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Archive for May, 2013

~by Louis Butelli

Hello, dear readers of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Education Blog! My name is Louis Butelli, and I’m an actor, specializing in Shakespeare’s comic characters. For the purposes of this post, though the term doesn’t necessarily always apply, for reasons I’ll discuss later, I’ll refer to them all as “Fools.”

Louis as Will Somers in Henry VIII, Folger Theatre 2010

Louis as Will Somers in Henry VIII, Folger Theatre 2010

Here at the Folger, I’ve had the good fortune to play Bardolph in Henry V, Roderigo in Othello, Will Sommers in Henry VIII (for which I won the Helen Hayes Award), and am currently playing Feste in Twelfth Night. I hope you’ll come along and see us, if you haven’t already. Some of the other Fools I’ve been lucky enough to play include Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew, Lear’s Fool in King Lear, Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both Dromio twins in A Comedy of Errors, Sir Hugh in The Merry Wives of Windsor, among others.

While there are plenty of differences between these characters – some are noble, some are servants, some sing and dance, some are clever, some are simple – they still have a similar function: they make you laugh. Or, at least I hope that they do.

Let’s start with laughter.

Laughter has long been treasured by human beings, both because it provides a sense of safety, well-being, and social cohesion, and because it just feels really good.  Recent work in Anthropology has suggested that spontaneous, “feel-good” laughter – or so-called “Duchenne laughter” – was passed along to us by our primate ancestors. This means that laughter has been a vital part of the human experience since, well, before we were human.

On an almost evolutionary level, then, we hold people who make us laugh in fairly high regard. Moreover, we also sense that laughter is never far from its opposite; joy and grief seem to require each other in order to exist at all. We can see evidence of this as far back as it is possible to look into our own history. All ancient mythologies – from all over the world  – contain some version of a “trickster” god or persona.

Most people know Loki as the supervillain from the new Avengers movie franchise. And there’s something to that. Still, his origins are in Norse mythology. There, Loki was an anarchic shape-shifter who refused to follow the rules and sometimes helped and sometimes hindered the other gods. For the Navajo from the American Southwest, the spirit of Coyote lurks behind “naughty” and “mischievous” behavior. In one instance, Coyote’s antics result in the creation of the Milky Way.

We have Ancient Greek culture to thank for much of the foundation of our own literature. For the Greeks, Hermes played the trickster role in the pantheon of Olympian gods. At once a messenger, a thief, and a mischief maker, he invented the lyre – which he made from a turtle shell – and stole the cattle of the sun god Apollo.

To stick with the Greeks, and move closer to the point, I’ll mention “satyrs” here. Satyrs are anarchic demigods. Half man, half goat, they are lusty creatures of sensual pleasure and appetite. During the Festival of Dionysus, an annual theater celebration, citizens would gather to watch three plays in a row by the same playwright. Then, after the third play concluded, the author would present a “Satyr Play.” These were entertainments wherein the traditional Chorus was replaced by a chorus of satyrs – who caused much mischief and mayhem. The presence of the chaotic satyrs would turn a familiar story upside down.

This idea of inversion, of something naughty or unexpected emerging from something familiar, is very much at the root of the foolery we find in Shakespeare. If we think of Twelfth Night – playing through June 9th at Folger Theatre – we spy some of these notions. The holiday known as “Twelfth Night,” has its origins in the pagan figure known as “The Lord of Misrule.” On his holiday, the social order would invert. The servants became the masters, and vice versa. This temporary departure from the ordinary way of doing things seems to have offered a kind of social cleansing, the ability to “blow off some steam” before returning to business-as-usual.

Louis as Feste with James Konicek and Craig Wallace as Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, Folger Theatre 2013

Louis as Feste with James Konicek and Craig Wallace as Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, Folger Theatre 2013

Fools in Shakespeare often seem to function as permanent, or “professional” Lords of Misrule. They are often employed by the monarch, or the higher status characters, and because they have some sort of skill – they tell jokes, they sing songs, they offer honest opinions – they are free from the normal social order. So long as they don’t displease their employer, they are free to come and go as they wish.

