The Nerdery - Overnight Website Challenge

Chicago 2015, May 2-3

Chicago Youth Shakespeare

Chicago Youth Shakespeare (CYS) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization providing Shakespeare education, performance, and outreach opportunities to Chicago area high school students. CYS made dramatic “entrance” onto the Chicago stage in 2013, and has already impacted over 1200 high school students through our three central programs:

1. The Chicago Youth Shakespeare Ensemble (CYSE) is a performance company made up entirely of high school actors. The mission of the CYSE program is to build community among young people across demographic boundaries through their work as an artistic ensemble. CYSE students perform at theaters and cultural centers throughout the Chicago area, provide on-site outreach presentations at CPS high schools during the fall season, and give free “Shakespeare-in-the-park” performances during the summer season.

2. Battle of the Bard (BOTB) is a slam-style Shakespeare showcase created for student teams from public, private and parochial high schools throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. CYS recently partnered with Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) on Battle of the Bard 2015, tripling the size of our program from nine to thirty participating high schools, within a year.

3. CYS Workshops and School Residency programs offer a variety of Shakespeare-through-performance opportunities for students and teachers during the school day. Ranging from individual workshops to weeklong Shakespeare immersions, each program is specifically designed around the classroom teacher’s curriculum and student learning goals.

Through programming and collaboration with arts education partners, CYS is broadening the scope and impact of Shakespeare education opportunities for Chicago area high school students, particularly in under-served communities.

What new functionality we are looking for

• We would love to be able to upload and run scrolling images on our header, so that our growing number of students can see themselves represented on our site.

• We would also like to add an interactive calendar that would enable visitors to view upcoming events in real time

• A simple e-commerce setup would be great so visitors could purchase show tickets, swag, etc. directly from our site.

• We need to make a stronger visual impact that appeals to teenagers as well as funders. (It’s really all about appearance.) Our logo desperately needs a “nerd’s” touch. It’s definitely nerdy – but not in the cool way.

• We need to be mobile friendly! 99% of our students only view the web on their phones.

• Our site is not currently configured with SEO in mind, and we would like the ability to understand and use Google Analytics.

• Our students have been asking for an integrated “Bard Blog”, where they can post questions, read articles, and generally build on their growing community of teen Shakespeare-heads.

• A section for archived photos, newsletters and testimonials would be awesome!

• Improved functionality on the back end: our site is pretty functional on the user end, but it is impossible to update for non-web designers. It is currently in Joomla! and our web master has “left the building”.

• Future plans include a “spinoff” or sister –site called the Chicago Area Shakespeare Teachers (C.A.S.T.) network– a one-stop resource for Shakespeare teachers that includes information about performances throughout the area, special events, classroom resources, professional development opportunities, and a place for teachers to share lesson plans, and ideas.

How the new functionality will help

Our website is the virtual “home” of Chicago Youth Shakespeare. In order to serve our growing number of students, teachers, and schools, we conduct our programming in a wide variety of spaces throughout Chicagoland. A strong web presence is vital to our long-term growth and an essential component of our mission to build community across diverse lines. Strategically, an updated, professionally designed site will have three major benefits:

1. A site that’s easy to update will enable us to efficiently share our message in a timely manner, giving visitors - current and potential partners, grantors, sponsors, donors, teachers, parents, and most importantly, students - confidence that they’re getting the latest, most updated program information and news.

2. A redesign will enhance SEO, allow easy access for program updates, and create a more engaging experience for site visitors.

3. With an easier-to-manage site, leadership can focus attention and efforts on nurturing and strengthening programs.

How our organization will use the technology

Who will use the technology

18 Messages from Supporters

2015-03-31 03:07:29 UTC

CYS was the first real acting I did, and since then I've been involved in a number of student films and independent film productions. I'm also going on to study filmmaking at DePaul University. I know from experience that training in Shakespearian theater is the most solid foundation any actor could have; go ahead, try to communicate to your audience what you want/are presently doing while they don't understand a word you're saying.

I'm not one for sports and I'm not quite sold on the illusion of nationalism so CYS was pretty much my first feeling of being on a team; being part of something bigger. I also recall the point at which I realized this was something I'd rather do than even *gasp* partying! I've found that art is born from love and hard work and CYS is certainly an example of this, probably the best one. I'm at a place in my life where I really love who I am and where I'm going and I know I would be here if it hadn't been for CYS.

