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Archive for February, 2013

~by Jessica Lander
(re-printed with permission)

How does one translate “All the World’s A Stage” into the ancient language of Khmer?

Once again I have found myself teaching Shakespeare in an unusual environment.  Last year in Boston, I explored the elements of the story with 6th graders and probed the emotional transformation of the bard’s characters with teenagers.  The year before, at a Thai university, our focus was the adaptation to a South East Asian setting.

Here, in the Kingdom of Cambodia, reading, listening, writing and speaking Shakespeare with Khmer college freshman and sophomores, our focal point has been the language.

In past years, I relied upon my childhood favorite – Macbeth.  But here, I am surrounded by empowered young Khmer women working to break the stereotypes of the role of women in Cambodian society. When it comes to choosing an appropriate Shakespeare play, there is an obvious choice.

What better play than “As You Like It”?

The play is a stark contrast to the romantic Khmer soaps my students are always watching, where woman are always seen weeping or imploring their men to return.

Rosalind does not weep and she certainly does not beg.  Instead she stands up to her uncle, dresses as a man to protect herself and her cousin, establishes a life for herself in the forest of Arden, and does not wait for any man to rescue her.

And so we began.

“All the world’s a stage,” proclaims the melancholy courtier Jaques.  And in the dusty city of Phnom Penh, the streets and roads, but most particularly our dorm, became our stage.

The transformation took less than a week

These young women took Jaques’ words to heart.  They practiced in their rooms and in the hallways and in the kitchen.  They repeated their lines on their Motos en route to school.

Jessica's students rehearse a scene from As You Like It

Jessica’s students perform a scene from As You Like It

Within a week they were quoting their lines to each other – saying good bye with a joking “I do desire we be better strangers” or “Goodbye Signior Love.”

Our Khmer Orlando embraced her role so fully that she altered her Facebook name to reflect her Shakespearean name.

To understand the full story we watched a movie adaptation. Whenever a student’s character walked on screen the particular student would correspondingly blush, or nod in agreement, or tease the others.

To introduce iambic pentameter I hung sonnets throughout the dorm.  I found students studying the sonnets in the bathrooms and the kitchens, trying to read them out loud and decipher their meaning.

Mostly we practiced.  We deciphered meanings of words and phrases: what does it mean when Rosalind charges her cousin to “take the cork out of thy mouth that I may drink thy tidings?”  We practiced pronunciations :“she” particularly challenging to Khmer speakers: Shepard Shepard Shepard.

“O Rosalind!” the girl playing Orlando exclaimed from the dorm balcony, causing at least one neighbor to turn from their laundry to look up.

After a month of exploration it was time to perform.

We selected costumes and reviewed blocking.   And then, one Sunday afternoon, we drove to the other dorm for a leadership seminar with all 80 young women, 20 recent graduates and 20 visiting Americans.

The girls changed into their costumes – pants, “manly” shirts, sneakers, some wore hats to hide their hair.  The girl playing Touchstone (the fool), drew a curly mustache and fake beard on her cheeks.

And then they were walking out on stage, my roommate inspecting audience members before pronouncing in a loud clear voice: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players.”

Lander - AYLI 1

Be it in inner-city Charlestown MA, the mountain city of Chiang Mai or the dusty capital of Phnom Penh, Shakespeare has captured the fascination of my students.  Yes, Shakespeare is extremely difficult.  Yes, the language sounds weird and the meanings are complex.

I love teaching Shakespeare because I believe that it is challenging but also empowering.  These nine women rose to the challenge and I believe that these young Khmer women, who I have had the honor of living with and teaching, are all modern Rosalinds.

I look forward to watching their individual performances in the years ahead.

Jessica Lander is a teacher and writer in Cambridge, MA.  She has taught, among other things, Shakespeare and critical thinking to college students in the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh and the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Closer to home she has taught math and Shakespeare to 6th graders in the Boston inner city.  She has written for the Boston Globe Magazine and keeps an education blog, Chalk Dust: http://jessicalander.blogspot.com

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How do you connect Shakespeare with culture and history?