As Feste, the Fool in Twelfth Night, says, “God give them wisdom that have it. Those that are Fools, let them use their talents.” In saying so, he emphasizes his difference and separateness from the other characters, and suggests that he’d rather sing for his supper than be thought of as “wise.”

I’ve written an article for the Folger Theatre Production Diary about some of my research for playing Feste, with some pretty juicy stuff about Fools – check it out by clicking here!

We’ll continue with Part 2 of Louis’s post on “Playing the Fools” next Tuesday. Catch up with Louis on the Folger Theatre blog!

 

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This past weekend I had the privilege of assisting on our 3rd installment of Shakespeare in Action -  a family workshop in which parents and their young children (ages 6-12) approach a scene from Shakespeare’s canon in a physical way. In the past we’ve looked at the opening scene from Romeo and Juliet and the climactic finale of Macbeth. This time we focused on parts of Julius Caesar Act 5, Scene 1. The focus is to approach the text seeking what we call “action clues.” What is the text telling us to do when we perform it? How can we best tell the story?

SK in Action 5.25.13 1We started by warming everyone up with a couple of theater games to shake our bodies out and get comfortable with the group (we had about 30 guests!), then we settled down together to read the scene aloud. If there was a word someone didn’t understand or a phrase that seemed confusing, anyone could raise their hand and say “BING!” and we would talk it out together to see if we could use the context clues to figure out what it meant.

Once that was done, we split the group into two teams, and alternated rehearsing the scene and learning safe stage combat from our swordsman, Paul Hope. I appreciated especially when Paul asked our group if they’d ever done “Fake-Fighting” on the playground. Many hands were raised. “What’s the difference between Fake-Fighting and Stage Combat? Does anyone know?” The difference is that with Stage Combat we’re using choreography, a pre-determined series of actions that are well-rehearsed and completely safe in order to tell a story. People can get hurt when they Fake-Fight, but in Stage Combat everyone is safe.

With a full 40-minute rehearsal and the Stage Combat choreography under our belts, our two teams performed the scene for each other. Everyone seemed to have had a great time! One of our younger students filled out his comment card with “Funnest time in my life     love it      so so so MUCH”  while one of the parents emphasized that we “kept it fun and entertaining the entire time!”

Getting students on their feet to experience Shakespeare’s language is entirely do-able! All you need is one engaging, active scene and a little time.

If you’re planning to visit DC this summer with your family, please keep in mind that we offer free hour-long family workshops every First Saturday of the month! Join us to experience Shakespeare’s words in action (sans wooden swords). Or simply visit us any day of the week with your family to see this summer’s three mini-exhibits while we renovate our Great Hall. We’re open every day and there’s always something to see!

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by Ken Ludwig

Since my early teens, I’ve felt strongly about Shakespeare—about the value of studying and memorizing significant passages by the greatest writer who ever lived—but it wasn’t until I became a father that I figured out how to share my passion with the people I loved.

One day, when my daughter Olivia was six years old, she came home from first grade spouting a line of Shakespeare:  “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows.”  Her first grade teacher was an English woman who took a particular interest in the hero of her youth, and she had decided to pass the torch on to the younger generation.  When I heard my daughter happily quoting this line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a light went off in my head.

From that day on, I set up a routine.  My daughter and I would spend one hour on Saturday and one hour on Sunday memorizing my favorite speeches from Shakespeare’s plays.  We started with short accessible passages from the comedies and, gradually over time, increased the length and complexity of the passages.  To my delight, my daughter took to it immediately, and it turned out that these hours spent together learning everything from As You Like It to King Lear were some of the best family times of our lives.   For two hours each week, we sat next to each other totally engaged in something we both loved, and we had enormous fun doing it.

