Archive for November, 2010

Rumor has it that the ABC network has committed to producing a new period drama series, a retelling of Romeo & Juliet set in Renaissance Verona. Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the movie adaptation of another popular story about star-crossed lovers belonging to clans that are at odds with each other, Twilight, is in talks to direct the potential Romeo & Juliet.

As an educator, I’m not sure how to feel about this one. On the one hand, this seems an amazing opportunity to introduce Shakespeare to a new generation of thirteen year-olds hungry for another teenage love story to get hooked into. Sure the story is centuries old and most everyone knows how it ends, but I can imagine my thirteen year old self posting vigil by the television set weekly to watch [name your own hearthrob’s] doomed romance. On the other hand, can you adapt R&J into a television series and still call it Shakespeare? It is dubious that the screenwriters for this version will stick to verse or any likeness of the original text. Still, could the t.v. show be used to pique student interest in learning more about Shakespeare in Will’s words?

Adaptations of Shakespeare in High School have been popular for quite awhile but is there any track record for these adaptations actually bringing students closer to Shakespeare?

Read Full Post »

~by Amy Ulen

Educators explore Shakespeare on their feet at NCTE 2010

Teachers from around the country descended upon Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida, last weekend to attend the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention.   In years past, the Folger Shakespeare Library conducted a one-day Shakespeare Set Free workshop on the Monday after the convention.  This year our goal was to share our performance-based teaching methods with more participants by breaking our workshop into five acts over the weekend.  As a result, we reached over 500 participants who will be able to incorporate the new techniques in their classrooms this week!

If you missed the convention, here is a brief overview.  Act I started with Susan Biondo-Hench and Kevin Costa engaging the participants in on-your-feet pre-reading strategies and close reading activities that will instantly engage students.  Their workshop ended with well over 100 people standing in a circle enacting lines from Romeo and Juliet!  Act II continued with Julia Perlowski, Erica Smith, and Amy Ulen presenting performance-based activities and the research that supports this style of teaching.  Act III expanded our notion of performance when Scott O’Neil, Chris Shamburg, and Rebecca Hranj demonstrated the use of Web 2.0 tools that assist students in a close reading of Shakespeare’s texts. 
On Saturday morning, Josh Cabat and Mike LoMonico continued showing participants how technology

Educators explore Shakespeare's language physically at a Folger Worskhop, NCTE 2010

enhances the study of Shakespeare; Act IV focused on using video and film in an active way to connect students to Shakespeare’s plays.  In Act V, Dana Huff summarized the entire Shakespeare Set Free workshop and shared ways to create meaningful and authentic assessments for your Shakespeare unit.  Carol Kelly gave tips on creating a Shakespeare Festival—one of the most authentic assessments of all!

The Shakespeare Set Free workshops were a huge success, but we didn’t want to end it there.  On Sunday morning, Peggy O’Brien, Rick Vanderwall, and Glenda Funk presented a Teaching Teachers to Teach Shakespeare workshop to 30 English methods teachers.  They began an important conversation, and Folger Education looks forward to continuing the discussion.

On behalf of all the presenters, I thank those participants who attended our workshops and encourage those of you who weren’t there to host a Shakespeare Set Free workshop in your own school/district.  We would love to share our performance-based Shakespeare methods with you.

Folger Education representatives at NCTE 2010

Amy Ulen teaches at Tumwater High School in Tumwater, WA.  She also runs the website Shakespeare High (www.shakespearehigh.com).  Amy attended the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 1996.

Read Full Post »

~by Christopher Shamburg

In today’s digital environment some people are compelled to consume, create, and share remixed videos and music while others live happily ignoring remix altogether.  Whatever your interest, if you like Shakespeare, you’re a fan of remix.  Shakespeare was a master of it.  As teachers there are some creative, worthwhile, and easy-to-do methods to remix Shakespeare with students–methods that give them a meaningful experience with Shakespeare’s language and capture the spirit of today’s remix practices.  

Remixing is a popular activity that people do outside of schools.  Making music remixes of popular songs, video tributes, political satire, and parody are some ways that people use remix to creatively share their passions (see remix examples). In a broad but big way, digital remix correlates to how culture, art, and cognition get done–people synthesizing the material of others into original arrangements.

Copieth and Pasteth Macbeth

Remix was Shakespeare’s craft.   Consider that few of Shakespeare’s plays are original stories–Plutarch, Holinshed, and existing poems and dramas served as the source material for most of his works.  He often lifted stories and passages from news accounts, books, and folklore and incorporated them into his plays.  Shakespeare’s continuing appeal is because of the way he did it–through the skillful use of language and performance.

If Shakespeare Had A Mixer: Macbeth

Remix can characterize the history of Shakespearean production: the Nahum Tate King Lear with the happy ending;  the Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet that integrates Southern California hip hop culture; and foreign adaptations such as Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood which mixes Macbeth with feudal Japan.  Remix is authentic Shakespeare; the way that people make his work outside of schools. 

