English Shakespeare Workshop For Children On Autism Spectrum Will Have American Debut In Kansas City

Heart of America Shakespeare Festival brings Kelly Hunter, artistic director of Flute Theatre in the U.K., for a free class and performance for 30 children.

   photo courtesy oF Ohio state University


The term iambic pentameter may make you groan, reminding you of all that high school and college Shakespeare analysis. For Kelly Hunter, though, the Bard’s famous writing method isn’t something to shy away from — it’s a tool for teaching theater and communication to children with autism spectrum disorder.

   The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival will bring Hunter to Kansas City for her first-ever American workshops from Jan. 7-9, 2018, in which she’ll teach her Hunter Heartbeat Method. Thirty lucky children, ages 9-16 and on the autism spectrum, will participate in the program for free thanks to a donation.

   Lisa Wendelburg, the festival’s vice president of education, became interested in Hunter’s program because her son, Loren, has autism and acts in Shakespeare shows. After coming across a Ted Talk about Hunter’s educational Heartbeat Method in October, Wendelburg got in touch over email and found out she’d be in the U.S. and able to do workshops in January.

   “There’s a lot of interest,” Wendelburg says. “It’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity for their kids to work with somebody like Kelly Hunter who developed this program.”

   During her time at London’s Royal Shakespeare Company, Hunter worked with children with ASD, which led her to create the Hunter Heartbeat Method. Its Shakespeare-inspired games focus on senses to develop social skills. Hunter later used her experience teaching the Heartbeat Method to start Flute Theatre in London, which provides Shakespeare performances for young audiences with ASD.

   After teaching workshops on Jan. 7 and 8, Hunter will direct two performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the children on Jan. 9. Loren Wendelburg, now a young adult, has played Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and thinks other children with ASD will appreciate being able to perform at the end of the workshop.

   “It just feels good to show people what we’ve accomplished over a short span of time,” he says. “It’s a really good experience.”

   And even though Shakespeare may seem intimidating at first, the Wendelburgs agree with Hunter that it’s a great tool for working with children on the autism spectrum.

   “I’m sure these [educators] are going to be crazy animated, and I think these kids will respond well to that,” says Blake Wendelburg, Lisa’s husband who also sits on the Shakespeare Festival’s board of directors. “They’ll probably go, wow, I’m not the only one who makes loud noises and does really crazy things with my hands. It’s normal to do that when you’re up on stage.”

   Register a child for the Flute Theatre Intensive with this application. Learn more at kcshakes.org/learn/flute-theatre-intensive.