.”


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About the Author

Josh Tucker

Joshua Tucker, a Memphis native, is pursuing degrees in theatre performance and journalism. As an actor, he has appeared on national ad campaigns and stages in NYC. Josh is an anchor for the university’s TV station, and a freelancer around the city. When he isn’t stressing over graduation, Josh can be found working out and indulging in the Bluff City’s fine cuisine.

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