Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

By Sara Lehn

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth (Image: StudioCanal)

“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.  (more…)

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By Folger Education


We’re in the middle of our first-ever Summer Academy: a jam-packed week of learning with 29 passionate teachers from all kinds of schools all over the country. You’ll be hearing from them in the coming months as they reflect on their time at the Folger and take this week’s big ideas and strategies right into their classrooms. In the meantime, check out these tweets and images—they’re a pretty great slice of this invigorating Summer Academy life!

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By: Stefanie Jochman


At the end of the year, no matter how I try to avoid it, I always end up feeling like that frazzled owl in the popular “Teacher at the end of the year” Facebook meme, but this time, I’m not going to worry so much about smoothing my feathers. One lesson I learned while teaching Shakespeare this year: vulnerability is valuable.


“Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee, / I have no joy in this contract tonight” were the first two sentences of the ten-line monologue assigned to me at the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, and I can type them from memory now because my whole body knows those lines. At TSI, Caleen Jennings and Michael Tolaydo challenged our cohort to know Shakespeare not only as teachers but also as actors. Of TSI’s excellent tripartite program of scholarship, curriculum, and performance, performance sessions were where we (or at least I) felt most vulnerable. Sure, we were used to being our “teacher-selves” in front of large groups, but as teachers, we had to be the calm, collected adults in the room.


Students close read on their feet in Stefanie’s English class.  (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

Students close read on their feet in Stefanie’s English class. (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

In our performance workshops, we took new roles: wide-eyed teenage lovers, rowdy friends, fearsome fathers, nagging nurses. We couldn’t describe a character’s feelings the way we normally might when teaching a play; we had to act them—and know the lines by heart!


Anyone who walked into those first performance workshops could have recognized my discomfort and fear in the stiffness of my shoulders or the softness of my voice as my composed “teacher-self” fought against the wild sounds and fluid movements that a good acting warm-up requires. But with each workshop I grew louder and more fluid; I left a little more of “Ms. Jochman” behind and picked up another piece of “Juliet,” until, at last, performance day arrived. When a line was flubbed or a word forgotten, we buoyed each other. I felt vulnerable, but so did everyone else, and that shared vulnerability created a safe space to explore Shakespeare in heart and body.


I made a goal to create a similar atmosphere in my classroom this year. Rather than starting the year with the safe familiarity of syllabi review, I followed Deborah Gascon’s advice to play with Shakespeare on the first day of school. Students started with stiff shoulders and wary eyes, but by the end of that first hour together, we were all laughing.


Before I attended TSI, my students performed for assessment after finishing a play; this year, however, they performed to learn. Seniors performed variations of “Get thee to a nunnery” to understand its nuance; juniors used pantomime and tableaux to summarize early scene from The Merchant of Venice; freshmen reddened at the jokes in 1.1 of Romeo and Juliet while they put the scene on its feet. Each performance activity was an opportunity to tackle new words and embarrassing moments together, and as a result, our daily classroom performances built not only understanding of the text but also camaraderie.


Shakespeare is a name that makes a lot of students (and teachers!) feel vulnerable. His words might look jumbled to the eye or feel unfamiliar in our mouths, his plots and jokes make us blush, and his work is so esteemed we might not feel worthy of it, but those confusions, embarrassments, or inadequacies are the stuff of Shakespeare. What are soliloquies if not moments of vulnerability? Don’t we laugh most at the fools we see in ourselves? Being a teacher is a kind of performance, a role that can exhaust the player in its demands of invulnerability– round-the-clock professionalism (because you never know who is in the next aisle at the grocery store!) or a façade of constant accuracy. Our students can get lost in the roles they play, too; they wear their own masks to hide their fears. How freeing it is to put those roles aside in favor of Hamlet, Portia, Romeo, or Juliet.


One student’s reflections in anonymous end-of-the-year survey put it all in perspective:

“I really enjoyed when we did a play for The Merchant of Venice. That made me have some butterflies in my stomach, but it was so much fun!”

When I was a first-year teacher, I equated vulnerability with failure. I didn’t want my students to see when I had butterflies in my stomach, but my experiences with Shakespeare this year have taught me that vulnerability has value in the classroom. As I rehearsed my monologue last summer, I thought I was leaving “Ms. Jochman” behind on the Folger Theatre stage, but I was actually learning how to be a better teacher. When the expectation is to open ourselves to the challenge and make mistakes along the way rather than to simply get the answer right, there is so much more room for learning, for creativity, for camaraderie, for fun.


Stefanie Jochman teaches 9th grade and International Baccalaureate English classes at Notre Dame de la Baie Academy in Green Bay, WI. She received her BA in English and Secondary Education from St. Norbert College and her MA in English from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Stefanie is a proud alumna of the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute.

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We had so much fun at last week’s 2015 Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival we wanted to share more images of the kids and the great day they had at the Folger.

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By Diana Darwin and Nancy Howard


Imagine children, not much taller than yardsticks, clearly and passionately performing lines from Romeo and Juliet. Simply dressed in blue T-shirts for the Montagues, red T-shirts for the Capulets, and yellow tees for the Prince and his family (a few wore mustaches and many carried swords), they projected proudly as they enacted an abbreviated version of this play.  They were energized—and energizing—nine-year-old children from a public charter school here in DC. At the end of the day, we asked their teacher how the students came to own the language. He replied, “Practice, lots of it.”


