Ralph Fiennes is taking on the role of Prospero in The Tempest. As you may remember, Fiennes plays the role of Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies. According to an interview he did for BBC Radio 4′s Front Row, “He hopes young Potter fans, who are not usually interested in Shakespeare, could be drawn to the play based on his past experience of moving between film and theatre.” He wants young people to understand that there is “an expressiveness, an extraordinary elasticity of expression in Shakespeare which is thrilling to me and I hope other people find it thrilling.” Fiennes isn’t the only actor who has appeared in popular films and then done a Shakespeare play. And he may not be your favorite. For me, Sir Laurence Olivier’s King Lear (1984) was among the most moving I have ever seen on film. For live performance, I would have to say that Sir Derek Jacobi’s recent portrayal of King Lear was heart-wrenching. So, what actor have you seen in a Shakespeare play who gave a memorable performance? What play and what role did he or she perform? What was so memorable about the performance?
Archive for the ‘Acting’ Category
~by Keith Jones
Although I have taught Shakespeare on the college level for many years, I had never considered directing a play until RiverTree School asked me to direct their end-of-year Shakespeare play.
I quickly learned that two of the most essential elements to possess in directing a Shakespeare play for grade school children are passion and patience.
Passion for Shakespeare is contagious. If the children—and their teachers and parents—see the passion you have, they will not only be able but they will be eager to share that passion with you. The popular impression that kids are reluctant to engage with Shakespeare is entirely false. With the invaluable help of their teachers, these kids were as far from “creeping like snail unwillingly to school” as can be imagined!
Patience is essential because the process can be lengthy. It takes time for the play to come together. The children need time to study the story, to learn their lines and their blocking, and to learn to project their voices without shouting. While they are learning those, they are also starting to understand more about the characters they are enacting and the way those characters relate to the others on stage. But none of that comes in a day.
Answering students’ questions was a particularly delightful part of the process. They had a lot of them, and even though the questions tended to start at a basic “What does this character mean in this speech?” level, they soon developed into something much more: “Why is this character so mean in this speech?”
The kids and I had an enormously joyful time engaging with the material. Directing grade school children in a Shakespeare play was unquestionably one of the most profound ways of engaging with Shakespeare that I have ever experienced.
Keith is a Professor in the Department of English at Northwestern College, and the author of Bardfilm: The Shakespeare and Film Microblog. You can see Keith featured in this month’s Teacher to Teacher segment on our monthly BardNotes e-newsletter, as well as Margaret in our first ever Student to Student video, below.
This video was making the rounds a couple of weeks ago, and I finally had a chance to see it. Impressionist/Comedian Jim Meskin performs Clarence’s speech from Richard III (I.iv) as well-known celebrities and characters:
What I especially appreciate about his performance is that Meskin chose which voices to use based on the content of the line and how well it would relate to the character.
Meanwhile, in London, music artists Super Master Raver and Killa Kela collaborated on a piece inspired by the devastation of the recent London riots, but used Hamlet’s “What a piece of a work is man,” speech (II.ii) to illustrate their discontent with the violence:
It’s not so hard to apply Shakespeare’s words to our own lives: a soliloquy can capture our soul when we have no words for what is happening, a voice can speak to us across centuries with new and different meanings!
Have you seen, or used, Shakespeare in application to today’s news or experiences? How could students use celebrity references, music, or world news to relate to Shakespeare?
The big news in Shakespeare geek circles this week is the “production” of Much Ado About Nothing taking place on FACEBOOK beginning tomorrow. Sixteen characters have been added to facebook, and if you “like” all of them you can watch their story unfold in real time on the internet. Benedick Salvador will flame Beatrice Grant’s wall, while John Zaragoza cyber-bullies Claudio Firenze into making a huge mistake.
This comes in the wake of last year’s award-winning Such Tweet Sorrow, a real-time twitter “production” of Romeo and Juliet. The characters tweeted to and about each other over 3 days, culminating in a familiar tragic scene.
