By Sara Lehn
“Who would you choose? Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender?”
“But have you seen the new Michael Fassbender trailer? It looks amazing!”
It is the first meeting of the school year for my Shakespeare Society’s Executive Board. Although it has been months since we all met, our table is brimming with enthusiasm, excitement, and fresh ideas for how to bring Shakespeare to our school’s population. And, of course, a debate on which would make a better field trip: Benedict Cumberbatch’s live theater broadcast of Hamlet or Michael Fassbender’s upcoming film of Macbeth. There is clearly some dissent in the ranks.
Several years ago, a group of students started an application for a new Shakespeare club in our high school. I was not a part of the initial process, but I was lucky enough to be able to step in and help them to pursue their goal. Last September their efforts came to fruition, and I became the advisor of the new Shakespeare Society.
We started out simply: the 30-second Macbeth, Slugs and Clods, light-hearted activities to provide a little laughter and fun. We planned a movie night and spent a wonderful Friday evening curled up on the floor of our study center with blankets and pillows and slices of pizza. As the year progressed and our school’s annual Shakespeare Festival approached, we chose and rehearsed scenes and planned audience-participation activities. The festival culminated our first year together, and left me looking forward to continuing the expansion of our club.
Students don’t have to love Shakespeare to join our Shakespeare Society. In fact, several of my club members openly profess that they are not particularly big fans. They love drama and theater, they love literature, or perhaps they were simply dragged to a meeting by a friend and somehow ended up returning week after week. I relish this opportunity for them to share in the joy of Shakespeare and to experience something outside of the typical classroom canon. The gore of Titus Andronicus, the wit of Beatrice and Benedick: it can be difficult to find time for these within the confines of the regular curriculum.
If your students have no idea that there are options outside of Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet, this is your chance to expand their horizons. With Shakespeare as an extracurricular activity, students can experience him at their leisure without the pressure of grades and testing and return to their classroom Shakespeare with a better understanding and a more relaxed attitude. It is my hope that they will be more willing to take risks and will show greater confidence in their work.
I have a lot of ideas for the future of our club. I would love to take field trips to see live Shakespeare. We have discussed putting together workshops to share with some of the younger students in the district. Expansion and development of our festival is always at the top of the list. I have visions of a cafeteria Shakespeare flashmob. However, regardless of where we go and what we do, our main objective is a relatively simple one. When asked what they felt was most important about our mission as a club, one of my co-presidents said, quite simply, “We keep history alive.” So we do, making an effort to extend Mr. Shakespeare beyond the four walls of the classroom and into the fabric of our school. However, I would argue that he brings us new life as well. By incorporating a little extra Shakespeare into our day, we open up immense opportunities for enriched learning, developed confidence, and an immense amount of bard-based fun.
Do you advise your own Shakespeare club? Please, share some of your favorite club activities and ideas. I would absolutely love to hear from you in the comments!
Sara Lehn teaches at Roslyn High School in Roslyn, New York, where she has worked with all grade levels from 6 through 12, as well as organizing the school’s annual Shakespeare Festival and advising the school Shakespeare Society. She is an alumnus of the 2012 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, and still dreams at night of the sweet scent of old books in the Reading Room. Sara can be reached at email@example.com.