Thanks to the efforts of Folger Theatre, the Globe’s Theatre’s production of Hamlet is currently in residence at the Folger. The reviews have been good, and audiences are deeply engaged in the work. This collaboration between the Folger and the Globe has prompted Folger Education to re-release four video podcasts that focus on the play, including an insider’s guide for all audiences and three others that focus on teaching the play. The vide0s are based on Folger Theatre’s 2010 production of the play, and were filmed by Alabama Public TV thanks to a partnership between the two institutions. When the videos were posted to the Folger’s YouTube page, there were no lesson plans for teachers to help them make the most effective use of the videos, but that’s now been addressed. A series of lesson plans created by English teacher, Kevin Costa, specifically designed for use with the videos, and complete with Common Core State Standards references, has made them an indispensible resource for teachers. As Hamlet observes, “The Play’s the thing.”
Archive for the ‘introducing Shakespeare’ Category
The weather has been positively autumnal in Washington, DC this week – perfect for it coinciding with the first few days of a new school year. While you’re getting to know your freshest crop of young minds, here’s a look back at some ways to prepare for getting Shakespeare started in your classroom!
What will your students connect to most? Rhythm? Story? Character? Language? Performance-based teaching allows you ways to connect thought to movement, word to action, and get your students connected to Shakespeare’s words:
If you have a choice of which play to teach, or which play you’d choose to direct, we offer our advice for choosing (and make the case for our own favorites):
Finally, one important thing to remember is to check in with your class, and offer them time for reflection on what they’ve learned:
How do you kick off the school year with your class? What have you done to begin your Shakespeare unit? Which play will you be teaching this year? Let us know! We love hearing from teachers!
August seems to be a big time of year for weddings, and Shakespeare’s sonnets are especially popular as wedding readings. They’re short, sweet, and often sound romantic. I, myself, chose Sonnet 29 to be read during my ceremony, and another friend of mine selected Sonnet 116 for hers. That same sonnet is read in Shakespeare RE-told: Much Ado About Nothing as Benedick and Beatrice prepare for Hero’s wedding and practice it as the reading. There’s a depth of meaning to be found in the sonnets – but it’s all down to who’s reading them and what they’re bringing to it.
There’s a project going on in NYC right now simply called “The Sonnet Project” in which actors will be filmed performing all 154 sonnets as a lead-up to Shakespeare’s 450th birthday on April 23, 2014. The audio album When Love Speaks features some of the most popular Shakespearean actors of our time reading Sonnets. Go to YouTube and you’ll see a host of students, actors, and fans interpreting the sonnets for themselves.
One of the reasons sonnets are so popular could be, given by Louisa Newlin and Gigi Bradford for our Teaching Sonnets Unit,: “Although many of the Sonnets are full of troubling – and fascinating –ambiguities, their tone is arresting. They are conversational, personal, and often intensely passionate …” In these short poems, we’re given Shakespeare’s lovely use of language unburdened by story or character. We, the readers, are the character, and we can interpret the poem’s meaning for ourselves.
So if you’re attending any weddings this month, listen for the reading selection. If it’s a sonnet, why did the couple choose that particular one? Which of the sonnets might your students personally relate to when they start reading the poems, and how can they express that?
I was going to post a video here, but the YouTube cache of available videos of people performing sonnets is just too large! Check it out and share your favorite in the comments!
An ad released today for Minnesota’s Great River Shakespeare Festival parodies Bravo’s plethora of “Real Housewives” with their summer lineup of Shakespearean leading ladies. On the surface, it’s just good fun – Lady M tearing up that there is more to her than just being “evil,” Goneril throwing a hissy fit about being the favorite, Titania threatening to call up storms on Denmark when Gertrude insists she is the better Queen, and little Juliet spouting romantic inanities.
However, the tagline is the best part for me: “Big Drama. Better Writing.”
Shakespeare’s audiences loved the same drama we do – forbidden romance, competition, ambition, family troubles – we watch them all the time, whether we admit to watching Real Housewives or tune in to Glee or Mad Men instead. We love drama. Shakespeare wrote dramas, and he wrote better than anyone on staff at Bravo (though let’s just forgive him for Henry VIII, ok?).
Yes – this is an ad. But it’s a good point to take back to your classrooms next fall when your new crop of students moans their first anti-Shakespearean tones. If they watch TV at all, they’ll get what’s going on with Shakespeare’s plays – they’re just going to see it done better.
And thou shalt see how apt it is to learn”
~Much Ado About Nothing Act I, Scene i.
Yesterday Carol Ann and I got to lead a School Visit Workshop which I had been looking forward to since winter. I don’t usually get to lead this program, as it’s one the Docents have ably developed and directed for the last 30 years, but this group was special to me and I really wanted to give them my personal touch.
