As part of New York's 15th congressional district, Hunts Point is ranked the most at-risk community for children in the nation. Two thirds of its children are living below the poverty line and only about one-third of students complete high school on time.
And while these statistics are worrisome, "they are not meant to be an indictment," says Executive Director of Hunts Point Alliance for Children, Jill Roche. The Hunts Point Alliance for Children, or HPAC, has worked hand-in-hand with local schools and community-based organizations, providing a birth-to-college pipeline for residents over the last ten years. HPAC begins its work with college or career-bound students most rigorously through the Hunts Point Children's Shakespeare Ensemble, a year-long commitment in which students grades 4 through 6 partner with the Shakespeare Society to put on a professional grade Shakespearian Play.
This year the cast of about 50 students will perform the classic tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, complete with live band, scenery, props, costumes, and stage combat. The process begins in October when students immerse themselves in the comprehension, pronunciation, and recitation of the text to truly understand and embrace Elizabethan language. Regardless of reading level or report cards, all students are welcome to be HPAC scholars as long as they are willing to show up and work hard.
Students gain comfort with the syntax and even come to celebrate the rhythm, vocabulary, and texture of Shakespearean dialogue. Eventually two days of rehearsal a week turns into three or four and the cast transitions from the rehearsal room in the library to the stage. Finally, at the end of May, opening night jitters are met with the applause and approval of friends, family, and members of the community in attendance. And after the curtain closes, students can take pride in seeing this theatrical production to the end and taking on some of the most challenging literature in the English-language with confidence.