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Archive for March, 2011

Folger Education just concluded the 31st annual Secondary School Festival with 56 schools participating in a seven day event featuring performances by 1,500 students from the Virginia, Maryland, DC area.  Ten of the schools were part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, an NEA/Arts Midwest grant funded program that placed teaching artists in 1o classrooms.  These teaching artists worked with students to prepare them for a student matinee of The Comedy of Errors at the Folger Theatre, as well as helped them to prepare for their festival performances.  In addition, teachers had the opportunity to see first-hand, and to participate in, the performance-based activities that help to bring Shakespeare to life for students in the classroom.  We know that teachers will be applying what they saw and experienced in their classes as a result of this program.

Students performing on the Folger stage.

Festivals don’t all have to be as big as the one we hold at the Folger.  They can be as small as having students in one class perform for one another, or classes that are part of your daily teaching schedule treading the boards. Perhaps even students in your neighboring teacher’s classroom might join your students in performing edited versions of Shakespeare’s plays, scenes from the play you’re studying, or scenes chosen to represent a theme or motif. The festival is a celebration of Shakespeare’s language and work, not a competition.

Have you participated in a festival of Shakespeare’s plays with your students?  What was it like for you?  For your students?

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~by Emily Marquet
For the rest of this adventure, please see these posts!
Day 1
Day 2
Days 3 & 4

Day 5: WE’RE DOING IT!

Our actors, naturally, were completely unfazed by the request to perform twice. After the morning assembly, the actors reported to the “stage”- the front basketball court of the school had miraculously transformed into an auditorium. A tarp was hung to keep out the bright Haitian sun and benches were dragged from the cafeteria.

Time was crunched and as the benches were filling with expectant students, we hastily gave the actors some final notes: don’t turn your back to the audience, project etc. And most importantly, have fun!

Elle and I took a big step back for the performances and simply enjoyed watching. It was the student’s show, after all, and we both felt like our roles were expendable. The actor’s imaginations and talents were boundless and we both commented that we felt we had received a huge gift by being given the chance to work with them, and then to enjoy their performance.

I cannot do either of the performances justice with a description. I was absolutely speechless to the fact that these students-turned-actors performed a fabulous, completely original rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream- and with only four days of rehearsal!

The success of the play had far-reaching consequences. It represented a huge success for the school as well as the surrounding neighborhood because it allowed the students to shine as individuals but also express the community of the school and the cast. The success also had a lot to do with the incredible hard work the students put into translating their lines and creating a unique Haitian setting for the play world to live in.

I felt that the performance I saw of Shakespeare’s play at LCS was one of the most truthful and evocative renditions of that play that I had ever seen. It was simple: no set, very few props and costumes and it cost nothing to put on and yet it moved the audience in profound ways.

Shakespeare does indeed have something to say to all of us and his universality remains intact when translated or re-rendered in different language and cultures.

I thank the LCS community for sharing their time and talents and especially the actors who worked incredibly hard for the week I was there and the volunteer teachers who were so supportive of all of our efforts.  Also, I must thank Elle Thoni, who put up with me through all my moments of stress and was a role model of energy and joy throughout the process.

My week in Haiti illustrated very strongly an opinion I’ve held for awhile: theatre is a unifier and does have far-reaching effects; letting young people perform, and especially perform Shakespeare, is one of the best experiences an educator can give them.

Emily Marquet is currently an intern with Folger’s Education and Public Programs divisions. She has worked with the American Shakespeare Center as a Camp Counselor and Assistant Director, and is a recent graduate of NYU with a Fine Arts major in Drama and minor in Social and Cultural Analysis. For more information about The Haitian Project and the Louverture Cleary School, visit their website: http://haitianproject.org/article/louverture-cleary-school.

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~ by Emily Marquet
(previous entries on this adventure are on the blog! Click for DAY 1 and DAY 2!)

Day 3 & 4: Sassy Fairies & Clowning

Wednesday’s goal was to block the second half of the play. We nearly succeeded. Some scenes took longer than others to block and some characters (like Puck and Oberon) seem to be in pretty much every scene in the forest. Therefore, those actors were in high demand and some scenes had to wait until Thursday to finish.

