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The Alabama Shakespeare Festival presented four performances of "As You Like It" for Talladega City and County sixth- and seventh-graders Tuesday and Wednesday at The Historic Ritz Theatre. 

TALLADEGA -- Talladega’s Historic Ritz Theatre presented four performances of Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s “As You Like It” this week for almost 1,300 sixth- and seventh-graders from Talladega City and County schools.

“ASF is one of the most highly-regarded professional theatre companies in the United States,” Ritz Executive Director George Culver said. “Located in Montgomery, ASF is a significant source of pride for our state, and it was a significant source of pride that The Ritz was able to present one of their school touring productions for the first time this year. It is a banner highlight of our arts education lineup for the 2018-19 academic year.”

The performances were Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Dec. 4-5. A combined 1,283 sixth- and seventh-graders were in attendance at the four performances. Thirteen area schools participated, including Zora Ellis Middle, Salter Elementary, Houston Elementary, R.L. Young Elementary and Graham Elementary from the Talladega City system. Talladega County schools participating included Comer Elementary, Munford Middle, Talladega County Central High, Comer High, Drew Middle, Childersburg Middle, Stemley Road Elementary and Fayetteville High.

“By the end of this academic year, The Ritz will have hosted over 5,000 area school students from grades K-7, which will give us a cumulative achievement of over 100,000 area students who have attended a professional, curriculum-based arts education program since 1998,” Culver reported. “This is a prideful achievement and affirms that arts education is one of our most important missions at The Historic Ritz.”

Talladega City Schools Superintendent Tony Ball, who stopped by to observe a performance Tuesday morning for the first time since becoming superintendent last summer, remarked, “The Ritz and this arts program is a jewel.”

All Ritz arts education initiatives are provided at no cost whatsoever to students, a standing Ritz board policy since 1998. For their part in this two-decade long collaboration, area boards of education provide the logistically critical bus transportation.

The next Ritz collaboration with area schools will involve six performances of “MatheMagic,” featuring Washington, D.C., teaching artist Bradley Fields on Jan 15-17. This series will target third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

ASF’s touring school production of “As You Like It” was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Ritz arts education underwriting support comes from FRIENDS of The Ritz and patrons of both the annual Mardi Gras Gala and Low Country Shrimp Boil & DrawDown benefits, together with targeted support from Callie’s Kids Foundation, the Willy Coker Arts Education Fund and the Alabama State Council on the Arts.