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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Place of Performance in English Lit Classes
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0327  Tuesday, 5 February 2002

From:           Jay Johnson <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 04 Feb 2002 12:10:56 -0700
Subject:        Place of Performance in English Lit Classes (was High School
and College

On Wednesday, 30 Jan. Alan J. Sanders wrote,

>>Jay:

>>My apologies if: 1) I misunderstood your original note which
>>read to me as a question of how do some people manage to put on
>>an entire production in the same time-frame in which you stage
>>the condensed versions (allowing the students the time they need
>>to dedicate to their other classes and academic interests); and
>>2) I inferring in the slightest that you were trying to
>>dumb-down your texts or your productions.

Alan:

Thank you for your very thoughtful and interesting reply.  If my
response to your first posting was at all prickly, I apologize.  I see
what you mean about intense, long-term preparation, and I agree that the
closer and closer a director gets to his script, the more effective
rehearsals can be, and the more quickly productions can be prepared.

But my real concern is elsewhere.  What I would really like to
understand is the place of performance in high school and 1st and 2nd
year university English literature classes where Shakespeare (and other
dramatic literature) is being taught (especially in semester length
courses).  I know that there are many different kinds of people on this
huge listserv, but I think the sub-group of teachers, instructors, and
professors of English lit who teach Shakespeare must be substantial.

All of these educators know that dramatic literature, having been
written to assist actors to perform to public audiences, differs
markedly from all other kinds of literature--in fact, it differs
dramatically-- but how do most teachers, instructors, and professors
deal with this elementary fact:

  1. Some might talk or lecture about it in class, pointing out some of
the
     ways we read plays differently from, say, novels.
  2. Some might take their class on a field trip to see a live
production
     if they are lucky enough to live where productions are available.
  3. Some might bring movies or videos in the classroom and show all or
     part of a production, or compare two different performances of a
     particular scene.
  4. Some professors might have their students, sitting in their seats,
     read the lines of characters in the play.
  5. Some might clear space in the middle of class and have students
"walk
     through" a particular scene doing  basic blocking and staging.
  6. Some might ask their students, working either alone or with one or
two
     classmates, to choose a scene and work it up on their own to
present
     to the rest of the class on Performance Day late in the term.
  7. Some might organize their class to work as a group to perform a
     substantial scene or even a whole act from a play.
  8. Some might organize their class to work as a group to perform a
whole,
     though substantially cut, play.
  9. Some might organize their class to work as a group to perform a
whole
     uncut play.

With the exception of the last choice on the list, I have done all of
these activities in my classes.  I wonder what other people in my
situation are doing?  How important is the concept of performance to
teachers, instructors, and professors of English literature who teach
Shakespeare and other dramatic literature?  There are so many other
literary and scholarly demands to consider and deal with within the
ambit of a 42 hour / 14 week semester, and, after all, this is a
LITERATURE course, not a DRAMA course.

My personal opinion is that performance has such a tremendous
integrative quality that doing as much of it as possible-- considering
all the other literary things that need to be done--is entirely
justified.  Many, perhaps most, of my students have never attended any
live theatrical performance let alone a live Shakespeare performance,
and few if any have acted in one.  When I do class performance, I expect
memorization and attention to direction, but I'm not marking my students
on acting ability.  The point of the exercise is to give my students an
experience that integrates many of the literary aspects (such as
character study and metrics) with the physical and emotional effects of
performing a role on a stage in front of an audience.

I would be interested in hearing the opinions and experiences regarding
performance in the classroom of other teachers, instructors, or
professors of English literature who teach Shakespeare at the high
school and undergraduate level.

Cheers,
Jay Johnson

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