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Sir Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night – who, along with Richard Clifford and Frances Barber, made special recordings of passages from the book. Photo by Geraint Lewis.

About two years ago, it occurred to me that other parents and teachers might enjoy hearing about our family’s adventures with Shakespeare, and I sat down and started writing this book.

What I have tried to do in How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare – which will be published in early June by Random House – is offer to parents and educators the techniques and strategies I developed over the years for my own children.  I realized early on in this process that Shakespeare is a lot like a foreign language.  Some of his words are unknown to us, even as adults; Shakespeare’s sentence structure can sounds odd to our modern ears; and Shakespeare is constantly speaking in complex metaphors that can sometimes be difficult to understand.

So what I did for my kids – as I do in the book – was teach them how to understand every word in the Shakespeare passage being studied, then memorize the passage so that their knowledge of Shakespeare became fluent, the way a foreign language can become fluent.

ImageIn total, the book presents the first 25 passages that I taught my kids, ordered into a specific sequence to make learning them as easy as possible.   And as each passage is discussed, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The Tempest (with a lot more plays in between), I talk about the stories, the characters and the meanings of the works so that, ultimately, the kids get the kind of knowledge of Shakespeare they’ll need to become great students, great thinkers, and great teachers.

Recently, I had the opportunity of trying this method out on a large group.  I was invited by Random House, as part of Take Your Children to Work Day, to spend a couple of hours with the 9-11 year olds, about 35 of them.  I thought it would be fun to see if they could memorize a few facts about Shakespeare, along with one of my favorite passages from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth mistook by me,
Pleading for a lovers fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!

The kids had a fantastic time. At the end, when their parents came in, they proudly recited what they’d learned from memory.  Shakespeare triumphed again!

There is no doubt in my mind that knowing Shakespeare will make our children better citizens of the world.  It will better prepare them for the joys, as well as the whips and scorns of time (as Hamlet says).  It will introduce them to the rich world of literature, and, from there, to the universe of cultural references embedded in that literature.  It will give them confidence.  And it will, ultimately, by giving them Shakespeare’s perspective on the world, make them more moral human beings.  To quote Hamlet again, it’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Ken Ludwig is an author, theatre educator, and award-winning playwright of Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You. Ken will give the keynote address at our Conference for Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom on June 24 (early bird registration discount ends June 3!). and a demonstration from  How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare to be released June 11, 2013. Copies will be available for signing after the session. Find out more about his work and new book at www.kenludwig.com.

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Once a year, for a wonderful week, we throw open the doors of Folger Theatre and invite elementary children, grades three through six, to share Shakespeare. Our stage has been full of Puck, Oberon, Titania, Nick Bottom, Peter Quince, Romeo, Juliet, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear and his daughters.

These young students are a constant inspiration with their enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s language, their commitment to Shakespeare’s ideas, and their embodiment of Shakespeare’s stories in their performances. They embrace the experience of performing Shakespeare—getting the words in their mouths and making it their own.

Students shared with us, the audience members, the sweetness of Romeo and Juliet falling in love and the pain of their loss when forbidden love was denied. They shared the fun of Helena, Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander searching for each other through the woods. They shared the tragedy of King Lear as he realizes his older daughters might have professed their love, but they don’t really love him. They shared the confusion of Hamlet as he tries to work through the chaos of his life.

 

Children's Shakespeare Festival 2013

Children’s Shakespeare Festival 2013

During this festival week, we see in action what we know so well: performing Shakespeare gives students the opportunity to use language in ways that are exciting and empowering.

Children and Shakespeare: a winning combination!

 

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Back in 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, the Folger partnered with the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, with assistance from the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, to produce the NEH-funded exhibition and website Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible. Ever since, a 14-panel Manifold Greatness exhibit, developed in partnership with the American Library Association, has been traveling to 40 libraries around the US that were awarded competitive, NEH-funded grants to host the exhibit and offer related public programs and outreach.