Here are three ideas for using remix with students and Shakespeare that can be done with easily available technology.  All focus on giving ownership of Shakespeare’s language to students: 

Text–students mix a passage of Shakespeare with a modern song or poem; see  Remixing Shakespeare Soliloquy Activity, or adapt Shakespeare to this activity on Remix Poetry.  

Audio–students create a unique audio creation with Shakespeare’s language, sound effects, ambient sounds, and music;   see Cinna the Audio Play , Cinna the Remix and Remixing Shakespeare at the Folger Website 

Video–students rearrange lines and scenes into a coming attraction, mix student performance with a commercial version, or edit a scene from lines said from different productions; see this growing playlist of Shakespeare video remix on YouTube, with a focus on student work.  

With the ease of remix today, technology has finally caught up with the Bard.

Christoper Shamburg is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology at New Jersey City University.  He is the author of StudentPowered Podcasting: Teaching for 21st Century Literacy (2009)  and National Educational Technology Standards: Units for the English Language Arts (2008).

Christopher will be presenting on this topic for the Folger with Micheael LoMonico, Rebecca Hranj, and Scott O’Niel, at NCTE on November 19th  C.43 (12:30 pm to 1:45 pm) “Shakespeare Set Free–Act 3: How Internet-based Web 2.0 Tools Can Get Your Students Closer to Shakespeare’s Texts”  Here’s a link to his presentation.

Read Full Post »

We are in full swing at Folger Education.  Later this week and part of next we’ll be in Orlando, Florida at the NCTE Convention. If you’re planning to attend, please stop by our booth in the exhibition hall and pick up one of our new posters for your classroom.  We would be happy to talk with you about our professional development programs, including our new technology workshop offering and one play/one day workshops.  And don’t forget to come to our series of five presentations on Friday and Saturday, which replaces our full-day Shakespeare Set Free workshop at the convention.  You don’t have to attend all of the sessions;  you can pick and choose the one(s) that are most likely to fit your immediate classroom needs.  Check out the NCTE program for details, or our most recent issue of BardNotes.  And while you are checking out our resources, why not write a check in support of Folger Education as part of your end of year giving plan?

Read Full Post »

A victorious yet broken King

One quote we hear from students over and over again is “Shakespeare doesn’t relate to my life.” In a sense, they could be right: Shakespeare wrote his plays 400 years ago, often about subject matter even older than that! However, the topics he explored inside of the action are what keep us coming back. Quoted out of context, Shakespeare’s words could be used to argue for or against many topics we are still debating today.

For example, many (if not all) of the history plays involve war – not only the glories of it, but also the pitfalls. This duality is expressed visually in Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film of Henry V. Laurence Olivier’s film version of the same play was meant to inspire young soldiers. Our world has known much of war since Shakespeare’s day, and with on-the-scene news reports, we are more aware than ever of what war can do to a country and its people.

A glorious, triumphant warrior King

HERE is a link to the Shakespeare Searched entries for the term “War,” and HERE for “Peace.” Tell your class that you are a king who is having trouble deciding whether or not to go to war with another country. Divide the class into two groups – one for and one against war – and ask them to debate using quotes from Shakespeare to convince you to either go to war, or to remain a peaceful state. Let them use one class period to prepare, and another to hold the debate. When the debate is over, discuss which of the quotes used were most convincing for both sides, and try to find the context for them.

For example, during the debate a student on the Pro side could address you:
‘O, King,’
“Away, and glister like the god of war,
When he intendeth to become the field:
Show boldness and aspiring confidence.”
~King John Act 5 scene 1

They will find arguments for both sides under each word’s search. Discuss, if there’s time, how context affects the argument of the quote.

What other topics might students debate with Shakespeare?

Read Full Post »

After a summer with hundreds of outdoor performances everywhere, from Central Park where Al Pacino starred in The Merchant of Venice to the Parking Lot which featured Julius Caesar and Love’s Labor’s Lost, Shakespeare is back and he’s alive and well and living  in NYC. Here are some highlights:

  • Not only is Shakespeare back, but so is Al Pacino, but this time The Merchant of Venice has moved to Broadway. In addition to Pacino, the show features Lily Rabe as Portia,  Byron Jennings as Antonio, the Merchant and Jesse L. Martin as Gratiano.
  • The Public Theater, which produced Merchant, recently introduced their Mobile Unit, which will bring free Shakespeare to audiences with little or no access to the arts. For their first production, the Mobile Unit will tour Measure for Measure, directed by Michelle Hensley, to correctional facilities, homeless shelters, facilities for battered and abused women, drug rehab facilities, senior centers, centers for youth-at-risk, and other social service organizations that support the disadvantaged, underserved, and marginalized.
  • Meanwhile at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), there will be lots of Shakespeare. In March, Edward Hall’s all-male  troupe, Propeller, will bring The Comedy of Errors to the Harvey Theater. Then in April, England’s Cheek by Jowl’s Macbeth comes to BAM, directed byDeclan Donnellan, and starring Will Keen in the title role. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE:  later in April, Sir Derek Jacobi takes on the title role in King Learin a major new production from director Michael Grandage and the renowned Donmar Warehouse.
  • I know it’s along way off, but BAM has also announced that Kevin Spacey will star in the title role of Richard III in February 2012. R3 will be directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes with whom Spacey worked on the film American Beauty.
  • But the really big event doesn’t happen until next summer when the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 44 member acting ensemble will perform five plays in six weeks at Park Avenue Armory as part of Lincoln Center Festival. The event takes place July 6 through August 14, 2011. All five productions are currently playing in repertoire to critical praise at the Company’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Included are: As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Winter’s Tale. These five plays will be performed on a specially-built thrust-stage based on the newly transformed Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where the audience is wrapped around three sides of the action bringing actors and audiences closer together (see below).