Shakespeare has been introduced to social media before. Perhaps the first public memory is of Sarah Schmelling’s book-spawning entry for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency of Hamlet’s News Feed in 2008 (which was performed for NPR last October). These items condense the plays into quick, recognizable media that students understand.
But where’s the language?
One of our high school fellows in 2009 created several facebook profiles for the characters of As You Like It to examine the ways in which characters hide their identity either by disguise or by using a different online persona to test the waters. She did use conversations between Orlando and Rosalind (and Ganymede) to map out how they would converse online over a week’s time – with Shakespeare’s text.
Would it be so hard to use the text in these social productions? Or would the point be totally lost in a medium reliant on breezy comprehension?
I look forward to checking in on the Much Ado gang (without liking all of their characters, hopefully!) to see how it goes. Do you incorporate social media in the classroom? How could this work for other plays?
We’re noticing something around the internet lately: educators are using contemporary music to enhance lesson plans.
This may not be up-to-the-minute news.
A lot of us remember at least this scene from Renaissance Man starring Danny DeVito where the class of military privates presents the summary of Hamlet as a rap. Or the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s interpretation of Othello as a rap.
But we’re finding fresh examples of this kind of musical education every time we look.
HistoryTeachers on youtube are teaching about famous historical personalities or events with parodies of popular songs. For example: The Black Death is taught through the music of Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stafani, and Shakespeare gets his own melodic biography sung to Shayla by Blondie.
We discovered Flocabulary recently through their inventive animation of Shakespeare thinking up the characters and plot for Much Ado About Nothing. They have a whole book with 17 Shakespearean hip hop tracks including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and even Julius Caesar and Sonnet 18.
A week ago I would have rolled my eyes at the concept – it seems so overplayed, so overdone – but as it’s presented in these resources it’s so well-made it’s hard to see students not liking it!
Have you used either HistoryTeachers or Flocabulary before? Do you know of any programs like them? Tell us in the comments!
I’d also be interested to know if music plays a part in your lesson plans now in any shape or form? How do your students respond?
Folger Education just concluded the 31st annual Secondary School Festival with 56 schools participating in a seven day event featuring performances by 1,500 students from the Virginia, Maryland, DC area. Ten of the schools were part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, an NEA/Arts Midwest grant funded program that placed teaching artists in 1o classrooms. These teaching artists worked with students to prepare them for a student matinee of The Comedy of Errors at the Folger Theatre, as well as helped them to prepare for their festival performances. In addition, teachers had the opportunity to see first-hand, and to participate in, the performance-based activities that help to bring Shakespeare to life for students in the classroom. We know that teachers will be applying what they saw and experienced in their classes as a result of this program.
Festivals don’t all have to be as big as the one we hold at the Folger. They can be as small as having students in one class perform for one another, or classes that are part of your daily teaching schedule treading the boards. Perhaps even students in your neighboring teacher’s classroom might join your students in performing edited versions of Shakespeare’s plays, scenes from the play you’re studying, or scenes chosen to represent a theme or motif. The festival is a celebration of Shakespeare’s language and work, not a competition.
Have you participated in a festival of Shakespeare’s plays with your students? What was it like for you? For your students?
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.
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!
~ by Emily Marquet
(if you missed the beginning of Emily’s adventure, click HERE)
Day 2: En Kreyol… S’il Vous Plait
It was discussed and decided as a cast on the second day of rehearsal that most of the play would be told in Kreyol. We determined that it was more important to tell the story as clearly as possible than keep Shakespeare’s language intact. Due to the wide age range of our audience, Kreyol would be by far the most widely understood language. Also, it was important to the cast to re-tell the story in a Haitian sense, using Haitian idioms and turns-of-speech. In other words, markedly making it an original take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream while maintaining Shakespeare’s story.
Coming into the experience as a Shakespeare purist, I have to admit I struggled a lot with “giving up” so much of the original text. Were we still telling Shakespeare’s story? That transition over the course of four days was my biggest learning curve and one I eventually embraced when I saw the final production.
