Archive for June, 2012

South Sudan – CYMBELINE (photo: Steve Rowland)

Steve Rowland who, with Robert Miller, is working a documentary project called ShakespeareIS, just returned from a seven-week trip to England where he took in all that the Globe to Globe  Shakespeare Festival had to offer.  Thirty-six plays, along with Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis were presented in thirty-five languages, “plus one play in ‘American Hip Hop’ — the re-telling of Othello by four rappers, sometimes in drag  …  Love’s Labours Lost was told entirely in British Sign Language … .”  Steve writes that “thirty-four countries, two performances from China — one in Mandarin (Hong Kong) and one in Cantonese (Beijing); two from India — All’s Well That Ends Well in Gujarati and Twelfth Night in Hindi,” and an additional one from England —  Dominic Dromgoole’s Henry V. Steve conducted over 60 interviews in HD video which he expects will serve as a broad international perspective on what Shakespeare means, “from an incredible variety of sources — from the sunny and optimistic, folk cultured-based visions of South Africa, from Mumbai, from South Korea and Mexico — to the darker angst-filled post modern visions from Italy, Poland, Germany and Russia.”


South Korea, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Photo: Steve Rowland)

According to Rowland, “What the festival did was bring the world together, day after day, on the South Bank of the Thames, only a few hundred yards away from the original Globe — in a part of town that was once lawless and the haven of a vibrant but seedy underworld — where the brilliance of Shakespeare’s words hit the ears and minds of people in lower, middle and upper classes simultaneously, delighting them with stories, provocative ideas and unforgettable characters.”

If you’re interested in viewing some performances from the festival, check out Mike LoMonico’s Making a Scene blog entry.

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Many of you have probably heard about the Luther Luckett Correctional Facility’s program Shakespeare Behind Bars from the 2005 documentary. Now in its 18th year, the program still makes headlines for its heartfelt, simply staged performances and intelligent, honest discourse from the program’s participants.

The premise of the program is that for a year, inmates choose to participate in the program – which offers no “good time” exchange or credit – and read, discuss, and perform a Shakespeare play. The documentary shows the small group tackling The Tempest – which may seem like a very simple comedy, but in the hands of these men it takes on a whole new meaning as they explore familial relationships, addictions, revenge, and other tough, human stories. They can choose the characters they’d like to play, and for many they choose the character that will challenge them most.

This year’s group performed Romeo and Juliet, and the actors discovered hard facts about themselves that they hadn’t expected. Derald Weeks, as Juliet, took on the role of the victim, and though she takes charge at many points, Weeks had to experience the powerlessness of his character. Meanwhile, David Harding, playing Escalus, hadn’t realized how affecting the text would be until he had to memorize Romeo’s rant against banishment:

At first, Harding told the audience during the question-and-answer session after the play, he thought the exercise would be easy, that he would wow everyone with his theatrical prowess.

But then, at night in his bunk, he began thinking about what it was to be banished and how he is separated from his wife and children.

“Everything I hold dear is on the other side of that wall,” Harding said. “I was at that time crushed under a weight that I didn’t know was there in the text.”
“Shakespeare is not about acting,” he went on to say. “It’s about finding the truth in the words.”

While we can’t all spend entire years, or even months on one play in our classrooms, it’s important to remember that the human element of the stories reaches through the words to share an experience. The words are not a hindrance to study, but rather a jumping-off point into discussions of being alive.

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For anyone who wants to truly be in the know, here’s your chance. Shakespeare 101 at the Greene Space—based on my book– is the ultimate interactive guide to the great Bard. If you are in NYC on Sunday, do try to stop down. It is being produced by WNYC and will be simulcast as well. I’ll be joined by Laura Cole, currently playing Maria in the NY Classical Theater Company’s production of Twelfth Night in Central Park and in Battery Park and Heather Lester, the Director of Education for the Shakespeare Society.

Also, at the same location on July 15, WNYC will host a Shakespeare Master Class with members of Propeller Company from the UK.  Actors Alasdair Craig and Jason Baughan will take students through scene studies.

Finally,  on July 16, the Greene Space presents a Shakespeare Marathon–a unique blend of excerpts from all 37 plays of the bard—the comedies, the histories, the tragedies—with actors and performance artists from all walks of life. It is a sonic feast that you will not want to miss.

So much for NYC, now let’s see what’s happening with Shakespeare in your neck of the woods. Leave the details below.

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Now that summer is here, why not think about taking in a Shakespeare performance? Perhaps you’re thinking about teaching one of the Bard’s plays you’ve never taught before and would like to see it on stage before you do. Or, maybe it’s been a while since you’ve seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed on a starry summer night.  How can you find out about a Shakespeare performance near you?  Well, there is a website devoted to summer Shakespeare festivals.  The website lists theaters across the country and around the world where Shakespeare is being performed. So, whether you’re traveling a short distance from home, or planning to travel far, check out the listings before you go to see if there will be a Shakespeare performance where you’ll be landing.  And, if you go, write about it as a response to this blog. It would be great to read about the productions of the plays being seen and how they might help to inform your teaching plans for the fall.

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I loved summer reading lists. Not that I loved being assigned homework over the summer, but it was a list of books I was now considered “ready” to read! The Hobbit after 5th grade, Shabanu into 8th, Jane Eyre into 9th… I was introduced (or re-introduced) to some excellent literature, which I could take with me to dance camp or the pool and enjoy. I don’t recall ever being assigned any Shakespeare, but it definitely couldn’t have hurt!