Those of us teaching Shakespeare to young people in the classroom are tasked with not only making learning interesting but also relevant. In observance of Black History Month, we want to pay tribute to the work of legendary jazz musician, Duke Ellington.

Ellington was a legendary musician whose career spanned fifty years. He composed many songs for the stage, screen and contemporary songbook. His is one of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in Western music He called his sound “American Music”.

Duke Ellington Such Sweet Thunder

In 1957, Ellington composed Such Sweet Thunder, a twelve part album that explores Shakespeare’s canon through jazz composition.

Try playing Such Sweet Thunder for your students: http://www.shakespeareinamericanlife.org/stage/music/thunder/dukeellington.cfm

What other tools can be used to engage students about Shakespeare?

Sheet music for Hamlet-Madness

Sheet music for Hamlet-Madness

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~by Kevin J. Costa

Sometimes I wonder if the performance-based approach to teaching Shakespeare, which we promote at the Folger, is seen only as an “entry-level” tool for students and teachers intimidated by Shakespeare. For sure, this is a major audience. But performance-based work on Shakespeare doesn’t have to stop there. In fact, I think it shouldn’t. What does a performance-based approach do for that (growing) group of students who are already in “the choir,” so-to-speak?

Two students of mine at McDonogh School offer an example. We’ve been studying Twelfth Night for some time, and we are preparing for a night of one-act performances from the play. These students are playing Orsino and Viola/Cesario in Act 2, Scene 4 — the moment when, for the first time, Orsino seems to take interest in someone other than himself. From the start of the play, Orsino tends to hold court, sharing his convictions about how the world of love works — an armchair expert, but, because he’s the Duke, the one with the bully pulpit. Cesario, however, has a knack of throwing people off their game whether emotionally, rhetorically, or both. “How dost thou like this tune?” asks Orsino in Act 2, Scene 4, and Cesario responds, “It gives a very echo to the seat / Where love is throned” (2.4.23-25). Orsino responds,

Thou dost speak masterly.
My life upon’t, young though thou art, thine eye
Hath stayed upon some favor that it loves.
Hath it not, boy? (2.4.25-28)

Orsino’s interest in Cesario, noted by Valentine at the outset of Act 1, Scene 4, only deepens here. Yes, Orsino still characteristically holds forth with declarations about the truths of love, but we see an increase in the number of questions he asks Cesario — a suggestion that he, for once, isn’t only thinking of himself:

Twelfth night, act 1, scene 4 by H. Thomas Maybank. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Twelfth night, act 1, scene 4 by H. Thomas Maybank. Folger Shakespeare Library.

ORSINO
Make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me
And that I owe Olivia.

VIOLA
Ay, but I know –

ORSINO
What dost thou know?

VIOLA
Too well what love women to men may owe.
In faith, they are as true of heart as we.
My father had a daughter loved a man
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your Lordship.

ORSINO
And what’s her history?

VIOLA
A blank, my lord. She never told her love [. . .]

ORSINO
But died thy sister of her love, my boy?

VIOLA
I am all the daughters of my father’s house,
And all the brothers, too — and yet I know not.
Sir, shall I to this lady?

ORSINO
Ay, that’s the theme.
To her in haste. Give her this jewel. Say
My love can give no place, bide no denay. (2.4.111-122, 131-37)

It’s refreshing to see Orsino concerned about someone else who might be in love. Sure, love is his occupation and so it’s no surprise that he’d take interest, but this is one of the first times he seems to realize that other people might know what it is to have such strong feelings.

At the end of a recent class, my two students stopped me with a question about these final lines. “Mr. Costa,” they said, “does Orsino want to give a ring to the sister of Cesario?” They were confused, of course, because they know that person doesn’t exist in the play. Still, they thought that Orsino (who, unlike the audience, doesn’t know this) wanted to give the ring to Cesario’s sister. I said we should look closely at the text again, and we discussed how Cesario’s line, “Sir, shall I to this lady?” redirects the moment to the “theme” at hand:  i.e., Olivia. And then one of my students said, “Well, should we change the word ‘lady’ to ‘Olivia’ so that the audience gets it?” I told them I didn’t think it at all necessary; in performance, I insisted, the redirect would be quite clear if the person playing Cesario shakes him/herself out of the increasingly intimate dialogue he/she has with Orsino and gets back to the original business at hand.

