That is the only word I can come up with (and it is a sad, overwrought one) to describe my first day of the Teaching Shakespeare Institute. If there is truly a theme of marriage in this year's group, then today was the honeymoon. We got to know one another again through discussions about curriculum, performances of Cinna the poet's tragicomic death, performance exercises, and a complete round robin reading of Twelfth Night. Moreover, we received an excellent and engaging lecture from one of the scholars-in-residence on the historical and cultural context of bear-baiting in Twelfth Night. For those intrigued by this concept, and, believe me, it is far more interesting than you would think, much of the substance of this lecture can be found here. In the article, you will learn about the context of bear-baiting and how it enriches lines like the following:
Have you not set min honor at the stake, / And baited it with all th' unmuzzled thoughts / That tyrannous heart can think? - Olivia, III.i.123-125
To break our day down further, let me get into the schedule (a detailed outline of which has been kindly provided by my co-author for the post, Quintin Burks). After walking into the gorgeous theatre at the Folger and learning about our faculty for the institute as well as its founding principles, we dove into a session on curriculum. We opened this session with each participant offering three sentences:
- Who are you and what/where do you teach?
- What plays have you taught/are you currently teaching?
- Who taught you to teach Shakespeare?
By about the halfway point, it was pretty clear what our master teachers were trying to emphasize: very few of us (I only recall two) were explicitly taught HOW to teach Shakespeare. Side Note: Millersville University got some serious kudos for their intensive course on Teaching Shakespeare; if you are a pre-service teacher, look them up.
After the opening discussion, we did something we affectionately dubbed "Julius Caesar Salad." For those familiar with the Shakespeare Set Free series or the Folger's Pedagogical Philosophy, you know you do not need to teach the whole play to teach Shakespeare. This exercise played to that notion by having each group of 6-7 people perform a scene from Julius Caesar, the tragicomic death of Cinna the Poet III.iii. Here is how to adapt the activity; however, be warned that knowing the steps is not a replacement for experiencing it firsthand. The two-part goal of these posts is to encourage others to apply and to spread the word about this wonderful program.
Julius Caesar Salad:
- Give the Cinna scene (III.iii) from Julius Caesar to the class. Divide the class into groups of 6-7.
- Have the students assign parts to each other (this becomes complicated because you are intentionally stocking the group with more actors than necessary; students have to be creative with how they use the text so that each person in the group is involved).
- Afterwards, students work on how to perform the scene including blocking, speaking parts, etc.
- Allow time for practice (20 minutes is good)
- Hand out a sheet of elements to add to the scene (ex: tableau, silences, laughter, etc.)
- Ask that all or a certain number of those elements be included in the scene
- Perform the scenes in quick succession
- Once the final group has performed, discuss what the students noticed as they saw each other perform the same scene.
After this excellent session, we moved on to either lunch or getting our reader's cards for the reading room at the Folger (insert nerdy dance break).
After lunch, we gathered for the lecture mentioned above. I still cannot say enough about how enlightening and engaging it was.
After the lecture, we had performance time with two acting experts, both university instructors. We began with a warmup:
- Begin by having students shake their hands, then arms, then bodies, then legs then heads.
- Have students reach as high up as they can while breathing deep, and then slowly exhaling as they reach toward the ground.
- Then, have students walk around on tip toes, heels, and the sides of their feet.
- Students then learn how to project voice while learning trust by using a blindfold and being led first by touch, then by voice.
- Next, Students hum and breathe while standing in a circle.
- Have students open their mouths wide to let the sound out while still humming.
- Have students place their hands on their foreheads and chests to feel the vibration of their own hums.
- Students then move into a circle, standing shoulder-to-shoulder to feel the vibrations of of their neighbors, opening their mouths when directed to create a mock vocal symphony.
- Stop. There should be silence
- Students simultaneously speak: “Hello, my name is (Whatever their names are, probably not Slim Shady)."
After these activities, we did an activity called Shakespeare in a Can (or in this case, three).
- Students pair up and choose to be either partner A or partner B.
- "A" students select a particular quotation from Shakespeare from the A can (and keep it to themselves, not even showing their partners).
- "B" students select a particular quotation from the B can (and keep it to themselves).
- One of the two selects a location from the third can.
- Allow time for students to briefly prepare an improv scene without sharing their quotations; these scenes are made up of improvisational dialogue and situations in which the students must use their quotations.
- Students perform scene, being sure to include their quotations in their scene wherever they belong.
Lastly, we reflected on our performance activities using something called Rounds. Standing in a circle, we each went through a series of sentence starters:
- I learned...
- I wish...
- I noticed...
- I resent...
- I appreciate...
In completing these, we learned a lot about what we had learned and experienced that day. This statement may seem obvious, but try the activity and then tell me you aren't shocked at how thoroughly the day's lessons are analyzed.
After a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called We the Pizza (GO THERE!), we gathered to read through Twelfth Night. As we read together, laughing at the jokes and cringing at all of the references to bear-baiting (read the article), it was apparent that after only one day, the TSI class of 2014 had become a strong family, built upon a foundation of Bardolatry.