2015-03-31 03:02:53 UTC
Deja Scott

My name is Deja Scott and I was apart of the CYS production of Macbeth. It was my first ever play of Shakespeare and I was absolutely clueless as to how to handle the material, however with CYS I learned quickly to handle my role and so much more. The greatest thing I learned from working with the ensemble is to make a choice, make it definite,commit to the choice and with the choice take a risk and if you fail, fail "epicly!".This crossed over into my life in so many ways, I am still cautious, but I take so many more risks and so far it's ended me up studying for my degree in Rome!

2015-03-31 02:56:25 UTC
C. Dirkes

It’s a rough being a high schooler to begin with, but doubly so when your biggest literary influence gets booed by most of your peers. Joining Chicago Youth Shakespeare proved that I wasn’t alone. What’s more, it reaffirmed Shakespeare’s relevance and power as a voice for universal human challenges. After CYS, I felt more comfortable pursuing what I love unapologetically.

2015-03-31 04:06:00 UTC

I had always been into Shakespeare. My whole life, my family and I would sit around the table together and read aloud a play. So going to CYS only furthered my interests. But what really benefited me the most were the people who were a part of it. Before I got to CYS, I didn't take much risks in my acting. At CYS, I was able to take risks in a place where I felt comfortable and supported. This was a place where I was able to explore what I was capable of and it tied me with a lot of really great people, who I do still see. I now walk a little taller and with more confidence, everyday.
Ps. On the inside of my locker at school, I have a picture of all my friends from CYS summer 2014 and a poster that reads, "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” And it puts a smile on my face very single day.

2015-03-31 03:56:35 UTC

My son came from a small middle school, so the pool of friends and classmates was fairly homogenous. While he had a fair understanding of Shakespeare, he didn't have much experience in an acting company. His time in the CYS was transforming in a couple of ways: The first was working and bonding with other cast members from a variety of schools. Each CYSC member had his or her own experience base to bring to Shakespeare's characters, so each person's Macbeth or Lady Macbeth would be a reflection of their life in some respect. I think this helped widen his world view, partly because the variety of his castmates and partly because of how they each saw Shakespeare in their own way. It allowed the cast see the differences in each person and their strengths as well.

If you knew my child, you wouldn't be surprised to hear him described as a quiet or shy young man. Between the Chicago Public School Outreach day, the performances in new venues, workshops with theatre professionals, and supportive company members and directors, he has started to grow more confident. He spoke about his experience at CPS to his English class. He's participated in Battle of the Bard. He actually dressed up for Halloween at school. These may not seem like earth-shattering changes, but they are huge advancements for him. He also has a bit better understanding of what life is like for other high school students living in Chicago. I truly think his time with CYSC set him on a path which is leading him to be a more open and grounded young man.
In so many ways, CYSC widened his horizons. He's more confident and shows more of his true personality to the outside world. Thank you again for the wonderful opportunity.

2015-03-31 04:00:34 UTC

Our daughter had a tremendously difficult time in junior high. She was completely disengaged from the school community besides the principal’s office and the counselor’s office. My wife and I were hoping desperately for something that would excite her natural personality and creativity. Her experience with CYS was a revelation. She immersed herself in the production and developed a fascination with all things Shakespeare. She has become a completely different person. She is confident, outgoing, and receptive to the possibilities that her education and potential can bring to her. My wife and I are convinced that her experience at CYS was a major part of her breakthrough.

2015-03-31 07:14:37 UTC
Louis Fntasia

I have been lucky enough in my life to be present at the creation of several important Shakespeare organizations, including the Shakespeare Globe Centre in London, and Shakespeare at the Huntington, the teacher training institute of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in Southern California. In those thirty-plus years, I have never seen an organization dedicated to education and outreach create as large an impact in as brief a time as the Chicago Youth Shakespeare has done.

Working with local partners Chicago Youth Shakespeare has brought the excitement, joy and challenge of performing, rehearsing and reading Shakespeare’s great plays and poems to hundreds of students across the greater Chicago area.

More important, it has done so in a manner that is vibrant, exciting and rigorous, challenging students - and their teachers - to be their best and most creative in an open, fresh and welcoming manner. This is Shakespeare for the Twenty-first Century: accessible, inclusive and encompassing, without being patronizing, remote or alien. What I appreciate most about the ethos of the Chicago Youth Shakespeare is that it understands what it really means to “respect the text” -- that is, to make the encounter with Shakespeare’s language, for students, actors and audiences, come alive as if the words were being spoken for the very first time! The ripple effect CYS’s workshops, performances, “slams” and competitions have will go on to change the lives of thousands of Chicagoans of all ages for a long time to come. Thank you!