Students perform Twelfth Night in the 2011 Secondary Schools Festival. Photo by Duy Tran.

Students perform Twelfth Night in the 2011 Secondary Schools Festival. Photo by Duy Tran.

This experience confirmed something in a very concrete way for me about how playing Shakespeare is the most rigorous, specific work a person can do with these texts.  What my students experienced as “confusion” in this extraordinary moment in Twelfth Night was actually the discovery of something at the heart of this play — ambiguity: the ambiguity of language, the ambiguity of feelings, the ambiguity of sexual identity. Who, indeed, is this lady to whom Cesario and Orsino refer? Well, sure it’s Olivia. But the reference to “this lady” by Cesario followed two lines later by Orsino’s, “to her in haste” occurs so quickly that we might well be confused by the referent of these two pronouns. And, one might really wonder, at this moment, who really is the object of Orsino’s emotional energy. Olivia seems to have fallen off his radar, if just for a moment, only to be replaced by the image of Cesario’s “sister” with whom he grows increasingly interested. And if Cesario, as we’ll see, is mistaken as her twin, Sebastian, later in the play, then that means Cesario’s “sister” is, in a strangely logical way — you guessed it — Viola. And we all know who Orsino ends up with at the end of this play!

Confusing? Complicated? Ambiguous? Yes to all of the above. We wrapped up our conversation with a thought: yes, this ambiguity might be apparent to the student sitting at her desk reading quietly, but I can’t imagine that it would have caused us to debate this complex emotional and linguistic tangle in such a lively, enthusiastic, and very rigorous way if they weren’t playing it. What’s more, I had precious little to do with this big question that they had formed – it was their discovery. I just jumped into a problem that had already captured their intellect and imagination and became a partner in their work.

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I’d have alighted on the ambiguity of these pronouns if I were just lecturing because, for better or for worse, I’m too familiar with the play. Fresh eyes, however, can discover so much that routine ignores. I guess the point is that playing Shakespeare isn’t just a gimmick to lure the frightened; it is, rather, a profound tool that sharpens one’s critical acumen further with each successive use.

Kevin J. Costa is a TSI 2010 Alumni. In addition to being an English teacher at McDonogh School, he is Director of the school’s Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies, Head of the Drama Department, and Director of Fine & Performing Arts. He also serves as the Director of Education for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company and is former Chair of the Shakespeare Theater Association’s Education Committee.

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On more than one occasion, students in my Shakespeare class have told me that studying Shakespeare has made them better writers. That thought pleases and intrigues me, and it also inspired me to offer my students a writing challenge. I asked each one to write in a genre of his/her own choosing and to allow Shakespeare—somehow—to be a part of the piece. And then I went looking for Shakespeare, both inside and outside of their lines.

One of my students, a promising young writer, quickly picked up the challenge and shared the following poem. I think the results are stunning, and I wanted to introduce both the poem and the poet, Emily Shue, to you.

You are the downfall to my stage romance.
Prince charming gone bad—
curly locks shorn with the same blade you held to my wrist,
blue eyes burned out and dull,
illustrious color faded into a smoky abyss.
You are a maiden’s handkerchief, fluttering in the wind of my ragged breath—
Othello as he sat atop his golden haired bride
and pushed air from her lungs with a feather pillow,
blood pounding in his head.
Or Romeo, parrying and thrusting silver throated song through the thick summer night
as his blade sliced Mercutio’s stomach,
spilling from his gaping wound scorpions that scuttled up along black letters
and stung the reader’s tear ducts.
You are both houses sitting silent and somber on the hilltop as mourning comes—
the kind with a “u.”
You are cardboard boxes peeling apart in the pouring rain—
Claudio at his own wedding,
ripping spiderlegs of lace from his bride’s dress and beating hate into her heart.
Lady Macbeth in the cold dungeon of her mind
where is the candle out out candle blood blood candle blood
while waxen figures and crimson kings sashayed and kicked
and wiggled their fingers,
dancing along her throat until she tied up a rope and went sailing in the rafters.