It seems high school students are high school students the whole world over and similar fear, frustrations and joys came from working with teenagers. I could tell the actors really did not want to make fools out of themselves in front of their peers- who does? This led to some interesting character choices, especially on the part of our fairies, who decided Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed were not just loyal, doting fairies to Titania but were actually very sassy, smart-alecs who deeply questioned their queen’s sanity when she falls in love with an ass.

Wednesday night we blocked the infamous Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play. Elle and I facilitated a clowning exercise to get the actors into the headspace of our dear, clueless mechanicals. I could tell that the actors were not afraid to be total hams and very excited to perform outrageously for their peers.

On Thursday we finished blocking the play and attempted a cue-to-cue, a term familiar and feared by a lot of theatre artists. We had worked on our scenes individually and now it was time to piece the whole play together. This was a tedious process, to be sure, but definitely a necessary step.

Thursday night was actually Thanksgiving. It is a big celebration on the LCS campus and the volunteer teachers cook a fantastic, traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Elle and I ate the fastest turkey dinner ever and scooted back over to the main campus in order to perform our first…and last….final dress rehearsal!!

The actors were costumed in all black with simple, key pieces added on, playing to the idea that you can put on theatre very simply and have it be very effective. The actors LOVED their costumes. It was amazing to watch Helena and Hermia transform a simple piece of clothe into very intricate and beautiful sarong dresses.

The final dress was a little hectic- as to be expected- it was the first time we’d ever run the play.  Unbeknownst to the actors and Elle and I, we developed quite an audience, including Patrick Moynihan. After our final dress he approached us and asked if the cast could perform the show twice the following day. Once at 8:30 am (!!) and the other at the original scheduled time- 10 am. Elle and I exchanged glances. We had been hoping for one last run-thru or at least an opportunity to give notes. But, as we were reminded by Theseus’ first line, we needed to jump on the chance to perform as many times as we could… tomorrow was the big day!

Emily Marquet is currently an intern with Folger’s Education and Public Programs divisions. She has worked with the American Shakespeare Center as a Camp Counselor and Assistant Director, and is a recent graduate of NYU with a Fine Arts major in Drama and minor in Social and Cultural Analysis. For the finale of her experiences in Haiti, check back on this blog on March 29!

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~ by Emily Marquet
(if you missed the beginning of Emily’s adventure, click HERE)

Day 2: En Kreyol… S’il Vous Plait

It was discussed and decided as a cast on the second day of rehearsal that most of the play would be told in Kreyol. We determined that it was more important to tell the story as clearly as possible than keep Shakespeare’s language intact. Due to the wide age range of our audience, Kreyol would be by far the most widely understood language. Also, it was important to the cast to re-tell the story in a Haitian sense, using Haitian idioms and turns-of-speech. In other words, markedly making it an original take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream while maintaining Shakespeare’s story.

Coming into the experience as a Shakespeare purist, I have to admit I struggled a lot with “giving up” so much of the original text. Were we still telling Shakespeare’s story? That transition over the course of four days was my biggest learning curve and one I eventually embraced when I saw the final production.

I should also add that Kreyol was not the only language spoken. I would say about 30% of our one hour cut remained in English and about 60% was translated into Kreyol. The other 10% was spoken in French and Spanish. All four languages are taught at LCS and all four languages are spoken by Haitians. Patrick Moynihan commented on that choice saying, “If Shakespeare wrote a play in Haiti, he would definitely have characters speak in Kreyol and other characters not speak in Kreyol- both to their benefit and to their disadvantage. In other words, he would buffoon the language. That’s part of the whole Shakespearean commentary, characters putting on airs with language and getting it wrong…”

One example of this took place with our actor playing Bottom. English happened to be his first language and Kreyol his second. The actor chose specific moments when the character Bottom was talking a big game or not being truthful and decided to speak those lines in Kreyol. The end result was hilarious: here was an actor botching a language attempting to impress native Kreyol speakers. The universality of his character shone through that choice.

