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Archive for the ‘Midsummer’ Category

 

Performance helps bring Shakespeare alive, and listening to his words being spoken brings them off the page and into a new relevance for students.

With the Folger Shakespeare Library launching a new series of Shakespeare audio editions, teachers now have access to unabridged texts from the gold standard Folger Editions performed by a full cast of Shakespearean actors and expertly produced by Folger Theatre.

“We know that Shakespeare’s plays were written with the human voice – an actor’s voice – in mind, which is why it is so important to encounter the Folger Editions with one’s ears as well as eyes,” says Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “These recordings offer ‘another way in’ to Shakespeare’s plays by offering powerful audio performances.”

The series has launched with five of Shakespeare’s most popular plays: Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.

These audio editions, available from Simon & Schuster Audio on CD or for download, can be used together with Folger Digital Texts, an online searchable resource that provides the Folger Editions text of 38 Shakespeare plays.

Check out the Folger Shakespeare Library website to learn more and to listen to excerpts.

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Hello once again from your friend Louis Butelli, most recently Feste in Folger Theatre’s Twelfth Night. We closed our show on June 9 after a great run: thanks to everybody who came out to see us.

I’m back at the Folger to participate in an exciting new project – immersive audio recordings of the full Folger Editions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Published by Simon & Schuster, and edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, the Folger Editions of Shakespeare are widely considered to be among the very best anywhere. In working as an actor on Shakespeare plays all over the country, I’ve found that one can always rely on there being a Folger edition in the rehearsal room. Featuring excellent notes, essays, and illustrations, they are an invaluable resource for anyone working with Shakespeare, professionals and students alike.

Now, we’re going to go to work on creating dynamic, exciting audio recordings of the full, unabridged text of the Folger Editions of selected plays. Directed by Robert Richmond, some of Folger’s favorite actors will come together to rehearse and record: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Once the actors’ voices have been recorded, Robert and the Folger team will edit for flow, add sound effects and music, and deliver a bold, sweeping version that brings the text to vibrant life.

FSL Editions 7.9.13

We’re also thrilled to announce that a smartphone app, with access to the recordings themselves and some other cool bells and whistles, will be launching very soon. It’s an exciting way to interact with Shakespeare’s plays in a variety of new ways, right on your phone, and will be a great new resource for actors, directors, teachers, and students alike. Check back here and in your e-Newsletter for updates on our progress.

We’ve actually completed work on Othello, and the full recording is already available for purchase by clicking here. Back in November of 2011, the cast of Folger Theatre’s stage production of Othello went to Airshow Mastering to record the play. Click here to read my post about that experience.

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer's Grammy Awards

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer’s Grammy Awards

Meanwhile, those who have read my posts in the past know that, when it comes to Shakespeare, I have a kind of soft spot for the clowns and fools. One of the roles I’ll be recording is Peter in Romeo & Juliet. I’ll close out this first entry about the recordings with some thoughts on him.

Appearing in only three scenes, in one of which he doesn’t speak, Peter is a personal servant to the Nurse, and is frequently cut from stage productions. Indeed, given the fact that he doesn’t have impact upon the plot, and given how little Shakespeare gives him to say in his script, one understands why Peter often faces the chopping block. However….

Peter is known to have been played originally by an actor named Will Kemp. The house clown for The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s production company), and most likely the original Dogberry, Falstaff, and others, Kemp was a popular comedian in his own right, and was probably an audience draw. Moreover, he was also known to have performed his famous “jigs” (highly improvisational song and dance routines) in the middle of Shakespeare’s plays as comic interlude during breaks in the action. For reasons unknown, Kemp left the company in 1599.

What I find fascinating about Kemp is the way he influenced Shakespeare’s text – not only with his presence, in terms of Romeo & Juliet, but with his absence, Henry V and Hamlet, for instance.

To explain: Shakespeare writes an odd stage direction in the 1599 Quarto version of Romeo & Juliet towards the end of Act IV, scene 5. This is a fairly climactic moment, following the Capulets’ discovery of their seemingly dead daughter Juliet on the morning of her wedding. The Nurse, Friar Lawrence, and County Paris, Juliet’s betrothed, are all in attendance. The scene is a huge lamentation, with the whole family shrieking and wailing, and off they go, with Lord Capulet giving an order to change the wedding celebration into a funeral.

Right on the heels of this, Shakespeare writes, “Enter Will Kemp.” While later editions correct the stage direction to “Enter Peter,” it is telling that in this very early edition, at this very moment, the author brings on his great clown – by name. What survives in the text is a fairly amusing scene between Peter and a group of musicians. By precedent, one might guess that, in performance, Kemp went off script and presented one of his “jigs,” as a “palate cleanser” before the rollercoaster ride of Act 5 began.

By 1600, Kemp had left the company. In Henry V, the much beloved character Falstaff never appears on stage and, in fact, Mistress Quickly has a touching speech reporting Falstaff’s death just offstage. In Hamlet, one might consider Hamlet’s speech offering “advice to the players:”

And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.

One spies a little ghost of Will Kemp in this “advice,” and one wonders if there isn’t a little clue as to why Kemp ultimately left the company.

In any event, for our recordings, I promise to stick directly to the script. I hope that you’ll follow along with our journey here in this space, that you’ll pick up a copy of our Othello, and that you’ll enjoy our new recordings as they become available.

