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2013 Secondary School Festival. Folger Shakespeare Library.

2013 Secondary School Festival. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Let’s make a date for another day to have a longer, more nuanced conversation about the many parts of the Common Core.

For now, I just want to say that if we could put politics aside and testing aside (and unfortunately, in our beloved field of education, we can put aside neither for long), the expectations for student mastery laid out in the Common Core are the same kinds of expectations that good teachers have had for their students for centuries. Centuries.

And what gets me going on about the Common Core at the moment is that our theatre is crammed this week and next with middle and high school students performing Shakespeare at the Secondary School Shakespeare Festival. (more…)

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Lots of buzz around the Folger these days because Janet Griffin, Artistic Producer of the Folger Theatre, and Robert Richmond, director of our upcoming production of Richard III, are taking a walk on the wild side.

You know about the theatre here, right?  Background in case you don’t:  Folks here sometimes call the Folger Theatre “an evocation of an Elizabethan theatre”… not a model of any one in particular but with features like galleries and an inner above that make you think of the Globe.

It’s a sweet little 250-seat theatre tucked right inside the Library building.  Janet and her team produce three or four award-winning plays a year, and if you haven’t seen a play here, put us on your New Year’s resolution list right this minute.

So how do we get from an Elizabethan theatre to the wild side? (more…)

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reposted with permission from the Folger Theatre Blog

“Grumble, Grumble.”
“Snort”
“Whine”
“Complaint”
“But it’s soooo eeeearly!”
“This is ungodly.”
“Oh, no…I’m going to need a nap!”
“Is there coffee?”

And so it goes…

It’s a student matinee of our Romeo and Juliet at the Folger Theatre and our call is practically the butt crack of dawn. We have to be at the theatre no later than ELEVEN o’clock. I mean, in the MORNING! What?!

What is this, Prison?

See, a bunch of actors naturally gravitate to later and later bedtimes. We don’t crash at the median of the group, we all push our bedtimes later so that we go to bed towards the time the person who goes to bed last goes to bed. For me, that’s a little before 4am. Which isn’t as crazy as it sounds. We come down at 10:30 at night, amped on that show adrenaline, we calm down, have a drink or two, nosh a bit, catch up on sports news, maybe play some cards and then I go upstairs to my room to get a bit of work done. (I’m currently writing an opera and a play.)

Which all works out swimmingly. My earliest call for most matinees is 1:30.

But not STUDENT matinees.

Don’t you totally feel sorry for us actors?

Now, the upside:

Because, I guess, the theatre understands the eye-blearingly earliness of the hour, they provide bagels, croissants and muffins at these matinees. And coffee. There’s always coffee.

And the kids are fantastic.

No, really. Fantastic!

I have been in shows where we had to dodge skittles, M&M’s, spitballs, and (at worst) pennies flying in from the student audience. I have heard slurping sounds coming from the audience during a kiss. I’ve heard two comments from the same kid before and during a sword fight. The first, “They’re just a bunch of sweet boys in tights…” Which, admittedly, entertained not only the audience around him, but the actors as well. The second, after an early head swipe with a rapier, “Nope, they serious…” I have been surrounded by 1,100 students while doing a production of “The Scottish Play” in the round (at 10:30) and when they decided to converse, we had a tough time hearing each other.

But these groups? These groups are heavenly.

I don’t know if it’s the relatively small size of the theatre, the quality of the production, or the intrinsic good manners of these particular students, but they are a joy to play for. And not just because they aren’t making it hard, but because they make it so easy.

These are groups who laugh out loud when something is funny (sometimes adult audiences have to be convinced it’s all right to laugh – after all, this is a tragedy.) The kids are involved in the drama when it arises. (After all, every play is a comedy, until the play can’t hold it anymore. Maybe more on that in a later blog.) These have been my favorite audiences we’ve played to…just joyful and appreciative and open and, let’s be honest, some of them don’t even know how the play turns out.

I have a friend who was going to see a production of All’s Well That Ends Well and he’d never seen it, so he decided to read it first. He’s an actor who’s done a good number of Shakespeare’s plays so I reacted to this news, “Are you crazy?” After all, here he had one of his final chances to see a play written by Shakespeare as if it were a “new” (at least to him) play. Plays, after all, are written to be performed, not read (or at least not read silently). These audiences get to watch Romeo & Juliet, probably for the first time. Now, of course the vast majority of them know the story…but the language spoken by professionals has got to be a first for that same vast majority.

And they have been wonderful.

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This afternoon we sat in on the design presentations for Folger Theatre‘s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. From a practical point of view, we need to see how the Theatre space will be changed so that we can adjust for our programs which take place onstage; but from the perspective of a fan of Shakespeare, it’s so exciting to see – each time – how this company at this point in time takes on a familiar play to tell a new story.

For example, director Aaron Posner says that his inspiration for this production came out of a conversation with his wife, actress Erin Weaver (who will be playing Juliet, and will also be joining us for our Romeo and Juliet set free workshop), in which they discussed the moment in which Juliet decides not to face the consequences, not to run away, but to end her life, instead. It’s nice to say that it’s the culmination of the story of a whirlwind romance in which two people were never meant for anyone but each other and her decision not to go on without him is romantic as well as sad – but, says Posner, “that’s not a story I can relate to.” Exploring, instead, what kind of world shapes Juliet in this direction and makes her choice not only one borne of love, but also of necessity, tells a different story than we might be used to as an audience.

“It’s a hard play to cut,” Posner added, since the language is so good and everything seems important to the story. The words are so familiar – they’ve been said hundreds of thousands of times – but each inflection and each decision made by Aaron and his cast of actors will tell a different story from each production that came before it. That’s something truly wonderful about Shakespeare in performance, anywhere in performance – In classrooms or theaters, amateurs to professionals – each person brings something new to the table to tell a new story with the same words.

Have you seen this play in performance recently, or read it with your students? What sort of discoveries did you make? Did anything change the way you perceive the play for good?

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I’m writing with a plea for help.  Feedback, actually.

Folger Education creates a study guide to accompany each play Folger Theatre produces with a student matinee.  Our aim is to offer teachers background information and activities on the play which they may use with their students for preparation and  follow-up of their matinee experience.

This is not an uncommon occurance: most theatres that have student matinees also create a guide for teachers and/or students.  In scouring to see what information other institutions offer, I have found guides from only a few pages long to close to sixty.  Clearly, there is not a lack of things to write about a Shakespeare play.  But how much of it is useful to you?

In your experience of taking students to see Shakespeare productions, either at the Folger or abroad, what types of preparatory materials have you been offered?  To what extent did you use the materials you were given?  What would have made them the most useful to you?  Your feedback will help us to shape future guides to better serve teachers and students.

To see our current study guide for The Comedy of Errors, as well as for past productions, visit us at www.folger.edu/studyguides.

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