Several years ago, I attended a lecture by Stephen Greenblatt at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. At the conclusion of his lecture, one of the students asked Dr. Greenblatt if he thought that Shakespeare expected people to continue to read his plays and sonnets hundreds of years later. Greenblatt immediately replied, “Yes, but not in the way you might think.” According to Greenblatt, Shakespeare probably expected people to borrow from his works just as Shakespeare had borrowed from other sources. I believe that Emily has honored that expectation in her poem, but now I am left with something new to ponder. Did Shakespeare expect people to consider him their writing teacher as well?

Sue Biondo-Hench is a teacher at Carlisle High School in Pennsylvania. She helped establish the Central Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, and founded the Carlisle Shakespeare Troupe. Sue edited the Romeo and Juliet unit of Shakespeare Set Free: Volume 1.   Her lesson plans have been used by secondary school English teachers around the world. She is one of Folger’s Master Teachers, leading curriculum sessions at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute, and presenting performance-based Shakespeare teaching workshops at many National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conventions and English Speaking Union of the United States offices across the country.

Emily Shue was awarded both a Silver and a Gold Key from the Scholastic Writing Awards for her poetry submissions.

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~by Holly Rodgers

In 2010, I endeavored to have my students take on the challenge of performing the works of William Shakespeare.  While this might not be much of a feat if I were a high school English or theater arts teacher, my students have the added encumbrance of being non-native English speakers and all under the age of 12.

After attending the first-ever Folger Elementary Educators Conference in the summer of 2009, I was regaled by the intriguing experiences shared with me by my fellow participants whose students had all performed in the Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival.  They all spoke so positively about their personal experiences and those of their students that I immediately began brainstorming potential plays that my students could perform to apply for the festival the following spring.

Holly participates in a movement activity during the 2011 Elementary Educators' Conference

Holly participates in a movement activity during the 2011 Elementary Educators’ Conference

Although they may be limited in their English proficiency skills, as an advocate for my ELL (English Language Learner) students, it is my job to ensure these children are not limited to the rich, educational experiences that may be more readily available to their native English-speaking peers.  Many of my students are socio-economically disadvantaged and come from homes where one or both parents may be illiterate in their native language.  Suffice it to say, the works of William Shakespeare are not something likely to be found in their home libraries, if they even have one.  Taking all of this into consideration, I felt that spending an entire school year immersing my students in Shakespeare’s world would provide immeasurable growth for them and challenge my teaching skills in the classroom.

Spending that summer editing a script, compiled of scenes from Richard III and Much Ado About Nothing, my students began the school year with Shakespeare boot-camp, which consisted of rigorous performance-based daily lessons intended to gradually build their background knowledge and comfort level with The Bard, as well as make digesting and regurgitating 20 minutes of iambic-pentameter as palatable as possible.

By the time the festival rolled around in May, my students and I were prepared in every way possible, but what we were not prepared for were the side effects from prolonged Shakespeare exposure that would continue to affect all of us well into the future.

Holly's Students perform a scene from Richard III in the 2010 Emily Jordan Children's Festival at the Folger.

Holly’s Students perform a scene from Richard III in the 2010 Emily Jordan Children’s Festival at the Folger.

My students, who I am fortunate enough to retain in my program for multiple school-years, were permanently altered by their festival preparation and performance experience.  As I’ve watched them grow over the last three years, I am stricken most with the self-confidence that every single one of those students now possesses.  They walk taller, they continue to seek out performance opportunities, and some of them even used Shakespeare to assist them in overcoming physical and mental challenges.  In the aftermath of our performance, I also found myself permanently changed as an educator.  Knowing that my young ELL students were capable of decoding, comprehending, and performing Shakespeare broke down any cultural or socio-linguistic barriers that existed for them in my mind and allowed me to realize that despite being limited English-proficient, my students have NO limitations.