OK. Thanks for reading! Until next time!

Catch up with Louis on the Folger Theatre blog!

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~by Susan Lucille Davis

Some decades ago, the little girl I used to be sat on her bed and listened intently, enthralled by the words that came from her sister’s mouth as she read her homework aloud.  “Double, double, toil and trouble…” Listening to the magic of those words ultimately led me to become a writer, a reader, and a teacher. So, when I encounter adults who think Shakespeare is too hard for kids, I am mystified. Wouldn’t the magical words of Shakespeare’s plays and poems capture the imagination of any child if presented in the right way?

This year, I tested my theory with my 6th-graders as we read A Midsummer Night’s Dream together. Just as I do when I teach older students, I started out with a bit of “Shakespeare Therapy,” where we hash out our fears and concerns about taking on such a daunting project. I shared my own difficulties with learning foreign languages as a pre-curser to asking my students to wrestle with Shakespeare’s peculiar brand of English. And this time I offered a challenge that would turn out to make all the difference in my students’ motivation to learn: We would create a puppet show for the entire school based on scenes from the play.

As we began to read the play in class, using the Folger’s Shakespeare Set Free as a guide, I overheard students muttering comments like “That’s my puppet!” as each character was introduced. Their interest in each character’s development was sparked from the beginning – and my gender-blind assignments even drew in boys who were given Titania or the young female lovers’ characters, for instance. Students “previewed” the play at night (reading for as much understanding as they could muster, but not worrying about getting it all), and we worked out the staging as we read each scene during the day.  My students were hooked!

Meanwhile, their puppets were coming along in Art class, as they added leaves to Puck and learned how to fashion a hairdo for Hippolyta. One student asked, “Do I need to make a donkey mask for Bottom?” I asked her to go back to the play and find where Bottom’s “translation” occurs. When I assigned scenes for our performance, would this apply to her puppet?  Then we dove into the play within the play in Act V, and another student wailed, “You mean my character is a lion! Oh no!” And he went back to square one to redesign his puppet for Snug the Joiner as he performs the role of Lion in “The Most Lamentable Comedy and Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe.”

Susan's students perform a scene from MIDSUMMER for the elementary student body.

Susan’s students perform a scene from MIDSUMMER for the elementary student body.

With only a week for rehearsals and some of the puppets not quite finished, we readied ourselves for our performances. I pared the play down to its most puppet-friendly scenes, and then I assigned readers for each part. Like many directors, I’m sure, I doubted it could all come together in time, but the students performed beautifully in front of our K-4 students. The goal of performing live drove them to understand the scenes in ways they might never have done otherwise. Hermia did almost lose her head when her puppeteer rather overzealously jiggled her up and down during her insult contest with Helena, but otherwise we had no other mishaps and the children in the audience laughed and shrieked at all the right times.

My students couldn’t have been prouder of their hard work. Their end-of-year reflections often mentioned the puppet show and learning how to read Shakespeare as major accomplishments. One student wrote, “The puppet show helped me understand Shakespeare a lot more than I did before. When we were being puppets we really had to understand our role. We had to know when our person exited and entered and when they were asleep or awake. I think that really helped me understand because I had to know what was going on the whole time. That really helped me and I think it made me read with a different perspective.” More than anything, my students experienced Shakespeare as something fun and challenging, and I hope something magical they will come back to again and again as they grow up.

Susan Lucille Davis teaches 5th and 6th-grade Language Arts at St. Mark’s Episcopal School in Houston, Texas. She has been introducing readers of all ages to the magic of Shakespeare for three decades.  She has a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from George Mason University and a BA in English from the University of South Carolina. When not teaching Language Arts, she also blogs at The Flying Trapeze and as a featured “Smart Teacher” at Getting Smart.

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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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November has been “National Novel Writing Month,” since 1999, and it’s still gaining ground. The concept is that every day in November is spent working on a rough draft of a full-length novel – producing about 1699 words per day. It’s intense, but the site above offers pep talks, word count badges, and other incentives to keep writers working! The idea isn’t to come out with a totally polished product, but to exercise the writing muscles and get ideas on paper.

At the encouragement of a few friends who are participating for the first time, I am going to give it a shot. I love stories told by background or imagined characters in a Shakespeare play, and was inspired by my last-minute Halloween costume: the “what if” character of Hellebore (aka Horribelle), the product of Bottom and Titania’s crazy midsummer night (or, “I had donkey ears and fairy wings and am a Shakespearean nerd”). This comes, too, after years of reading and adoring fiction based on Shakespeare, so hopefully a few good things have rubbed off.

Anyone over the age of 13 is welcome to join NaNoWriMo’s site, but your younger students could still participate offline! Do your students have creative writing assignments for your class?  Would they be interested in re-imagining a Shakespeare play as a short story or novel (or new play)? Below are some of my favorite adaptations for young adults, which might inspire them to get to writing!

Falling for Hamlet, by Michelle Ray (High School only!)
The Third Witch, by Rebecca Reisert
The Turquoise Ring, by Grace Tiffany
Caliban’s Hour, by Tad Williams
Romeo’s Ex, by Lisa Fielder 

Good Night, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet), by Ann-Marie MacDonald (play)

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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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