In this recent post from the Folger’s Manifold Greatness blog, Vickie Horst, manager of the Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia, gives a firsthand account of multi-generational learning at an April 2013 Manifold Greatness workshop entitled “Let’s Make a Quarto,” developed by a local retired educator.

—Esther Ferington, editor, Manifold Greatness blog

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Modern book making is a highly mechanized business. In the most common case, sheets of paper are piled together into a block, the spine edge might be sanded or notched, glue is applied, and a cover attached. There is little handcraft in the process, and when you consider the adage, “Good, cheap, and fast—you get to choose two,” modern glue binding is mostly cheap and fast.

On April 25, 2013, some Tifton-Tift County library patrons got an opportunity to see how book production might have occurred in 1611. Jerry Walker, a retired educator with a lifelong interest in the arts and a highly skilled crafter, led a workshop that we titled “Let’s Make a Quarto: a type of book made in the Renaissance era.” The workshop was held in the museum that houses the Manifold Greatness exhibit, so anyone who had not seen the exhibit got the opportunity to see it then, as well as make their own little book.

Advertised as a family activity, the workshop attracted a wide range of ages.

Advertised as a family activity, the workshop attracted a wide range of ages.

The basic idea behind a quarto is that a large sheet of paper is folded to make four smaller pages (hence the “quarto”). It was a very common way of producing books during the time of the King James Bible, allowing eight pages to be printed with only two trips through the press and using only one sheet of paper.

Some of our participants found out the hard way what this folding does to the orientation and the numbering of the pages. We suggested folding the paper, marking the page numbers and the bottom of the pages with a pencil, and then unfolding the page before decorating the pages with a story, stamps, stencils, pictures, and other decorations. (There was no glitter—we had used it all at the Renaissance Faire.) We got some great little stories and pictures. Some of them were upside down and in the wrong order, but we decided that you learn from mistakes, too.

The quarto workshop was held at the Tifton Museum, where Manifold Greatness is on display.

The quarto workshop was held at the Tifton Museum, where Manifold Greatness is on display.

Our amateur bookbinders learned how pages were made into “gathers” and then sewn together to make a finished book, ready to be bound. On the 16th of May, Tracy Iwaskow will be coming from Emory University’s Theology Library and will be bringing some selections from their special collections. Many of the participants are looking forward to seeing examples of the professional bookbinder’s craft.

Vickie Horst is the Manager of Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia.

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For more tips on quarto-making, ruff-making, pen-making, and ink-making, see our activities videos and accompanying PDFs on the Manifold Greatness website. You can also view the videos on our Manifold Greatness YouTube channel on this playlist. 

We invite you to learn more about the exhibition in Tifton and at other libraries and about the King James Bible on the Manifold Greatness blog, which will continue through mid-July of this year.

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Last night, I sat in on the first preview for Folger Theatre’s new production of Twelfth Night. The romantic, knotty nature of the play was brought out in the production, and I, along with the rest of the very packed house, found myself enjoying the whole play anew. And then Feste (for not many companies cast a Fabian if they don’t have to) uttered one of my favorite lines in this play:

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could 
condemn it as an improbable fiction.”

It’s just such a wonderful, inclusive, self-aware joke. And because I’ve seen him so often in these self-aware parts, Louis Butelli has become my face of Will Shakespeare for the present, and I can almost see him creating that line 400+ years ago.

Mike LoMonico has said, and it’s true, that it’s not necessary to teach a biographical background in order to teach Shakespeare’s plays. You don’t need to know about Elizabethan life or stage practices to enjoy and explore the text, though instances for dropping in facts as they come up do arise. As a sometimes actor, I love finding these moments of player-hood in the text. This line in Twelfth Night, Hamlet’s speech to the tragedians, Henry V‘s apologetic Chorus, and – most especially dear to my heart – all of the mechanicals’ scenes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I’ve made it no secret that these terrible rustic actors are my favorites in the whole canon. Each festival season I fervently pray to see as many renditions of this play-within-a-play as there are schools to perform it. I even tried to get my wedding party to perform Pyramus and Thisbe at my wedding (they talked me down from that ledge). I love these players for throwing themselves whole-heartedly into their art, and committing to it despite lacking talent and means.