I should also add that Kreyol was not the only language spoken. I would say about 30% of our one hour cut remained in English and about 60% was translated into Kreyol. The other 10% was spoken in French and Spanish. All four languages are taught at LCS and all four languages are spoken by Haitians. Patrick Moynihan commented on that choice saying, “If Shakespeare wrote a play in Haiti, he would definitely have characters speak in Kreyol and other characters not speak in Kreyol- both to their benefit and to their disadvantage. In other words, he would buffoon the language. That’s part of the whole Shakespearean commentary, characters putting on airs with language and getting it wrong…”
One example of this took place with our actor playing Bottom. English happened to be his first language and Kreyol his second. The actor chose specific moments when the character Bottom was talking a big game or not being truthful and decided to speak those lines in Kreyol. The end result was hilarious: here was an actor botching a language attempting to impress native Kreyol speakers. The universality of his character shone through that choice.
Day 2’s objective was to block the first half of the play. A lofty goal indeed! Elle and I had carefully divided the scenes into entrances and exits or “bite-sized chunks” as we called it, and split up the cast accordingly so that everyone was always working on something.
We opened rehearsal with a number of theatre games like, “Build a Machine,” and “Zip, Zip.” The love machine we made was pretty steamy!
Naturally, as with any theatre process, some hurdles came up during rehearsal. Halfway through rehearsal a number of the older boys (our Oberon, Puck, Lysander, and Francis Flute) disappeared. It was revealed a minute later they had gone to soccer practice. Apparently, we were going to have a talk about commitment to the play rehearsal!
Rehearsal came to a close after successfully (or semi-successfully, considering we had lost most of our leading men to sports) running the first half of the play. Hurray!
That night we worked with the lovers. In our cut, they ended up being the set of characters with the most lines so we worked on projection and did a lengthy vocal warm-up.
Then we began wading through the huge lover’s fight in Act III. First, the actors did the whole scene with just movement and telling the story with their bodies. Elle and I gave verbal hints as to what action happened next, but we tried to let the four actors direct and block themselves. Huge success! Giving the actors clear instructions yet keeping the structure free enough for them to play wildly and make big discoveries on their own was certainly the most effective directing tool Elle and I discovered. Additionally, we wanted the actors to feel like the play was undoubtably theirs; that this rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream could only have taken place at LCS in Haiti.
Emily Marquet is currently an intern with Folger’s Education and Public Programs divisions. She has worked with the American Shakespeare Center as a Camp Counselor and Assistant Director, and is a recent graduate of NYU with a Fine Arts major in Drama and minor in Social and Cultural Analysis. For the next part of her experiences in Haiti, check back to this blog on March 22 and 29!
~ by Emily Marquet
The Objective: To mount a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Louverture Cleary School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In four days.
The Obstacle: We (the directors as well as the script bearers/ costumers) had just missed our flight.
Sitting at the bar of an airport restaurant armed with a free lunch voucher from American Airlines, Elle Thoni and I were distraught. If we didn’t make it to Haiti today, we would only have three days to rehearse Shakespeare’s comedy with our actors. Not to mention we’d never met our actors. Not to mention this was the student-actor’s first time performing Shakespeare. Not to mention it was, in most of the actors’ cases, their first time performing at all.
The idea to bring Shakespeare to Haiti, specifically to the Louverture Cleary School; a Catholic co-ed high school providing free education to over 350 students from Port-au-Prince, started in January 2010. I met Elle in Johannesburg, South Africa. We were both studying acting and Applied Theatre at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Elle had a great deal of Applied Theatre, or Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), training prior to her studying at Wits; I had a great deal of knowledge on Shakespeare as a classically trained actor and someone who grew up in and around the Folger Shakespeare Library. We decided that our complementary skills would make a very effective partnership if we were to facilitate a drama workshop at LCS.