What is so special about a group of 7th graders from Holy Cross in Dover, DE? For one thing, this is my father’s class and he would be attending. For another, HC was where I went to school from 1st-8th grade, and I remember having very little Shakespeare in the curriculum.
Carol Ann and I had mapped out a progression for the morning, and were able to fit even more in than we had anticipated. (Leave it to my dad to be able to motivate a bus to get around DC to Capitol Hill early!)
However, I let myself get a little carried away with my passion for the subject (sorry, Carol Ann). After about an hour of activities (like Elizabethan Dress, Shakespeare’s Theatre, and Tragic Deaths) I asked them what they’d picked up so far. They mentioned school practices, dress codes, and “a bunch of people get stabbed in these plays.” Not wrong – I responded – but besides those 10 plays we’ve talked about already, Shakespeare also wrote comedies and histories. They may not always look funny, but if someone gets married at the end you know it was supposed to be a comedy. In all of the plays, we’re usually looking at Kings and Lords and high-ranking officials – but we see ourselves there, too. These characters are like us – they want something, they want to be king, they want to be in love, they want to be better – and we want that, too. They’re just able to say it for us.
As we officially wrapped up, I reached out one more time: If you take nothing else away with you today, just remember this. It hasn’t happened yet, but sometime in the next few years you are going to be assigned a play by Shakespeare to read in school. If your teacher tells you to read it quietly at your desk, nicely put your hand up and say ‘Excuse me, but this is a play – can we read out loud?’ And if they say no – respect that, make notes about the words you don’t understand while reading, go home and then read it out loud. Read it together out loud. Because these works are not books, they were never meant to be read, they were meant to be heard and spoken. Do that, and you will get a better grasp on them than you would reading quietly at your desk.
I’ve been passionate about Shakespeare since I was younger than they are – so I tried to let that passion show. It may have helped connect them, too, that at the end one of the parents asked Carol Ann and I what our positions were and how we got to the Folger. I revealed that I was the English teacher’s daughter, and that I went to their school (gasps!). Someone from their state, from their school now works at this giant building in the nation’s capital. For them, the possibilities are wide open – as long as they discover their passion and dedicate themselves to it with their whole heart.
I’m so grateful to Carol Ann for being so open to doing this program with me, and for my Dad arranging the visit. I don’t get many opportunities to pass on my passion to students face-to-face, and I felt like I saw a couple of new Shakespeareans emerge from our Theatre. I hope that their interest lasted longer than the trip back to Delaware. For me, at least, it was a very powerful experience.
~by Lucretia Anderson
In the olden days, families might sit around the parlor reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays together for the day’s entertainment. In 2012 we’re shaking it up! This past Saturday, Danielle Drakes and I had the privilege of working with an enthusiastic mix of 6-12 year olds and their parents in a workshop we called Shakespeare in Action! We had a fabulous time introducing Shakespeare’s language, some swordplay and creating scenes from Macbeth. The children and adults took to it likes flies to honey: immersing themselves in the playfulness of our activities and rollicking in the language of the Bard. Kids loved pelting their parents with Shakespearean insults as well as imaginary snowballs in our warm up activities. The parents didn’t hold back either! Interestingly most of them, including the adults didn’t know much about Macbeth. Once we explained there were swordfights and witches, it was on and it was thrilling to see these families engage with Shakespeare so fully.
The morning went by so quickly that we should have called it Shakespeare on the Fly! But sometimes doing drive by Shakespeare leaves them eager for more which was our intention!
What was really great for us was to find out the reasons families chose to attend a Shakespeare workshop in a dark theatre on a bright sunny Saturday morning with the Cherry Blossom Festival blooming all around us. Besides the young boys who came mainly for the sword fighting, most of the parents just really wanted to expose their children to Shakespeare in a different way than they’d been taught. Also, having the chance to do something together that was out of the ordinary also seemed to have a certain appeal. For the kids, I think the experience is priceless. It’s one thing to learn about Shakespeare and the plays at school, it is quite another to really experience the work with your first teachers, mom and dad.
What was your family’s exposure to Shakespeare? How are your kids experiencing Shakespeare now?
The World Shakespeare Festival (WSF) starts April 23rd. It is a celebration of Shakespeare as the “world’s playwright.” The Royal Shakespeare Company is producing the event, which runs until the November. This event is an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organizations. It’s the biggest celebration of Shakespeare ever staged. Approximately 60 partners will be coming together over the next few months to participate in the Festival. According the the RSC’s website, “Thousands of artists from around the world will take part in almost 70 productions, plus supporting events and exhibitions, right across the UK, including London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Newcastle/Gateshead, Birmingham, Wales and Scotland and online.” Over 1,000.000 tickets will be on sale for the festival.