I still like to make my own summer reading lists, just of books I think I’ve put off for too long – I’ve already finished one, and look forward to spending time with the rest! It can’t hurt, even now, to try something new, or re-visit an old favorite. My list is below – what’s yours?

Do any of your classroom summer reading lists include a play by or a novel based on Shakespeare’s life or works? Let us know!

Prospero Lost,
by L Jagi Lamplighter – 400 years after the events on Prospero’s Island, his first daughter, Miranda, struggles to maintain the family business of ensuring the magical forces of the world remain in check. She discovers that he has gone missing and that she and her remaining younger siblings are in great danger and must venture out with Mab, the embodied spirit of the north wind, to warn and protect them – and the world.

Something Wicked, A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan M Gratz – (YA) having put the previous summer’s events in Denmark, TN behind him, Horatio spends time with his childhood friend Mac at the Scottish Highland Festival on Birnham mountain. But Mac’s new girlfriend, Beth, is trying just a little too hard to motivate him into competing in the Highland Games when his grandfather, Duncan, is murdered in his tent. Horatio must solve the crime and keep his friends safe – if those two goals can be compatible at all.

Shakespearean Afterlives, by John O’Connor – (Non-Fiction) Inspired by the life Shakespeare’s characters have taken on in modern consciousness, O’Connor traces the histories of 10 characters from their first performance to the way they’re mentioned colloquially today. A stunningly intricate read, and real proof that there is relevance in all of Shakespeare’s work today.

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If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you know that we know Kids love Shakespeare – especially when that love is creatively fostered and encouraged with play! – and that even the youngest children can find something to enjoy and relate to. (I mean, this exists!)

How young, you ask?

The Kim family has been working on a labor of love to bring Shakespeare to kids through songs for kids to connect them to Shakespeare’s characters. Daeshin Kim wrote the songs, his wife illustrated the text, and his 4 year old daughter, Sherman, sings the final products. Their plan is to release the song-pictures as an app for very young children, which also shows them the scene from the play referenced in the song. For example, Juliet sings to herself that “it’s just a name,” and Cordelia “[doesn’t] know what to say.”

In order to make this project a reality, the Kim’s have started a Kickstarter campaign. Take a look at their video preview below, and consider the uses this could have for Elementary classrooms, or at home.

“They constantly amaze us with their insatiable hunger for material,” Daeshin says, “It is my wish that as our kids grow up, they absorb media that has real value, that has an actual deep connection with language, literature, history, and culture.”

We’ve mused over early-education resources before, like audiobooks (unfortunately in modern-English), animation projects by students, a Midsummer movie just for kids, Apps, and more. We love all of these projects, and hope to see more like them!

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Shakespeare for Students with Special Needs
~by Christopher Shamburg 

On  June 5th the students of A. Harry Moore School in Jersey City gave two public performances of Macbeth.   A. Harry Moore a special education school that services students ages 3-21 with various medical, physical, and cognitive disabilities.  It is the laboratory school of New Jersey City University and offers comprehensive academic, therapeutic, pre-vocational and social programs.

For the past 4 years high school age students at the school have been participating in the Actors Shakespeare program.   The program is led by Seth Reich, an actor from Actors Shakespeare Company, the University’s resident acting company.

Each week the students work on a specific play, and perform it in Shakespeare’s language at the end of the year.   The Actors’ Shakespeare Program at A. Harry Moore gives the students an opportunity to learn many of the steps involved in putting on a production–from learning their lines to designing the sets and costumes.  The program facilitates strengthening reading skills, comprehension skills, speech pronunciation, breathing control and volume control.  In addition the program works on building their self-confidence.

This production was one of the most powerful productions I’d ever seen.  Many of the lines and scenes were sending chills down my spine–parts that never had done that before! It brought the victories, setbacks, dares, and determination of the characters to a whole new dimension.  They owned it!

The students, faculty, and staff (and myself) look forward to next year and continued success with this program!

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

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The Anglophiles among you may have spent the morning watching (or streaming) the live coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration. The reigning monarch of Britain has spent 60 years on the throne, and is still beloved and revered by her subjects.

Image from AFP/Getty Images

Shakespeare’s own Queen Elizabeth (the first of that name), was one of the longest-reigning monarchs of her time. She spent 45 years as Queen, and while she may not have been always beloved by all, she was certainly a formidable leader. She led her countrymen into battle with the Spanish invaders, supported the arts, handled tough political and economical

decisions – and saw them through. She proved that women could and would be as competent on the throne as men, and paved the way for monarchs like Elizabeth II.

Though Queen Elizabeth I did not personally patronize Shakespeare’s company, they were often invited to play at court – and Shakespeare gave

her plenty of strong female characters to side with or contest. An old folkstory says she enjoyed his Falstaff so much in the Henry IV plays that she requested a comedy for Falstaff in which he falls in love. Shakespeare dutifully penned The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Queen Elizabeth II paid the Folger a visit in 1991, where she sat in for a day of student festival performances, and visited our rare books – including a look at the bible that once belonged to her predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I.

Congratulations on 60 years as Queen of England, Your Majesty. Long Live the Queen!

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