Shakespeare seemed like the best choice for LCS. Elle and I wanted to pick a play that would have universal themes celebrating our humanity. We wanted a play that would translate into Haitian culture but also represent a part of the theatre heritage we were coming from. Additionally, studying English and English literature is a large part of the LCS student’s curriculum and the school was highly in favor of performing a Shakespeare play for the entire school and engaging the students with his work.
Therefore, we chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As theatre educators, we are aware of the numerous charms of this play and its genuine ease and near perfection as a workshop or ensemble-based piece. Additionally, and more importantly to our mission, it is a riotous comedy. One of the goals of our workshop was to provide an escape for the students and actors- an avenue where they could just laugh and enjoy themselves and live vicariously through the magic of the play. As a community who was just discovering the joys of live theatre, this felt like a very important aspect to keep in mind towards the work.
Back to the airport. My cell phone rings. It is Patrick Moynihan, the President of The Haitian Project, the non-profit that runs LCS. He was onboard the flight we had allegedly missed and reported that he had stopped the plane and we were to return to our gate. We had not missed our flight. We were going to Haiti as scheduled.
And we were off!
Day 1: NOW FAIR HIPPOLYTA
Our rehearsal process reflected two beautiful lines from the play:
“Now fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour draws on apace,”
“There we may rehearse most obscenely and courageously,”
As Theseus says in the first line of the play, the action is happening RIGHT NOW! Theseus instructed us to embrace the immediacy and jump into rehearsal without any hesistations. As Peter Quince instructs his mechanicals-turned-actors a little later on, we rehearsed as obscenely and courageously as we could. Every minute of rehearsal was filled with work. Our actors were powerhouses of energy who seemed to thrive and live for action and drama and movement and storytelling.
Rehearsals took place on a basketball court in the back courtyard of the school. We were constantly battling a soccer practice and kids playing on the playground. The constant buzz of activity was occasionally a deterrant, but mostly it just fueled us to work harder.
We spent the first rehearsal up on our feet as much as possible. After playing a name game, we discussed the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the play.
The actors had been cast before we arrived (thanks to the amazing work of one of the volunteer teachers) and had been working on their lines very diligently. However, in order to cut down the impact on the ink and paper supply, each actor was only given their cues and their lines—just like Shakespeare’s actors! Because our actors spanned grades 7th-12th, they had not met as one cast before our first rehearsal and we were all discovering the play’s plot for the first time together.
We came up with one sentence to describe the beginning, middle and end of the play. Then, the actors broke up into three groups– one for the beginning, one for the middle and one for the end– and sculptured a still image that represented their sentence. This was, in every one of the actor’s cases except for one, the first time these students had played theatre games, been in a play, or performed in front of others so we spent time discussing what parts of the images told the story most effectively.
We played a couple more ensemble building exercises and theatre-games to create a play space and build the community of the cast.
In addition to our 2.5 hour afternoon rehearsal, we were able to grab a portion of time in the evening devoted to study hour. Every night we worked individually with one of the three main groups of characters in the play- the lovers, the mechanicals, and the fairies- in order to tackle larger scenes and do more specific character work.
Monday night we worked with the fairies. We spent half the time doing movement exercises and characterizing our fairies. How much power do Titania and Oberon yield? What are Puck and the fairies relationship to the King and Queen? What kind of superpowers do our fairies have?
Our fairies exemplified what I would call a Haitian’s innate understanding of theatricality. Watching our actress playing Titania transform into a queen was nothing short of breathtaking. As a culture, Haitians highly value oral storytelling and have a rich dramatic tradition. Issues are resolved through conversation and dialogue which means the LCS students were a lot more natural with Shakespeare’s text than American teens. The Haitians understood the concept of suit the action to the word, the word to the action with no acting training whatsoever.
But we only had 3 more days…
Emily Marquet is currently an intern with Folger’s Education and Public Programs divisions. She has worked with the American Shakespeare Center as a Camp Counselor and Assistant Director, and is a recent graduate of NYU with a Fine Arts major in Drama and minor in Social and Cultural Analysis. For the next part of her experiences in Haiti, check back to this blog on March 15 and 22!