Holly Rodgers is an elementary school ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia.  She has been a presenter at the Folger Elementary Educators Conference and has created ELL (English Language Learner) and elementary focused lesson plans for the Folger Education Website. She has spent her varied educational career as both a language and music teacher.  She earned her M Ed in Multilingual/Multicultural Education from George Mason University and her BME in Instrumental Music from Louisiana State University.

Keep the conversation going with Holly on Twitter @hmrodgers

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There are parts of my middle school English curriculum that I find to be really boring to teach.  For example: grammar.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m as much a geek for grammar as the next – but teaching it can be a drag… explaining rules, drilling through sentences, fighting the wavering attention spans…
Stanbury Class Bored

When I’m feeling bored with teaching a grammar skill or literary concept, here’s my solution: I decide not to teach it.

So to speak.

Instead, I go hunting through my Complete Works of Shakespeare, revisiting scenes that I’ve enjoyed, until I find a little section or excerpt that can somehow dovetail with the concept that my students need to learn.  I let Shakespeare teach the skill.  It’s much more interesting to introduce a skill or concept when it emerges from something alive and active, like a mini-scene that my students have puzzled through.

I’ll give you an example.

I had to teach my students about appositives, those nouny-phrases that clarify another noun and which are usually set off by commas.  I thought about lecturing and using overheads and passing out worksheets, but that whole process just seemed so dull.  I started thinking about what an appositive phrase feels like when it’s spoken.  The whole idea of an appositive as “extra information” made me think of Shakespeare’s asides – extra information that helps clarify things for the audience.

So I doctored up a short excerpt from Othello, act 5, scene 1, which ends with Iago’s aside, “This is the night / That either makes me or fordoes me quite.”  The catch was that I had secretly deleted the stage direction “Aside” when Iago speaks.  Then I passed the excerpt out to my students and had them work through it, swapping out actors and directors pretty frequently, ensuring that everyone stayed involved one way or another.

Eventually, some of them started to wonder why Iago would announce his scheming to the other characters.  (It took willpower for me to not vocalize that observation myself!)  The actor then tried giving that line with a cupped hand around his mouth, whispering the line to the audience.  Voilà – they’d figured out the concept of the aside.  From there, it was straightforward to dramatize some sentences with appositives, inserting cupped-hands for commas.  And since the students owned the discovery of the aside, the corresponding grammar concept clicked more fully for them.

Stanbury Class

After that experience, I kept trying to link Shakespeare with other parts of the curriculum, such as literacy skills.  My 7th graders were having a hard time making the leap from reading things literally to considering ideas about symbolism and metaphor.  We weren’t doing anything complex about Jay Gatsby’s optometrist or a piggy head on a spike; I just needed to get them to recognize the basic concept that sometimes, Thing A can represent Thing B.

What’s a scene in Shakespeare where one thing really, clearly stands for something else – a scene where the characters themselves are exploring symbolism?  After a little thought and browsing, I settled on a scene from Titus Andronicus.  (Yes, I can now say that I’ve done Titus with 12-year-olds.  Score!)  The titular character berates his brother for killing a fly, but then changes his mind when he envisions the fly as a symbol for the villain Aaron.  I introduced the scene to my students, telling them that Titus’s children had recently been murdered, raped, and/or mutilated (use your discretion.)  Also, I cut some lines from the scene in order to create a quicker dynamic that I thought would help my students recognize the change that Titus undergoes:

Titus Andronicus.
What dost thou strike at, Marcus, with thy knife?

Marcus Andronicus.
At that that I have kill’d, my lord; a fly.

Titus Andronicus.
Out on thee, murderer! thou kill’st my heart;
A deed of death done on the innocent
Becomes not Titus’ brother: get thee gone.

