Photo: Shakespeare in Performance

There can be few more important tasks than to educate young people about love. The internet provides an endless flow of stories, good and bad, about sexual love, so why not use the web to help boost the good messages to youth?

This is what Rome-based Family and Media, in partnership with the University of the Holy Cross, is doing through its new educational platform, which offers video courses in media, storytelling, and classic works that deal with love and friendship.

Travis Curtright, PhD, Chair of the Humanities and Liberal Studies Program at Ave Maria University in Southwest Florida, as well as Professor of Humanities and Literature and director of Shakespeare in Performance (a troupe of actors and a minor of studies), is one of those teaching the “Educating young people about love and friendship course.”

Dr Curtright answered a few questions for MercatorNet about what promises to be a very useful and exciting project.

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Love and friendship – is there anything bigger on the minds of college students than this pair?

Everyone wants to be loved and to love, but the college years are an intense period of psychological growth and development.  Students learn to recognize and manage emotions as they grow in a sense of personal identity and purpose. Love and friendship are bound up in self-discovery and questions about vocation during these years. 

Because this stage of life is so important, college experiences are remarkably formative. When my own students work as actors in an ensemble production, they develop friendships in an environment that encourages growth in self-knowledge, creative risk-taking, and individual generosity. Students become genuine friends with one another, and some even find a future spouse in the troupe! So, my involvement in this project addresses not only Shakespeare but also how the community that theater provides can be a life-changing experience of and education in friendship. 

The cultural tide runs against young people getting a good understanding of these central human realities. Would you agree?

We need to create a culture of discernment that helps young people understand themselves and what they truly desire.  A course on love and friendship is one that could be offered at every institution of higher learning during the first year so that students might examine how they socialize with one another. The great thing about the Family and Media video course is that it’s on the web. So now every college student can learn more about love and friendship at the very time when they are navigating relationships on and off campus and in real life. 

To find good stories about love it seems that we have to turn to the classics – yet another movie version of Austen’s Emma has come to the big screen – but what has Shakespeare to teach young people today?

Shakespeare teaches young people to fight against the homogenizing influences of the internet, social media, and within entertainment recommendation systems. When you finish a television series on Netflix, for example, another program like the one you just watched will be recommended to you. Search histories and newsfeeds are tailored to our preferences. Social media networks collect people in like-minded discourse communities. Shakespeare’s plays offer equally immersive but highly diverse virtual worlds, from Macbeth’s Scotland to Juliet’s Verona. The plays present comic and tragic depictions of life, debates between radically different viewpoints, and a great variety of characters. We need his expansive vision now more than ever. 

I was wowed by video of your Shakespeare in Performance troupe in action. What are the most important/successful things about it in your view?

Thank you!  Your readers can watch the same video introduction to the themes of love and friendship in Much Ado About Nothing and some may want to do so as a free preview or sample of the course.

This short film reveals the brilliance of rehearsal room pedagogy. Watch for how the students improvise scenes, experiment with line readings, or investigate characters:  to get behind a script brings about a mastery of it. The students in the film, as actors, know the play far more intimately than if they read it in silence and alone like a novel. I tell them that there are no mistakes in rehearsal—only discoveries; but I should add here that they make mighty discoveries.  It’s exciting to see that learning process unfold in the film. 

The video also shows how Shakespeare’s characters can absorb not just an actor in performance but also connect to young people’s daily lives and concerns. Students found the plot of Much Ado About Nothing to be familiar territory, especially the play’s presentation of social drama, slander or gossip, and rocky romances.  When students were interviewed on camera, they articulated their own feelings about how characters behaved. Because they performed scenes and provided commentary upon them, students came to terms with their own sense of what Much Ado taught them about love and friendship.  This kind of personal encounter with Shakespeare’s art is a joy to witness. 

Further information about the course on educating young people about love and friendship is available at Family and Media Education

Travis Curtright, PhD, Chair of the Humanities and Liberal Studies Program at Ave Maria University in Southwest Florida, as well as Professor of Humanities and Literature and director of Shakespeare in Performance (a troupe of actors and a minor of studies). He is married to Mary, who collaborates in Shakespeare in Performance, and they have five children – all named after Shakespeare characters.