Day 2’s objective was to block the first half of the play. A lofty goal indeed! Elle and I had carefully divided the scenes into entrances and exits or “bite-sized chunks” as we called it, and split up the cast accordingly so that everyone was always working on something.

We opened rehearsal with a number of theatre games like, “Build a Machine,” and “Zip, Zip.” The love machine we made was pretty steamy!

Naturally, as with any theatre process, some hurdles came up during rehearsal. Halfway through rehearsal a number of the older boys (our Oberon, Puck, Lysander, and Francis Flute) disappeared. It was revealed a minute later they had gone to soccer practice. Apparently, we were going to have a talk about commitment to the play rehearsal!

Rehearsal came to a close after successfully (or semi-successfully, considering we had lost most of our leading men to sports) running the first half of the play. Hurray!

That night we worked with the lovers. In our cut, they ended up being the set of characters with the most lines so we worked on projection and did a lengthy vocal warm-up.

Then we began wading through the huge lover’s fight in Act III. First, the actors did the whole scene with just movement and telling the story with their bodies. Elle and I gave verbal hints as to what action happened next, but we tried to let the four actors direct and block themselves. Huge success! Giving the actors clear instructions yet keeping the structure free enough for them to play wildly and make big discoveries on their own was certainly the most effective directing tool Elle and I discovered. Additionally, we wanted the actors to feel like the play was undoubtably theirs; that this rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream could only have taken place at LCS in Haiti.

Emily Marquet is currently an intern with Folger’s Education and Public Programs divisions. She has worked with the American Shakespeare Center as a Camp Counselor and Assistant Director, and is a recent graduate of NYU with a Fine Arts major in Drama and minor in Social and Cultural Analysis. For the next part of her experiences in Haiti, check back to this blog on March 22 and 29!

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~ by Emily Marquet

The Objective: To mount a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Louverture Cleary School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In four days.

The Obstacle: We (the directors as well as the script bearers/ costumers) had just missed our flight.

Sitting at the bar of an airport restaurant armed with a free lunch voucher from American Airlines, Elle Thoni and I were distraught. If we didn’t make it to Haiti today, we would only have three days to rehearse Shakespeare’s comedy with our actors.  Not to mention we’d never met our actors. Not to mention this was the student-actor’s first time performing Shakespeare. Not to mention it was, in most of the actors’ cases, their first time performing at all.

The idea to bring Shakespeare to Haiti, specifically to the Louverture Cleary School; a Catholic co-ed high school providing free education to over 350 students from Port-au-Prince, started in January 2010.  I met Elle in Johannesburg, South Africa. We were both studying acting and Applied Theatre at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Elle had a great deal of Applied Theatre, or Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), training prior to her studying at Wits; I had a great deal of knowledge on Shakespeare as a classically trained actor and someone who grew up in and around the Folger Shakespeare Library.  We decided that our complementary skills would make a very effective partnership if we were to facilitate a drama workshop at LCS.

Shakespeare seemed like the best choice for LCS. Elle and I wanted to pick a play that would have universal themes celebrating our humanity. We wanted a play that would translate into Haitian culture but also represent a part of the theatre heritage we were coming from. Additionally, studying English and English literature is a large part of the LCS student’s curriculum and the school was highly in favor of performing a Shakespeare play for the entire school and engaging the students with his work.

Therefore, we chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As theatre educators, we are aware of the numerous charms of this play and its genuine ease and near perfection as a workshop or ensemble-based piece. Additionally, and more importantly to our mission, it is a riotous comedy. One of the goals of our workshop was to provide an escape for the students and actors- an avenue where they could just laugh and enjoy themselves and live vicariously through the magic of the play. As a community who was just discovering the joys of live theatre, this felt like a very important aspect to keep in mind towards the work.

Back to the airport. My cell phone rings. It is Patrick Moynihan, the President of The Haitian Project, the non-profit that runs LCS. He was onboard the flight we had allegedly missed and reported that he had stopped the plane and we were to return to our gate. We had not missed our flight. We were going to Haiti as scheduled.

And we were off!