Marcus Andronicus.
Alas, my lord, I have but kill’d a fly.

Titus Andronicus.
But how, if that fly had a father and mother?
Poor harmless fly,
That, with his pretty buzzing melody,
Came here to make us merry! and thou hast
kill’d him.

Marcus Andronicus.
Pardon me, sir; it was a black ill-favor’d fly,
Like to the empress’ Moor; therefore I kill’d him.

Titus Andronicus.
O, O, O,
Then pardon me for reprehending thee,
For thou hast done a charitable deed.
Give me thy knife, I will insult on him;
Flattering myself, as if it were the Moor
Come hither purposely to poison me.—
There’s for thyself, and that’s for Tamora.

Some of my students acted and others directed.  Then we switched roles and they made some changes in the staging, movement, articulation, etc.  Then we switched roles again.  Gradually, the kids started emphasizing different emotional styles and actions to accompany the text.  I asked guiding questions: “Why does Titus pity the dead fly? … What does it remind him of? … Why does he stab the fly?”

Pretty soon, the students were talking about how the fly comes to stand for so much more within this little scene, changing from an innocent creature into a symbol for Aaron.  The actors hammed it up, taking out their aggression on the little wad of paper that they had dubbed “Fly,” as if they saw the villain himself in it.  After that, we returned to the Steinbeck novella that I’d been teaching, and the students could see that the protagonist’s pearl evolves to symbolize so much more than just a financial windfall.

Now although I love teaching whole Shakespeare units, nobody ever said that you can’t teach his work in bits and pieces like this.  (Or if someone did, then that person is wrong.)  When I give my students a Shakespeare scene, the onus is on them to figure out how to make sense of the language and the staging.  And when it’s paired up with another skill, then the students’ ownership of the scene transfers to that skill.  They learn the nitty-gritties of their English curriculum, and I get to have more fun.  Pretty cool combo.

Geoff Stanbury teaches 7th grade humanities at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas.  He is an alumnus of TSI 2010, where his passion for Shakespeare flourished through collaboration with talented colleagues and friends.  Geoff earned his B.A. at Sarah Lawrence College and his M.A. at the University of Chicago.  Feel free to contact him at stanburyg@smtexas.org.

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Ben Jonson once wrote of Shakespeare, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”  Now, almost 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, we live in a world where it gets more difficult every day to convince students of the Bard’s relevance. Cell phones, iPads, and video games seem to have taken center stage in the common teenager’s life.  Is it really as difficult as some suggest to engage today’s student in the study of Shakespeare and his play?  I would argue that Shakespeare is doing just fine in 2013.  In a recent Folger Education Facebook entry, there was a link posted about seven upcoming film or television projects that all involved Shakespeare.  PBS recently began their six episode series entitled “Shakespeare Uncovered” and the first episode examined my all time favorite play, Macbeth.  As someone who feels they have a strong grasp of the play, I was fascinated at all the little insights I gained from watching this episode.  It was especially thrilling for me to see Dunsinane Hill and possibly the remnants of Birnam Wood in the surrounding countryside. As I watched, I was already plotting which clips from the show I wanted to share with my students next year when we study Macbeth.

In addition, I am amazed at how many newspaper and magazine headlines, syndicated columnists, and television shows make references to the Bard’s works.  One recent example that comes to mind was an opinion piece about the US tax code and how it relates to Shakespeare.  On television, CBS’s The Mentalist had two episodes from 2012 where Shakespeare had a major role in the outcome of the show. In the episode, “Something’s Rotten in Redmund” the lead character Patrick Jane investigates a teacher’s death by hanging around rehearsals of Hamlet.  By the end of the episode, Jane is on stage playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father and let’s just say that this ghost has other things to reveal than a usurping uncle. In another episode, “Cheap Burgundy,” Jane catches a killer by misquoting lines from Macbeth that the killer supposedly knew nothing about, but who felt the need to correct Jane’s mistake.  In this week’s Sports Illustrated, there is a college basketball article by Luke Winn entitled “Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of Hoops.”  I love seeing references to Julius Caesar in my favorite sports magazine.

