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Adirondack Shakespeare Company

By Josh Cabat

I imagine it’s a dream that many English teachers secretly harbor. You leave it all behind and join a band of players who travel from small town to small town in a beautiful and remote area, performing works by Shakespeare and others in repertory.

In some ways, it’s about as pure as it gets, and that purity came through in every wonderful, ragtag moment of the recent production of 1 Henry IV as staged by the Adirondack Shakespeare Company.

The performance was held this past August in Schroon Lake, New York, at the Art Deco-era Strand Theater (whose survival is about as miraculous as young Hal’s victory at Agincourt two plays later), and was part of a summer repertory program that included all four plays in this Henriad, as well as The Tempest (in addition to an event down the lake a bit at the old grounds of Scaroon Manor where the audience got to choose the Shakespeare play they wanted to see on the spot).

What the audience got to see at these performances was what company co-founder Tara Bradway refers to as “Shakespeare in the Raw.” In this experimental technique, all production elements are stripped down to the bare minimum, including scenery, props, costumes, and music. Bradway also noted that the company’s rehearsal process is structured in such a way that the performance we saw was the first time the cast had run through the play in its entirety.

The result is spontaneous, fresh and, for fans of the Folger, exactly what Shakespearean performance needs to be: focused almost exclusively on the interplay among the actors, the audience and those words.

As an educator, I found that there were many connections between Adirondack’s process and how we might go about teaching Shakespeare through performance. (more…)

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By Deborah Gascon

Have you ever seen any silent films of Shakespeare’s plays?

During the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, I sat for hours in the belly of the Folger Shakespeare Library watching black-and-white silent films of Othello and Romeo and Juliet—and it was the best day ever.

I was fascinated—how does a play with such essential language become silent? I realized while sitting in that basement that this would be an effective and quick tool to teach emotion, facial expressions, and pantomiming in acting (which all lead to understanding tone!).

When you watch a silent film, the most important words and emotions pop up on the screen, which makes it an effective way to help students engage in close reading and narrow the text for the main idea (which leads to understanding theme!).

(more…)

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Why do we make such a big deal about performance-based learning?

We at the Folger strongly believe that Shakespeare is for everyone and that speaking the Bard’s words for yourself is essential to gaining an understanding of and appreciation for Shakespeare’s plays.

Lenny Henry, the British comedian turned acclaimed actor, recently shared his turn-around experience with Shakespeare, in an interview with The Telegraph:

What came next was a Radio 4 documentary series called What’s So Great About…? The first was on Shakespeare. “I had a real allergy to Shakespeare. I wasn’t really taught it at school properly and thought it was very much the reserve of middle-class white people with tights and a cabbage down the front. So I was very frightened of it. Everybody we interviewed on that show, Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Adrian Lester, Judi Dench, said, ‘You should try it. Don’t slag it off if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Get some of the words in your mouth and then you’ll understand why we all love Shakespeare so much.’”

Henry delivered 20 lines of Othello’s last speech for the documentary and he was hooked. “It gave me the feeling that I could do it. It’s almost like I had my head put on straight for me. ‘This is what it’s about, it’s a serious thing, take it seriously, learn your lines, do some research.’ So the rehearsal process was brutal and I was reading that play for months and months before we did it.” And it was a success.

Henry went from thinking Shakespeare was not for him, to going on to perform in The Comedy of Errors at the Royal National Theatre in London.

What a testament to the power of speaking – not just reading – Shakespeare.

How are your students engaging with Shakespeare this school year? Tell us in the comments.

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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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Scott Van Wye, a student of Richard Phillipy at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, won first prize at the 31st annual English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition on May 5. Scott performed a speech by Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing and a cold reading from The Tempest in addition to a sonnet. The competition was held at Lincoln Center Theater in New York City for 58 winners of ESU Branch competitions nationwide. Scott’s prize for placing first is a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s Young Actors Summer School in London. (more…)

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canada

In a recent post, I requested that schools, theaters, or anyone else should stage a flash mob for the “balcony scene” from Romeo and Juliet, with a script created using Folger Digital Texts. Well, the deadline has passed, and we’ve had 28 fabulous submissions. They come from Punahou School in Hawaii; from the University of Northern Iowa; from Ottawa, Canada; from George, Kansas; and from Brooklyn, NY, among others. (more…)

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In case you’ve forgotten: Tomorrow is Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday.

In my recent post I wrote about the Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene-Flash Mob event that the Folger is hosting on YouTube. We’ve gotten lots of questions and comments about this activity, and we’re hoping that you take the time to get your students to create this scene. (more…)

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