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Posts Tagged ‘Performance-based learning’

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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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Why do we make such a big deal about performance-based learning?

We at the Folger strongly believe that Shakespeare is for everyone and that speaking the Bard’s words for yourself is essential to gaining an understanding of and appreciation for Shakespeare’s plays.

Lenny Henry, the British comedian turned acclaimed actor, recently shared his turn-around experience with Shakespeare, in an interview with The Telegraph:

What came next was a Radio 4 documentary series called What’s So Great About…? The first was on Shakespeare. “I had a real allergy to Shakespeare. I wasn’t really taught it at school properly and thought it was very much the reserve of middle-class white people with tights and a cabbage down the front. So I was very frightened of it. Everybody we interviewed on that show, Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Adrian Lester, Judi Dench, said, ‘You should try it. Don’t slag it off if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Get some of the words in your mouth and then you’ll understand why we all love Shakespeare so much.’”

Henry delivered 20 lines of Othello’s last speech for the documentary and he was hooked. “It gave me the feeling that I could do it. It’s almost like I had my head put on straight for me. ‘This is what it’s about, it’s a serious thing, take it seriously, learn your lines, do some research.’ So the rehearsal process was brutal and I was reading that play for months and months before we did it.” And it was a success.

Henry went from thinking Shakespeare was not for him, to going on to perform in The Comedy of Errors at the Royal National Theatre in London.

What a testament to the power of speaking – not just reading – Shakespeare.

How are your students engaging with Shakespeare this school year? Tell us in the comments.

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Shakespeare_Set_FreeAs you may have guessed, we never get tired of reading about the creative ways teachers are using performance-based learning techniques to teach Shakespeare.

Sarah Goodis-Orenstein, a middle school language arts teacher and department head in a public charter school in Brooklyn, recently shared in a blog post on Education Week how she’s experimented with the Folger’s Shakespeare Set Free curriculum in her classroom.

Goodis-Orenstein, who assigned her students to reinterpret scenes from Romeo and Juliet and act them out, walks the reader through each step of the assessment process and the rationale behind it.

Her conclusion:

In the end, this prompt-book project was tremendously rewarding for both myself and my students. When embarking upon this project, I had some reservations. I’m not a terribly performative person, myself, and I know I would have resented this assignment as a middle schooler. I also know that performances are often scoffed at as the low man on the totem pole of rigor.

But this project was no fluff. And it was fun.

She finishes the blog post with this gem:

…the best assessments are about creativity and application, not regurgitation or formulaic writing. It also doesn’t hurt to be reminded now and then that getting out of one’s comfort zone can lead to great things—for both students and teachers.

Read more at Education Week.

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2013 Secondary Festival

As the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute approaches the end of its third week, we return to Dan Bruno’s NCTE High School Matters blog, where he has been busy sharing some of the insights he’s gleaned from TSI sessions.

Here’s an excerpt from a blog post in which Dan reviews some maxims for guiding students through performance-based learning in the classroom.

This scene is your whole play: this further reinforces the Folger philosophy that close reading on one’s feet does not require the teaching of a whole play; focus on what the scene shows us about the people in it, etc.

All plays are contemporary: despite the original context of the play, students bring their own cultural contexts and personal contexts to the plays they are reading; validating those contexts validates the student and builds confidence

Characters are defined by what they do, not what they say: helping students focus on action eases some of the anxiety with the foreign quality of the language

Words can convey many meanings: What do you mean when you say it?: this one reminds students that they have choice and ownership over their readings of the text while validating that there is no one way to play it

What does the script tell us, NOT what would we like it to tell us?: this one reminds students that everything they need to know is on this page; there is no secret code to reading Shakespeare

Dialogue is action-oriented: all utterances have a goal behind them, even if that goal is to be left alone; understanding these helps link performance movement choice to how the line is read

Good plays are about human behavior: this one links to the previous one; how do people behave when they are in specific contexts attempting to gain specific desires

You cannot play themes or literary tropes: these things are great for the world of literary analysis, but alien to the world of the actor; people don’t consider themes when they are trying to bed lovers or destroy rivals; themes arise from our reflection on those events

Do you have anything to add? What are maxims that you communicate to your students when they are doing performance-based, language-centered learning? Tell us in the comments.

Read the full blog post at NCTE High School Matters.

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