Students in Juvenile Court Detention learn Shakespeare as a form of therapy

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Their stage was a classroom, behind locked doors a top juvenile court.

Shelby County students whose behavior landed them in juvenile detention were given the task of reciting Shakespeare.

"But thou are not quickly moved to strike," repeated one student.

For five days, the  students in Juvenile Court's Hope Academy, the school they attend while in juvenile detention, learned the ins and outs of one of Shakespeare's most popular works, Romeo and Juliet.

"Let them take it as they list," said another student.

"When a child realizes they know Shakespeare, they are meeting Shakespeare and there is an understanding, their whole esteem just raises. They are doing Shakespeare. These kids are speaking Shakespeare!" said Stephanie Shine, Director of The Romeo and Juliet Project.

She said the effort started after Mayor A C Wharton challenged art groups to find ways to reach kids and show them alternatives to violence.

"We are able to stop examine that conflict and rehearse alternative behaviors that might have a better outcome for the young characters in the play," said Shine.

So for three seasons, The Tennessee Shakespeare Company has performed Romeo and Juliet at numerous schools giving thousands of students a chance to play roles, recite lines and think about the choices they make.

One 16-year-old student said what he first thought might be boring soon became eye-opening.

"When they were talking about the rage part and we could like control our self," said the student.

Hope Academy's Principal, Michael Smith,  said getting students to open up and get engaged is the key to getting them on the right path.

"Whether it's a disagreement, whether it is an argument, hopefully they will be able to take this play, the Romeo and Juliet Project and change their way of thinking and change their behavior hopefully," said Smith.

WREG was told the whole idea is when students leave  Juvenile Detention,  they will take what they learned and share it with other students, showing them they  too have choices.

"My great hope is that they will learn that breath can save them, time can save them, walking away can save them.  That they have options," said Shine.

The Shakespeare Project performed at 12 schools this past year, reaching 2700 students.

They said they hope to expand to 20 schools, specifically targeting 9th graders.