Folger Education will be participating in the Worlds Together Conference to be held in London September 6-8.
Are you planning to attend any of these events this summer, when school is out?
The internet is a growing teaching resource and tool, especially when approaching Shakespeare and literature. Digital Theatre projects like Such Tweet Sorrow and Much Ado About N<3thing doubled as insights into familiar characters as well as cautionary tales regarding responsibility, communication, and cyber-bullying. We’ve discussed Twitter and Facebook’s influence on student-teacher communication before, but one teacher has recently been commendably profiled for using Twitter to teach Hamlet.
As part of their Shakespeare unit, students create Twitter accounts for characters from Hamlet — from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Ophelia and Queen Gertrude — and send out tweets as they work through the acts.
“You can make the role as big as you wanted.” Barker said. “It wasn’t . . . tweeting for the sake of tweeting. It was more like a strategy to get them to focus on what was really happening in the play and to become really invested in what was happening.”
It’s not fabulous that they’re not playing with the actual language, nor are they exactly on their feet with the text - however, you can’t deny that Mrs. Barker’s students are invested in the play.
Barker gets her students to blog regularly as part of their novel studies unit. She posts discussion questions to the blogging site Ning and students have to write entries, comment on classmates’ posts and use content tags.
“It’s, like, a collective knowledge. You can look back at last year’s blog posts,” said Erin Kope, 17.
Classmate Connor Swick, 17, agrees that blogging is a great educational tool, especially for collaborating with other students.
“If it was in essay form it’s not like you could go over and read everybody’s essay. People get their ideas out and everyone can share it,’ he said.
We do a similar project with our High School Fellowship classes where each day of the course a different student is asked to blog their perspective on the lecture, discussion, rehearsal, or performance, and everyone is required to comment a certain number of times. Sometimes the discussions that blossom without our involvement are pretty spectacular.
What do you think? Is this #Shakespeare approach going to help students relate to Shakespeare better? Are we sacrificing language and performance to use it? Could they be incorporated together?
At the Folger, March kicks off the annual festival season. Beginning next week, students and their teachers from 56 secondary schools in and around DC will come to tread the boards of the Folger theater. What a celebration of Shakespeare’s language! Fourteen hundred students will present scenes, abridged versions (using Shakespeare’s language), and montages from 19 of the plays during the seven day festival. It’s not competitive. There are no first, second, or third place finishes. Everyone wins. It’s a celebration. The atmosphere at the Library is high energy, to be sure, but it’s only the beginning. In May, students from 30 elementary schools from the area and as many as 10 from Capitol Hill will participate in the Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Festival and Shakespeare At School. Having hundreds of students in grades 3-6 speaking Shakespeare’s lines on stage, performing scenes from the plays — and understanding what’s happening in those scenes — is incredibly exciting, and not to be missed. Are your students participating in a festival this spring? What have they chosen to perform?
~by Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger
Most teachers might think that arming students with a host of insults and asking them to hurl them at each other is NOT a good idea. But, in teaching Shakespeare, it can be the beginning of a fun learning activity.
I had the opportunity today to watch two master teachers gather students on the Folger stage and teach them what it means to play with Shakespeare’s language. The plays are full of insults, and these are marvelous sound bites to help students connect language, expression, gestures, and meaning.
In the first activity, two students faced each other, each with a short insulting phrase. Students had a few moments to review the words, determine meaning, and think tone and gesture that would really get that meaning out to the audience. Then, one pair at a time, students hurled the insults.
I use the word “hurl” because the delivery of the lines was physical—in fact, it was palpable. The students threw themselves into the activity, making faces, shouting, narrowing their eyes, turning toward or away from the other person—all movements that reinforced the meaning of the words.
The second activity gave students a chance to build a scene. The teacher provided a more extended disagreement between two characters. A small disagreement grew into a shouting, gesturing match as students literally built on the words with their actions. By the end, there was no doubt about meaning and emotion spilling off the stage.
Using insults and arguments is a great tool for helping students take words off the page and give those words real meaning. They are able to make strong connections through their emotions—something students have an abundance of during school years. They all know what it means to feel angry, hurt, frightened, furious; it’s not a huge task to think of voice volume, facial expressions, or gestures to demonstrate those feelings. Acting out Shakespeare’s insults creates a great opportunity for students to explore the connections among language, tone, gestures, and meaning.
There might be an extended benefit as well. A teacher told me once that she thought students using Shakespearean curses in the halls at school would be a great upgrade from the language she typically hears.