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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0636  Friday, 10 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Simon Malloch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 Jul 1998 23:02:07 +0800
        Subj:   Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Tanya Gough <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 11:46:23 -0400
        Subj:   Getting Children Interested

[3]     From:   Peter S. Donaldson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 12:38:02 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

[4]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 Jul 1998 09:50:14 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0631  Questions, Questions, Questions

[5]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 19:44:17 +0100
        Subj:   Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Malloch <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 Jul 1998 23:02:07 +0800
Subject: 9.0633  Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0633  Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

For those interested in the issue of getting kids to read in general,
and deciding what they perhaps *should* read,   I strongly recommend a
web-site which contains a feature, by Marion Long, called "Harold Bloom:
Western Canon, Jr"  - essentially Bloom's reading guide for
youngsters.   It is quite informal (based on an interview with him) and
makes for good reading.

For example,  Bloom says that "Shakespeare really is beyond children",
though he does recommend Charles and Mary Lamb's *Tales from
Shakespeare*: "[it's] a wonderful retelling of Shakespeare, wonderfully
faithful to the ethos and spirit of the plays, and wonderfully well
written."

The Web address is:  http://homearts.com/depts/relat/hbloomf1.htm

And for the grown-ups, I believe that we only have to wait until
November for Bloom's major study of Shakespeare,  entitled *Shakespeare:
the Invention of the Human*.  At 800 pages,  it should be well worth the
wait.

Simon Malloch.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tanya Gough <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 11:46:23 -0400
Subject:        Getting Children Interested

One of my friends has an eight year old - a hellish rapscallion
impossible to control in most circumstances.  And yet, when his father
brings him into the store on the occasional Sunday, he marches straight
up to the counter and *demands* either the HBO Animated Hamlet or
Macbeth.  Whereupon he sits transfixed and (mostly) silently for a full
half hour.

You might also consider picking up the Shakespeare Can Be Fun series by
(Stratford's own) Lois Burdett.  The series came out of classroom
exercises with elementary school kids, who end up with a better sense of
the play at the age of ten than most high school kids I know.  Our local
bookstore, Fanfare, can put you in touch with the author or furnish more
information.  They can be reached at 
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  .

Tanya Gough
Poor Yorick - CD & Video Emporium

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter S. Donaldson <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 12:38:02 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0633  Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0633  Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

My recommendation:  see either a good or a youthful live production (or
one that is both youthful and good) with children and discuss it. Pick a
play for there is at least one and preferably two films available on
tape.  Children love to check back, replay, answer and ask "trivia"
questions that can take them into the "questions of the play" and expose
them to the variety of possible answers in text and performance.  The
best medium, to date, is laserdisc (low end players are not inexpensive,
but they are a fraction of the cost of the overly large TVs people now
buy).  Even the cheapest provides a superb image and precise access to
materials to replay and enjoy.  My own children were introduced to
Shakespeare through reading aloud, college productions, and CED discs,
the needle-run predecessors to laserdisc.  Family discussions centered
around Modern Times, the Maltese Falcon, Young Frankenstein and
Olivier's Hamlet for years, and were structured as games of visual and
verbal memory (now commonly referred to as "trivia.")  When does the
blind flower girl notice the tramp in City Lights? If "To be or not to
be" is the question, what is the answer? When my eight year old daughter
found interesting answers and could find and play them, I came to
believe we'd made a useful investment.  My own parents, though literary,
were not very theatrical.  Gielgud's "Ages of Man" on Caedmon was a good
early experience, and high school memorization a somewhat comical one.
Reading King Lear on my own in high school (NOT the required Julius
Caesar or the expurgated Romeo) was decisive, as was seeing Morris
Carnovsky as Lear at Stratford Connecticut.  As a child I think I
responded most to the ways in which questions of gender and sexuality
were suppressed in school yet irrepressible in Shakespeare.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 Jul 1998 09:50:14 -0700
Subject: 9.0631  Questions, Questions, Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0631  Questions, Questions, Questions

Drew Whitehead asks how to get children interested in Shakespeare:

I had the good fortune of having a wonderful Shakespeare Children's
Theater group in my neighborhood when my kids were little. My seven year
old took me to a performance (of Macbeth), and begged to be allowed to
join. My four girls all got involved, the seven year old was a marvelous
Puck the following year, the youngest a delightful Peaseblossom. The
group did one play per semester, and had performances at local schools
and community centers.  Children and parents all went together in a
group (cheaper that way) to see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park
or to the Connecticut Stratford. Lifelong friendships were formed, and a
lifelong love of Shakespeare. I suggest you and other Shakespeare
enthusiasts start such a group. It's a hell of an alternative to drugs!

Stephanie Hughes

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 19:44:17 +0100
Subject: Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 9.0633 Re: Getting Children Interested in Shakespeare

I agree with many who recommend hands-on participation, or live theatre
visits, and getting as close to the actors as you possibly can.

The sheer vigor and physical presence of actors strutting their stuff,
men and women delivering emotions at a pitch of intensity that rarely
happens in 'real' life, and for kids of TV age, to be THAT close to real
people getting into the interactions that occur on stage is
awe-inspiring. Even plays as abstruse as Hamlet can hold many kids for
at least half of its inordinate length.