Students perform Pyramus and Thisbe during the 2009 Secondary Festival at the Folger

Students perform Pyramus and Thisbe during the 2009 Secondary Festival at the Folger

Recently, Carol Ann and I were left in charge of another school visit, and having discussed our mutual appreciation for Quince’s ragtag team, and Mike’s suggestion of dropping in facts as they came up, we decided to test out an activity for the students that combined Shakespeare’s Text with some player background, discussion, and history- to try to paint a larger picture, so to speak, as they came up in the mechanicals’ scenes in Midsummer. After a brief introduction to what an Elizabethan Theatre would have felt like, we used clips from the following scenes:

Act 1, Scene 2

(line 11) Quince tells his assembly what play they will produce: “The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe.” What kind of play does an audience want to see? What does this title make you think of?

(line 20) Quince assigns the roles in the play. Bottom asks if Pyramus is “a lover or a tyrant?” You were likely to see many plays about kings and lovers much of the time. Try to pick out Shakespeare’s plays that aren’t about either subject, how many do you have?

(line 45) Francis Flute protests playing a woman – on the Elizabethan stage, women’s roles were played by young men and boys.

(line 75) Why are the players concerned about the Lion being too frightening? What could happen to you if your play displeased the monarch at the time? The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, were once in danger of their lives when Queen Elizabeth I saw herself in the deposed monarch in Shakespeare’s play Richard II.

Act 3, Scene 1

(line 9) Bottom is concerned that their play is too violent. Can we relate to that today? Who in the audience is he most concerned about? What solution does he propose?

(line 46) During their rehearsal, Quince says that he hopes to have the moon shining on the night of their performance because “Pyramus and Thisbe meet by moonlight.” Is it actually necessary for the moon to be out for the play to be believable? What devices did Shakespeare have available to him to set the scene (ie: Merchant 5, 1; Midsummer 3, 2, 190)?

(line 61) Quince also points out the need for a wall for the lovers to whisper through. What is their solution. How would you solve this issue?

(line 90) Flute speaks all his lines at once. In the 16th century, actors learned their lines from “sides” – papers that contained their lines only, and maybe a cue or two.

Act 5, Scene 1

(line 134) The mechanicals’ play begins with a Prologue. Where else have you seen a Prologue, and what is its function?

(line 179) “O, grim-looked night!…” the O encompasses all of the emotion of the line (ie: “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!”) What emotion is Bottom/Pyramus playing here with all of these many many O’s? This part is especially fun for the best over-actor in the class.

Students perform Pyramus and Thisbe during the 2009 Secondary Festival at the Folger

Students perform Pyramus and Thisbe during the 2009 Secondary Festival at the Folger

(line 260) Throughout the play, the married couples add their own comments and interjections. Live theatre includes a live audience with live reactions. In Elizabethan England, nobles attended plays as much to be seen as to see. Sometimes there were seats onstage for them to show off their latest finery, and there’s a legend that Queen Elizabeth I once crossed the stage mid-performance to greet someone. The groundlings had no problem voicing their reactions during the play, either. Have you ever experienced something like that today?

(line 291) Even more fun – bad rhymes and stage deaths for Pyramus and Thisbe! Did the audience enjoy the play?

All-told, this portion of the activity took about 45 minutes, and we had a wonderful group of 8th grade students acting it out for us! At the end, we asked them to share anything they would take away from this, one student said, “You really had to use your imagination back then – it was all about the words and the actor.”

Not a bad takeaway.

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