Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Summer Shakespeare : Creative Ideas?

I hope that regular reader/contributor Bill doesn't mind me reposting this message he sent me on Facebook, but I thought it would make great conversation and surely more opinions on a question like this is better than a few.

Question: I'll be teaching a semester long Shakespeare class this year. If you were in high school again, and were able to take a class like this, what are some issues that you'd like to tackle.

Reading list: Othello, Shrew, Merchant, Tempest, and one more, undecided.

Any thoughts?
I'm not sure the range he has to work with (i.e. is he specifically asking about parts of the text to study in detail, or ways to structure activities in the class), but maybe he'll chime in with answers.

One thing that comes to mind, which I take from the local Rebel Shakespeare group here, is to include performance. Public performance. "Bill's Class Presents, Scenes from Shakespeare!" Preferably outdoor, if you can find a place. Or in a classroom if you must. Get friends and family to come. Nicely combines the ideas of "Shakespeare must be performed", demonstrating / showing off what you've learned, as well as serving as a sort of informal final exam / graduation ceremony.

As for the texts themselves, why not make that undecided one something from the later plays, like Winter's Tale or Cymbeline? It seems like The Tempest is it for the later stuff, that's all kids ever see. I think it's important to show that not every play met the structured definition of history / tragedy / comedy. I suppose Tempest covers that, but so often discussion of that play is all about it as Shakespeare's farewell to the stage, and less on questions of "It's not really a comedy or a tragedy, what is it?"

Although the idea has been done to death, I'm sure that today's high school kids would get a kick out anything involving new/social media mixed with Shakespeare. We have no end of Twitter/Facebook versions of the plays. You could perhaps have them come up with something in that area. We certainly didn't have that when I was in high school! :)

Who else has ideas for Bill?


High Tide Productions said...

Thanks, Duane. The idea is still very much in its infancy, but I'll start lesson planning as the summer ends.

I was thinking of a photography project, as student access to cameras is improving. I had in mind a group project that involved taking shots of themselves or other people, places, and things. Each shot would represent a various theme from the play involved: the madness or calculated power of Prospero, the villainy of Iago, pictures of a creek with flowers nearby, etc. They would choose their favorites as a group and frame and present them like an art show.

Ed said...

Be sure to find out what Shakespeare play or plays are being produced within driving distance. Choose at least one and take your students to see it. Otherwise, it's like a science class without a lab.

Duane nailed it on the performance. Produce a show, or do a Shakespeare Slam, an arts night that combines the photography with poetry and scene performances, etc, etc. See if you can team up with a teacher in another curriculum area and show how Shakespeare/literature/art tie in with math, science, social studies, whatever.

In our school, it's called Shakestronomy and we teach about Galileo and Shakespeare, the Greek myths and their relationship to astronomy, and the links between science and the arts that people don't always see at first.

Bill said...

Hi Bill!

With that reading list, you have a good opportunity to explore the theme of the "other" throughout the semester.

What does Shakespeare have to say about what it's like to be black in a white-dominated society? A woman in a male-dominated society? A Jew in a Christian-dominated society? A native in a colonized society?

And what connections can we make between the characters' situations and the world we live in today? Cite evidence from the text to support your opinions.

If you choose to go this way, your fifth play might be Richard III.

Students could form five groups, in which each group prepares a key scene from a different play that fits the theme, and the scenes could be performed as a collection.

If you want to extend that activity, each group could also write and perform an original scene in modern language that depicts a present-day situation that resonates with the original scene.

Students could also work in groups to write an original dialogue between Othello, Katherine, Shylock, Caliban, and Richard (in modern language, most likely, but with direct references to each text) that explores what it's like to be an outsider.

If you do this in addition to the previous activity, you could jigsaw the students, distributing the students from each performing group into each writing group. These scenes do not need to be performed, but could be published on a class website along with any other writing they may be doing as a part of your unit.


The Other Bill

High Tide Productions said...

Great comments all around. I'm definitely going to add a performance element to class: monologues, scenes, and sonnets of particular interest.

More to the point though, I think this can be a unique opportunity to explore various themes in all of the selections, and then find a way to connect them to various struggles/issues of today (without being too political).

I like the idea of comparison very much, and I think it's a skill that a lot of our (my school's) students lack. Taking Merchant/Iago and debating the issue and treatment of race. Comparing the actions of the heroines in say All's Well and Shrew. I'd like for them to find common ground in those respects.

Modern adaptations, as they are the vogue, can be helpful, if only from a conceptual idea. What plays could best be reinterpreted? Who would star, etc. These would make great projects.