Read Full Post »

~By Teri Cross Davis

What role can poetry play in the everyday life? What role can poetry play with young people?

Poetry lives and breathes at the Folger Shakespeare Library. On Monday, November 8th, best-selling Russian poet Vera Pavlova will read her work in Russian while her husband and translator Steven Seymour will read the English translations alongside her. In a time when we condense our lives into sound bytes and nuggets for Twitter feed and Facebook posts, her short poems fit right in.  Yet for all their clarity, Pavlova’s poems weave in elegance and discipline, making each an abrupt pleasure, down to their numeric titles.

From If There Is Something To Desire is poem 50:
I have brushed my teeth
This day and I are even.

But Vera Pavlova’s work comes in context of the many women writers who precede her. When women first began to write, certain subjects were taboo like Pavlova’s more sensual and sexual poems. The clarity in Pavlova’s work could only come after centuries of women broke literary ground before her.

Shakespeare’s Sisters studies 5 centuries of women poets

In Shakespeare’s Sisters, a ten-week seminar course here at the Folger which begins in January of 2011, we study how female writers have found their voice and identities as writers over time. From Queen Elizabeth I’s sly poems about court, to Anne Bradstreet’s hybrid of a Puritan consciousness and a dawning American one to Sharon Olds’ proud and unabashed explorations of femininity, each poet stands on the shoulders of the other. By the end of the course, students are well-grounded in this timeline of women writers, how they have reclaimed what is feminine and what and who a woman is as opposed to how they have been idolized and characterized by the early male sonneteers.

The seminar isn’t all reading- students respond each week with response papers and poems of their own. It is always exciting to see the student’s work mature over 10 weeks, whether they are responding to Petrarch’s sonnets or experimenting with the lyricism of Rita Dove or Elizabeth Bishop, the students recognize that poetry is flexible, that it breathes and they too learn to breathe with it.

Gwendolyn Brooks wrote, “poetry is life distilled.” From the every day circumstances of Pavlova’s work to the impact of a Shakespeare’s Sisters course on young people, poetry presents ways to slow down, speed up, freeze-frame and rewind, poetry presents life at its finest and most clear— life, distilled

Teri is the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Poetry and Lectures Coordinator. With Gigi Bradford, she heads the student seminar: Shakespeare’s Sisters, as well as coordinating poets both local and international to share their work at the Folger. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from American University, and her MA in International Affairs and African Studies from Ohio University.


More information about – and applications for – Shakespeare’s Sisters are available at http://www.folger.edu/shakespearesisters.

Read Full Post »

~by Kevin J Costa

Sometimes I’m asked about the difference between teaching Shakespeare and directing his plays. I’ve often thought about that difference too – and, lately, even if there is a difference. Certainly, anyone who has the privilege, as I do, to teach and to direct, at school and professionally, will have different opinions about this. So let me address the question this way.

Years ago, I would have probably said, without much hesitation, that, yes, there is a fundamental difference between the two. At that time, I think, I would have agreed with many that, in the classroom, it’s important to cover this or that point, to try to gather up what the play “means,” and so on. In the theatre, I would have been interested in telling a clear story – I still am – but I would have seen it as a fundamentally different task than teaching these works.

Students of Kevin Costa perform Romeo and Juliet

Now, however, all that has changed. I find, when I am studying a play alongside students – I wouldn’t even say that I “teach” anything – I’m less interested in theme or meaning. Or, perhaps to put it a more precisely, I’m not as centrally concerned with these kinds of things, at least at the outset; I believe that close, patient, collaborative, and active work on the words and on what those words reveal about the characters and their relationships with each other will, at the right time, let larger ideas bubble up. In the theatre, directors and actors are charged with telling the clearest, most honest story possible, and to do this well, we must always live wholly in the text – exploring the words, appreciating how their very utterance brings a character and his or her contradictions into full being. If this is done well, a company may achieve a great story to play on the stage. But why only on the stage? In the school room, the same can certainly be achieved and allow for a much deeper, longer lasting relationship with plays that continuously explain to us who we are.

Kevin J. Costa is a TSI 2010 Alumni. In addition to being an English teacher at McDonogh School, he is Head of the Drama Department, Director of Fine & Performing Arts, and Assistant Director of College Counseling. He also serves as the Director of Education for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company– where he recently directed Titus Andronicus in the ruins- and as Chair of the Shakespeare Theater Association of America’s Education Committee.

Read Full Post »