Day 1: NOW FAIR HIPPOLYTA

Our rehearsal process reflected two beautiful lines from the play:

“Now fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour draws on apace,”

and

“There we may rehearse most obscenely and courageously,”

As Theseus says in the first line of the play, the action is happening RIGHT NOW! Theseus instructed us to embrace the immediacy and jump into rehearsal without any hesistations. As Peter Quince instructs his mechanicals-turned-actors a little later on, we rehearsed as obscenely and courageously as we could. Every minute of rehearsal was filled with work. Our actors were powerhouses of energy who seemed to thrive and live for action and drama and movement and storytelling.

Rehearsals took place on a basketball court in the back courtyard of the school.  We were constantly battling a soccer practice and kids playing on the playground. The constant buzz of activity was occasionally a deterrant, but mostly it just fueled us to work harder.

We spent the first rehearsal up on our feet as much as possible. After playing a name game, we discussed the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the play.

The actors had been cast before we arrived (thanks to the amazing work of one of the volunteer teachers) and had been working on their lines very diligently. However, in order to cut down the impact on the ink and paper supply, each actor was only given their cues and their lines—just like Shakespeare’s actors! Because our actors spanned grades 7th-12th, they had not met as one cast before our first rehearsal and we were all discovering the play’s plot for the first time together.

We came up with one sentence to describe the beginning, middle and end of the play. Then, the actors broke up into three groups– one for the beginning, one for the middle and one for the end– and sculptured a still image that represented their sentence. This was, in every one of the actor’s cases except for one, the first time these students had played theatre games, been in a play, or performed in front of others so we spent time discussing what parts of the images told the story most effectively.

We played a couple more ensemble building exercises and theatre-games to create a play space and build the community of the cast.

In addition to our 2.5 hour afternoon rehearsal, we were able to grab a portion of time in the evening devoted to study hour. Every night we worked individually with one of the three main groups of characters in the play- the lovers, the mechanicals, and the fairies- in order to tackle larger scenes and do more specific character work.

Monday night we worked with the fairies. We spent half the time doing movement exercises and characterizing our fairies. How much power do Titania and Oberon yield? What are Puck and the fairies relationship to the King and Queen? What kind of superpowers do our fairies have?

Our fairies exemplified what I would call a Haitian’s innate understanding of theatricality. Watching our actress playing Titania transform into a queen was nothing short of breathtaking. As a culture, Haitians highly value oral storytelling and have a rich dramatic tradition. Issues are resolved through conversation and dialogue which means the LCS students were a lot more natural with Shakespeare’s text than American teens. The Haitians understood the concept of suit the action to the word, the word to the action with no acting training whatsoever.

But we only had 3 more days…

Emily Marquet is currently an intern with Folger’s Education and Public Programs divisions. She has worked with the American Shakespeare Center as a Camp Counselor and Assistant Director, and is a recent graduate of NYU with a Fine Arts major in Drama and minor in Social and Cultural Analysis. For the next part of her experiences in Haiti, check back to this blog on March 15 and 22!

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Back in January, I wrote about the upcoming kids’ feature Gnomeo and Juliet. Despite my hemming and hawing, though, Lucretia Anderson and I were able to go see the film this past weekend.

My short take is that the movie is more insulting to Elton John than to Shakespeare.

Ultimately it is an adorable, fun little movie (despite the terrible renditions of Elton John’s hits). It spoke directly to me when a little gnome in a ruff opened the film by ascending a stage and reciting tinnily: “This story has been told a LOT. We’re going to tell it again, but different.” before launching into the prologue from Shakespeare’s play (which he is unable to finish).

The movie is pretty well-done in terms of storytelling – the animation is fine, the sound effects are great (reminding you constantly that these gnomes are ceramic), and the little hints of Shakespeare are just as enjoyable as the big ones. There’s a scene with the Bard himself, who listens to the exiled Gnomeo bemoan his fate and warns him that it could turn out very badly.

Being a kids movie, it does not, of course, turn out badly. It ends happily, though I would have liked to have seen the gnomes’ owners (the lawn-warring duplex owners Montague and Capulet) have their own reconciliation since they seemed to be the catalysts for the feud in the first place.

Have you had a chance to see this film? What are your thoughts on it? Would you show it in your classroom when teaching Shakespeare?

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