2015-03-31 15:20:41 UTC

I believe that the most impactful and influential learning takes place outside of the classroom. It's otherwise known as experiential learning, learning by experience. As a member of the Youth Company, my knowledge of Shakespeare, theatre, acting, myself and the world we live in grew drastically. I found myself in the play we were performing, Macbeth, as I discovered that we are willing to do whatever it takes to get our way and make sure things turn out the right way, and I found true friends. It was through performing the play that I learned more than I could have ever imagined. I found my love for the Meisner technique and what it means to show motivation. Our show was wonderful and transformative. The cast was talented, superb and unstoppable, and with the help of wonderful directors and long rehearsals we ended up with a magnificent piece. I found myself in our show and in our company. I had a place, and I felt like myself, which is often hard to do when you don't feel like you fit in at school or people don't exactly "get you." Macbeth helped me gain confidence as an actor and an individual. I carried the show on my back and shared it with all my teachers and my school. I wanted everyone to partake in my experience and understand what it means to see a Shakespeare show because it is 10 times different than reading a Shakespearean play. It's a completely different experience when you see it, and that's the point of experiential learning and CYS.

2015-03-31 19:26:54 UTC

The most important thing I gained form CYS was a sense of family and togetherness. I am usually rather shy when meeting new people and that makes it difficult for me to make friends easily. But the people who I met at CYS were the kindest, most fun people I've ever had the pleasure of being around. It is especially important to me that I was able to form a family within CYS because I am both asexual and nonbinary so it is very easy for me to feel alone. However, the people at CYS were so welcoming and kindhearted that I was ecstatic to go in every day and work with them.

2015-03-31 19:29:10 UTC

When I first started Chicago Youth Shakespeare, I was a little unsure whether I'd like it or not, because I never had read or performed a whole Shakespeare play before. I'd always heard people complaining about it being so boring, and I wasn't sure what to expect, coming from mainly only having experience in musical theatre. I came to love it, though- I learned new and interesting acting techniques, made some great friends, and was challenged to step out of my comfort zone. It was so much fun, and I learned a lot about Shakespeare and myself as an actor. I can't wait to do it again next year!

2015-03-31 19:24:36 UTC

At CYS I learned what it meant to really be an ensemble. Too often do productions promote ensemble and have the majority onstage for a fraction of a second and feel excluded if they are not a "lead." But at CYS the ensemble is what makes the production powerful. I have generated friendships with fellow cast members that are as if we have been lifelong friends. At CYS, their promotion of ensemble and community is what makes their productions meaningful and present.

Going forward, as a director and teacher, I have learned from CYS how to make it about the actors/students and how to not only succeed in your vision, but theirs as well. I feel like I now understand my strengths and weaknesses, as an actor, and I know how to improve upon them. I also feel as though I have the tools to teach others about how to approach a character or understand objective or what have you. I aim to be a theater educator one day, so CYS has given me the tools to pursue that desire. Before this experience, I was unsure of my capabilities as an actor. I did not know whether or not I was good enough to pursue it as a career. But CYS showed me the support that I needed to confirm that I was good enough. It has made me a leader and I could not be more thankful for the opportunity.

2015-03-31 19:35:02 UTC
K. Langley

After interning and volunteering with Chicago Youth Shakespeare for only a brief amount of time, I am truly in awe of the impact this organization has already had on the artistic community of Chicago. Volunteering with the youth ensemble program, I watched young people truly "get" Shakespeare for the first time. I watched them grow, laugh, overcome their fears, and come together as a family. On the final day of the summer ensemble program, I watched them cry because they didn't want it to be over. Every student shared how much that 6 week program had meant to them. It was impossible not to see the incredibly impact that CYS had on these young people.

While interning with CYS, I also experienced the lack of accessibility of the website itself. It is because of this that the CYS website does not reflect how impressive this organization is. I believe that a revamp of this website will truly help CYS take the next step in reaching more students and teachers in the Chicago area.

2015-03-31 19:35:45 UTC
Dan S.

My daughter gained a greater appreciation of Shakespeare's work without a doubt, but the community outreach was equally, if not more, impactful. Having an opportunity to visit inner city schools where kids have little or no exposure to Shakespeare and perform gave her a new level of appreciation for both the universality of his work and the way it can connect to anybody or everybody. Moreover, the professional environment at CYS forced my daughter to challenge herself as an actor, both individually and as part of an ensemble. The staff is dedicated to excellence and especially passionate about the teaching process.
The program at CYS teaches stage acting but also creates a wonderful environment for personal development. The kids are asked and expected to give 110%, and, in the end, my daughter gained acting skills but also grace, a stronger sense of her own presence and increased self confidence.