This is the kind of magic behind the Emily Jordan Folger Shakespeare Children’s Festival: elementary students speaking Shakespeare’s language as if it were written for them (and we believe it was!).


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Children understand and enjoy Shakespeare when given the chance to perform it! The comedic spirit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was alive and well presented by a cast of students who were having so much fun the audience couldn’t resist. Young Pyramus understood the humor in taking such a long time to die…and the audience responded with happy laughter and applause. The community of learners in the Folger Theatre inspired and supported each other, demonstrating throughout the week the value of the arts and humanities.


It seems to me that perhaps the most important lessons learned from the arduous preparation made by all these students is their ability to do things they thought were hard. Their work learning lines and presenting characters demands that children stretch beyond the familiar and risk trying new things. We believe that the growth that we witness in these young people is only a glimpse of an unlimited future ahead.


Nancy Howard and Diana Darwin both taught Eighth Grade Language Arts and produced/directed theatrical productions at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.  After retiring in 2006, they  became docents at Folger Shakespeare Library.

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By Folger Education

The testimonials keep coming in, and they’re so much more compelling than anything we could say about the Secondary School Shakespeare Festival. Thank you, festival friends! And happy reading, teachers everywhere!


Students at the Secondary Student Festival (photo: Kate Ryan)

Students at the Secondary Student Festival (photo: Kate Ryan)


I am an 8th grader at Center City Public Charter School. My class performed the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. From our teachers we learned that Shakespeare was a poet and he wrote plays that were performed on stage in his theatre. We also learned vocabulary of Shakespeare to prepare us for our performance. I honestly enjoyed our performance at the Folger Theatre. Practicing our lines made us learn responsibility, which helped us succeed. When we remembered our lines we became proud and started to use emotion and come into character. I played Demetrius, a male character, and I am female. I wanted to play a male because it was more of a challenge than playing a woman. Also, I know that in Shakespeare’s time men had to play women because it was considered immoral for people to watch women perform. I had fun playing Shakespeare games in between plays and watching other schools perform. We were the youngest of the group, being in middle school. We saw how advanced and devoted to character the other schools were and felt proud for getting recognized for our first performance.

  • Ramani, student, Washington, DC


There is something so very powerful in words.  They have the power to build and in the wrong mouths, the power to destroy. In the glorious Folger Theatre, the words of Shakespeare took on life and power of their own.  In the mouths of over a hundred high school students the immortal lines of Shakespeare were fresh and new. The talented students from Catoctin High School and Sherwood High School breathed a fresh life into familiar characters such as Macbeth and Caliban.  Montgomery Blair High treated us all to a lovely interpretation of Pericles – not read by many adults, let alone 15-year-olds!  Queen Elizabeth School delighted us all by performing a lively retelling of Comedy of Errors – with actual twins!

The Mistress of the Revels and the team around her made everyone feel loved, welcomed, and well cared for.

But the most powerful words all day were the words the students shared with one another. Students shouted and cheered for peers. Students critiqued one another with generosity and grace. The power of kind words reigned. By the end of the day everyone had made a hundred new friends.  Emails were exchanged, selfies (groupies) were taken, and hugs were given freely and eagerly.  It was a magical day where words were celebrated and we all were blessed to have been there.

  • Karen Stitely, teacher and drama director, Thurmont, Maryland


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By Folger Education


Hey, everyone! Since you can’t be here for the Secondary School Shakespeare Festival, we thought we’d share some glimpses into all this magic. Here’s what our fabulous Festival-goers have to say about their time with Shakespeare’s language and one another.


“When I found out we were performing Shakespeare, I was not sure how I felt. As we rehearsed I started to really enjoy it.”  –Maddie, student


“This was my first time at the Folger Festival and my school did Julius Caesar. I really enjoyed working on the Folger stage and getting to see all of the other schools perform their pieces. I especially liked the feedback that we got from the judges. I also had a lot of fun participating in the activities in between pieces. I actually thought those were really helpful because they helped people relax before they had to go onstage. I was a little nervous beforehand, but the people at the Folger made me feel comfortable onstage. I also really liked the awards ceremony. I thought that all of the awards were really creative. Overall, I loved the festival, and I will definitely be coming back next year, whether as an ensemble member or as part of the audience.” – Lela, student


“Thank you for the day, and thank you for the opportunity to share our excitement! – Susan, teacher


“On the bus ride to the Folger I was nervous, but really excited.”  – Olivia, student


“It was an honor to perform one of Shakespeare’s plays. I felt proud of myself for standing up on stage in front of strangers and my family.”  –Sebastian, student


“My overall Shakespeare experience was incredible! “  –Hanna, student


“Going to the Folger and performing Julius Caesar was truly a special experience.” –Teny, student


“I learned there are ‘No small parts.’” –Matthew, student


“It was interesting to see how other kids interpreted Shakespeare’s language.”   –Sebastian, student


“I thoroughly enjoyed the peer comments. Giving and receiving constructive criticism was rewarding.”  –Jorgen, student

“My favorite acting game was 30 second Hamlet.” –Caroline, student


“After our performance it was incredible to receive comments from such accomplished actresses.”  –Beyer, student


“My respect towards Shakespeare greatly increased while preparing our play.” –Alex, student


“It was exciting to perform on a professional stage and I hope I can do it again.” –Niya, student


Thanks again, students and teachers, for bringing your talents and energy to the Folger. We love learning with you!

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