I recently took a group of world-weary 16 year olds to the Globe, to see
' Merchant of Venice' a play that I quite deliberately chose simply
because they had NEVER studied, nor are likely ever to study for
upcoming Literature courses. In the morning, after a four hour train
ride, we had a workshop on the Trial scene in Act 4, yes, stumbling
around both words and movements. BUT in the theatre that same afternoon,
they were intent, asked all the basic quiet questions as we went along -
is that another Jew as he's wearing a red hat? And that's the Lady
Portia - I know because she's wearing nobby clothes, and everyone bows
to her. And it's night because they keep on saying so, and one of them
is carrying a flaming torch.  And, best of all, one of my team whispered
to me as Morocco postured in one of the casket scenes, 'Well, I hope he
doesn't get her', but as he trooped off very sad, clearly in tears, my
whisperer turned to me and shrugged, saying 'well, that's really sad-
he's really hurt - and in front of all these people. What a downer!' So
in the space of five minutes, this 16 year old BOY was really struggling
to deal with how dramatists manipulate audiences.

The Globe is excellent: you can get VERY close, you can walk about, you
can ask a neighbouring adult what's going on when you're not sure, and
so be kept in touch. The verdict form my team:
'brilliant!' I have to say that it was the ONLY performance I have ever
seen which did practically every line of the text - except to one of my
lads' intense scorn, that Shylock left out the line about urine being
unrestrained when he hears a bagpipe - a bit he had remembered from the
workshop in the morning. I suspect that the actor simply omitted out of
memory loss rather than sanctioned cut.  The sheer length of the show
would have deterred all but the hardiest and ardent, but my lads were on
the end of thr stick more or less throughout. including an astonishing
and majorly ill-judged 'warm-up' in the interval by the Gobbo actor - an
otherwise excellent commedia del arte strutter of stuff. 13 year old
girls are, en masse, not the least suggestible of audiences, but our
Gobbo simplyset about extreme winding up to concert pitch, to the extent
that just before the interval ended, the stage was pelted with empty
coke bottles. People came from backstage to assist in clear-up, but
there was a pretty serious sense of humour failure all round on stage in
this process - remember that the Trial Scene actors were behind the rear
doors itching to get on, and one can only imagine the rage and spleen of
both actors and stage management as this comic mayhem was being
unloosed. 'let your clowns say no more than is set down for them' Oh,
Will, you never spoke a truer word! As an insightful piece of impromptu
theatre within theatre it was a wonderful demo of what the Elizabethan
playhouse may well have been like.

So, to cut to the chase:  get the kids getting their hands dirty;
performing, fighting, acting, dating, kissing, spitting the lines - not
ALL of them, the best. Then get them to re-tell the story. THEN the
video. I am not, as a professional teacher of 12-18 year olds, in favour
of passive video-gawping, until  the sweat is up after they have been on
their feet, getting THEIR heads round the material.  They will watch the
video with far more active interest and critical judgement than on video
alone.

To many on the thread,  and others, and this is truly sexist, get the
boys you own to work at the fights in plays - most plays have one or
more. Work at those, explain the characters involved, then the lead up,
then the conseqeunces. i.e. contextualise. Get girls to react to the
Egeus / Hermia / Demetrius / Lysander spat in Act 1 of MND, or the
explosive rage of Mr Capulet with recalcitrant Juliet, or Lear with
Cordelia. Try both boys and girls with JUST Macbeth Act 1 sc 7, then the
scene in which Lady M waits, then the scene between them when M returns
from duffing Duncan, then fast forward to the Banquet scene.  Get them
to walk it through, telling you what they are doing as they do it,
explaining their thoughts. Get two BOYS to act M and Lady M and you get
a VERY interesting take on her masculinity - as M actually says of her.
Then perhaps get the same scene done between two girls? Watch the
differences. this kind of gender reversal works well: girls love to do
the fighting too, and they can sometimes illustrate it well. likewise,
then ask some boys to one of the kissing ad cuddling scenes: they won't,
but the reasons they won't are always interesting, and THEN you can slip
in the stuff about boy-actors, and watch them suddenly have to take it
all seriously, especially when the girls tell the boys how deadly
serious the love bits are, or how desperate the emotions are. THEN
challenge the boys to produce the scenes in their own way, away from the
prying eyes of the girls You will find some odd, and illuminating
solutions being proposed. This is actually easier in families than in
the classroom. Mums and Dads can participate too.

Sorry, I have gone on a long time, and who reads this far in a posting
anyway! But this is a major thread: we can argue scholarly minutiae
until the crack of doom, but if there are no young punters to challenge,
overturn our prejudices and suppositions, then what on earth are we
preaching at them for day in, day out in classrooms?  The man has to be
real, not because he's a sacred cow fed on incense, but because he's
real, and now. Get in touch if I can be of any further help.

Here endeth the lesson......... for now!!!

Stuart Manger
 

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