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Adirondack Shakespeare Company Flag

Adirondack Shakespeare Company

By Josh Cabat

I imagine it’s a dream that many English teachers secretly harbor. You leave it all behind and join a band of players who travel from small town to small town in a beautiful and remote area, performing works by Shakespeare and others in repertory.

In some ways, it’s about as pure as it gets, and that purity came through in every wonderful, ragtag moment of the recent production of 1 Henry IV as staged by the Adirondack Shakespeare Company.

The performance was held this past August in Schroon Lake, New York, at the Art Deco-era Strand Theater (whose survival is about as miraculous as young Hal’s victory at Agincourt two plays later), and was part of a summer repertory program that included all four plays in this Henriad, as well as The Tempest (in addition to an event down the lake a bit at the old grounds of Scaroon Manor where the audience got to choose the Shakespeare play they wanted to see on the spot).

What the audience got to see at these performances was what company co-founder Tara Bradway refers to as “Shakespeare in the Raw.” In this experimental technique, all production elements are stripped down to the bare minimum, including scenery, props, costumes, and music. Bradway also noted that the company’s rehearsal process is structured in such a way that the performance we saw was the first time the cast had run through the play in its entirety.

The result is spontaneous, fresh and, for fans of the Folger, exactly what Shakespearean performance needs to be: focused almost exclusively on the interplay among the actors, the audience and those words.

As an educator, I found that there were many connections between Adirondack’s process and how we might go about teaching Shakespeare through performance. (more…)

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Guest post by Josh Cabat

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend both a week-long workshop on reading strategies at Teachers College and the week-long AP English Language and Composition prep course sponsored by the College Board.

In so many ways, these two activities are diametrically opposed, certainly in terms of the ultimate target audience and, in some fairly interesting ways, in terms of philosophy.

What I’m taking away from these two experiences, however, is how remarkably similar they are. While the levels of complexity were completely different, it turned out that I spent both weeks engaged in exactly the same two activities: teaching close reading techniques, and learning how to teach students to structure coherent arguments and support them with relevant and valid evidence.

Clearly, these activities are founded upon the changes wrought by the Common Core. And as we all know, Shakespeare is one of the few authors mentioned by name within the strictures of the Core. And as I was enjoying these two very different weeks of professional development, I thought a great deal about where Shakespeare might fit into all of this.

Close reading is not really an issue, of course; all of the performance-based activities promoted by the Folger are founded on exactly the kind of close reading demanded by the new standards. But what about the other strand, the idea of evidence-based argument?

(more…)

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Find this quote in context at folgerdigitaltexts.org

Guest post by Josh Cabat

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

While the average ELA Chair or Director has little to fear in terms of civil unrest in the Northlands, we have all, as did Henry IV, struggled with internal resistance to change.

How often have you found a great idea at a conference or in a journal, and then presented it at a department meeting only to have it greeted with smiles and nods and subsequently ignored? Reflecting on and changing our own process is challenging enough; to get others to do so is often a steep mountain indeed.

This is even more true when it comes to Shakespeare. Resistance to new ideas in teaching Shakespeare usually comes in two flavors. One comes out as “You expect those students to do Shakespeare?” which usually signifies the teacher’s own insecurity with the material. The other is the complete opposite: “You’re telling me how to teach Shakespeare?” Take heart, though; there are many ways over, around, and through these walls. (more…)

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