While this was a long-winded introduction to what I want to share, I think it is important that students be shown the numerous examples of how the Bard’s works are alive and well in the 21st Century.   With that said, I also think that, we as educators, need to embrace the technology of today and also get the students out of their desks and experience the plays on their feet.  In this blog, I would like to share two of the activities that I have done in my classroom over the past three years to make the Bard come alive and allow the students to use a plethora of the technology that they love.

One of my most popular classroom activities is the making of a movie trailer after we study a play.  With the majority of newer iPads and cell phones  possessing video cameras that are HD quality, many of the students can film these projects using their own devices.  Of course, actual video cameras may be used as well.  The simplicity of movie editing programs like iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, and other similar programs allow students to use edit the film and use effects that we could only dream of having at our fingertips ten years ago.  So far, my classes have done Hamlet and Othello.  None of them will earn Oscars, but they all have a special place in my heart and the students appear to really enjoy this particular week of my class.

Image

Chris’s students act out scenes from HAMLET for their trailer project.

I will give you a general overview of what the students are responsible for, but if anyone has more specific questions feel free to contact me.  First, the students make groups of 7-10 depending on class size.  Together, we view some film trailers in class and have a short discussion on what was effective or ineffective about each.  Next, the students decide on which scenes or lines must make an appearance in the film.  I try and stress to them that short clips are most effective, but if you watch the links that I provide you will see that they don’t always follow those instructions.  Sometimes their disobedience was effective and other times not so much.  After building the script, Students also need to discuss scene locations(we are limited to our school grounds), costumes, and props.  We usually borrow clothes from the drama department closet, but you will see in the Othello trailers that some were just dressed in normal school clothes. Finally,  we begin the filming process.  Even though the trailer will probably be no more than one to four minutes long, it will probably take at least three or four days to film and we have the block schedule at my high school.  One can never underestimate how many times the “actors” will stumble over their lines, unexpected encounters with  students from other classes or cars that appear in your video backgrounds forcing a cut, or when the laughter bug hits and nobody can keep a straight face.  You can view the bloopers reel at the end of our trailer videos to see what I mean.

After all of the filming is completed, the editing process takes over. I usually do most of the editing with the help of a few students.  I think this is a mistake that I need to remedy.  There is a pretty slick trailer feature on iMovie that my dog could probably figure out with a little time.  My plan this year is to arm the students with iPads and allow them to use the iMovie app to create their masterpieces.  I have included links to our previous trailers here.  Hamlet #1 , Hamlet #2 , Both Othello Trailers.

Staying on the theme of video production, I’d like to quickly share a project that two of my students created on their own that I now plan on having my future classes do as a formal assignment.  They called it the “Shakespeare Infomercial”. Neil and Spencer picked a product to sell that played a role in a specific play.  In one Othello infomercial, they sell an Egyptian handkerchief complete with strawberry embroidery. If the customers acted soon enough, they would also throw in a complimentary scimitar and scabbard.  They finished the video with several satisfied customer’s remarks.  What I enjoyed most about the infomercials was how they threw in several references to the plays and the Bard that were very clever.  Watch the Othello informercial here and then check out their Macbeth infomerical where they sell witch cauldrons among other items.  The portion of the assignment that takes the longest is the writing out of the script. They filmed and edited the video on an iPad in under an hour.

I am out of space, but I hope to share some more activities from my classroom in the future.  Thanks for taking the time to read this and making your classroom one that makes the Bard come alive!

Chris Lavold has been  an English teacher and baseball coach at Mauston High School in Mauston, WI for the past 16 years.  As a 2010 Folger Library Teaching Shakespeare Institute participant, he learned many valuable techniques and insights about Shakespeare and the teaching of his plays.  He has spoken at the NCTE conference for the past two years on behalf of the Folger on topics specializing in technology and the use of film in the classroom. Lavold can be reached at clavold@maustonschools.org  or follow him on Twitter @Shakehitch.

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