2015-04-01 02:12:29 UTC
A. Kleinman

What are the high school years all about? Trying new things, developing interests and growing into the person you are meant to be. CYS is a wonderful program that exposes high school students to Shakespeare, and more importantly, helps build poise and confidence, encourages commitment, explores boundaries and risk taking, all in an educational and fun environment. The teachers are excellent, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The program is well-planned and varied. The individual growth of the students between day 1 and the final performance is amazing. I have witnessed the expansion of CYS from its inception and, with greater funds, there is no telling how many students the program can impact. I look forward to seeing CYS grow into the very special, far-reaching program it is destined to be.

2015-04-01 17:54:34 UTC
Dan Albert

Chicago Youth Shakespeare is an amazing life-changing organization for high school students.

It's great to see how Shakespeare's words and plays are relevant to teens today, 400 years after the Bard's death. When CYS students immerse themselves in to one of Shakespeare's plays, the characters, themes, and story lines come to life and help students understand the world that they are living in today.

High school students usually cringe when they have to read Shakespeare - - - at CYS, students experience Shakespeare and embrace everything that he has to offer them.

Of course, CYS teaches high school students about Shakespeare; but, more importantly, it teaches students about themselves. It is truly amazing what can be taught outside the classroom and CYS provides the perfect environment. It's an environment that encourages self-discovery, self-confidence, collaboration, comradery, and teamwork.

The current Chicago Youth Shakespeare website is functional, at best, and a bit clunky. It does little to show the energy, passion, and enthusiasm of the organization. A "redo" of the website will help CYS reach more people and let them experience how Chicago Youth Shakespeare can positively impact the lives of Chicagoland high school students.

Chicago Youth Shakespeare is still in its infancy and is destined for many great things.

2015-04-02 17:03:11 UTC
David Michel

CYS offers Chicago-area teenagers a life-changing opportunity. Though their work with Shakespeare, students develop life skills far beyond the dramatic arts. For these young actors, the CYS experience cultivates self-confidence, leadership, team-work, collaboration, love of literature, and introduces them to the stage. Through CYS, participants discover the talents, passions, and values that will help them become life-long learners and to give back to their own communities.

2015-04-03 01:52:56 UTC
Ashley Benson

Before this show, I had never done a classic play let alone Shakespeare. I was a musical theatre gal through and through. I mean I always loved reading Shakespeare in English class and this was just the next step. :) Through this show, I learned to trust myself and the choices I make as an actress more. Which is an invaluable skill to have as an actress because everyone wants you to make bold choices you have to be confident in them. After being a part of CYS, I came out with a group of friends that I would drop almost anything for if they needed me, and some friends who I feel would do the same for me. CYS deserves this because of what amazing work they have done in the few years they have been around, and this would help them continue the amazing work they do and reach more Chicago youth.

2015-04-10 22:49:29 UTC
Michael Spadaro

I have enjoyed watching the explosive growth of CYS. This organization is impressive on so many different levels, and I'm excited to see what the future holds. The existing website was perfect in the earlier stages of CYS, but the needs have changed dramatically (pun intended) as the company has evolved. The site needs to be mobile-friendly, and it needs features that are active, rather than static. For instance, how about an interactive calendar, or a simple way to buy tickets to CYS performances through a smart phone? Dear Nerds, what could be nerdier than Shakespeare? Please help!

Our Mission

CYS is committed to teaching and learning Shakespeare through performance. Our programs provide hands-on experiences that give high school students a deeper understanding of Shakespeare, themselves, and their connections to others. CYS is founded on the belief that the most effective way to empower young people academically and artistically is to provide them with opportunities to inspire and be inspired by one another. Simply put, our goal is to get more high school students up on their feet, performing Shakespeare, for and with each other. Our mission is guided by three simple ideas: 1. Shakespeare was written for teenagers. The Bard’s stories, characters, themes and language often parallel the teenage experience (think Romeo and Juliet). Once students learn to unpack Shakespeare’s language, the discoveries and personal connections they make can be life changing. Performing Shakespeare’s works gives adolescents context for the big questions of life and love, struggle and success. It also provides opportunities for collaboration and discovery while reinforcing skills for academic achievement. 2. Shakespeare makes us smarter, better people. Learning to understand and connect with Shakespeare helps teens (and adults too) make important discoveries about themselves and their place in the world, while giving them the confidence and inspiration to be lifelong artists and learners. 3. Everyone learns better by doing! Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be performed, the characters’ words spoken to infuse meaning in to the text. Learning Shakespeare through performance allows students to engage physically, intellectually, and emotionally with the material. Our programs also help teachers find new ways to make Shakespeare come alive in their classrooms by giving them the tools to get students on their feet, away from their desks, and actively participating in learning.