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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Place of Performance
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0339  Wednesday, 6 February 2002

[1]     From:   Laura Blankenship <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Feb 2002 23:16:43 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0327 Place of Performance

[2]     From:   John V. Knapp <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Feb 2002 23:24:04 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Response to Re: SHK 13.0327 Place of Performance

[3]     From:   David Wallace <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Feb 2002 08:46:36 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0327 Place of Performance


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laura Blankenship <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Feb 2002 23:16:43 -0500
Subject: 13.0327 Place of Performance in English Lit Classes
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0327 Place of Performance in English Lit Classes

I agree with Jay that performance is extremely important in teaching
Shakespeare.  I've done reading and staging to demonstrate how a scene
might be played.  I also constantly ask, "So how would this look on
stage?  Where would the people be?  What props would you have?  What
tone should the actor have?"  These questions sometimes inspire stunned
silence.  But I persist.  I have also created web pages with visuals and
links to visuals so that students can see in still version what the play
might look like.  I shun movies in general because they take up a lot of
time and I end up with sleeping students.  I do encourage students to
view films on their own if they like and even write a paper than
compares the movie to the play.

An interesting thing is happening in my current course where I'm
teaching a play and then an adaptation of the play.  Right now we're
finishing up A Thousand Acres, an adaptation of King Lear.  Generally my
students have said that the novel "fills in" a lot of the details and
"has more character development."  Perhaps there's some way to encourage
them to use the novel to help "fill in" the details of King Lear.  That
is one thing, I guess, that adaptations try to do.  Staged, I think
Lear's details fill in pretty clearly.  It's true though that
motivations are somewhat less clear--one of the key sticking points that
engenders much discussion.

I guess my point is that performance certainly does help students really
understand the play and brings it to life.  My sense is, from my
students, is that they lack the ability to imagine the physicality of
the play.  In fact, many of my students admitted on the first day of
class that they had never seen a play.  Though what Jay is trying to do
is to involve the students in the actual performance, being an audience
member is also enlightening.  Perhaps there's a way to do a few
scenes--or cut versions--and include all aspects--to really stage the
play, even if it's only for the class.  Have sets, sound effects, etc.,
just on a much tighter budget.  And I would think you would need to
discuss the effect, from both sides of the "curtain."

What about having students in groups do a play (maybe even uncut) and
videotape it?  This could be done as a final project.

I'm thinking out loud to some degree, but I think Jay is on to something
interesting.

Laura Blankenship

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John V. Knapp <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Feb 2002 23:24:04 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Re: SHK 13.0327 Place of Performance in English
Comment:        Response to Re: SHK 13.0327 Place of Performance in English
Lit Classes

Jay Johnson --

If you're not already familiar with it, I might recommend the following
essay collection on teaching S.  The collection is somewhat uneven: some
good essays; some not-so-good.

Ronald E. Salomone & James E. Davis, eds., *Teaching Shakespeare into
the Twenty-First Century.*  Athens: Ohio State UP, 1997.

Cheers,
JVK

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Feb 2002 08:46:36 -0800
Subject: 13.0327 Place of Performance in English Lit Classes
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0327 Place of Performance in English Lit Classes

> 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

Jay,

I teach both Drama and English at the high school level. I'm afraid that
the size and composition of my English classes has prevented me from
incorporating student performance in any really substantial way. An
ordinary English class might include 10-12 students for whom English is
a second (3rd or 4th) language, 2 or 3 students with a designated
learning disability, 1 or 2 garden variety incorrigibles, a sleeper, and
a dozen native speakers of various dispositions and aptitudes. I show
and lecture from video. I invite students to perform short scenes with
me. I set aside several classes to have students perform key scenes,
some of which I edit substantially to make them easier for inexperienced
students to "sight read". Without doubt, I think it important to have
English students read aloud from Shakespeare. It helps demystify the
language, it can be fun, and it provides variety to classroom routine.
I've had limited success. My students enjoy my classes and tell me I'm
one of the "good" teachers. I'll have to take their word for it because
I'm not satisfied that I'm working to my potential and I feel certain
that they aren't.

On the other hand, I've had moderate success with students performing
Shakespeare in senior acting class and have had decided success with
students performing full length Shakespeare as an extra-curricular
activity. In fact, as far as Shakespeare goes, my best teaching/learning
conditions occur after school - a circumstance which provides me with no
financial compensation and the students with no direct academic credit.
Wouldn't it be pleasant if schools had sufficient flexibility to allow
me to be paid for what I do well and students to receive credit for
demonstrating "learning outcomes" in a very concrete fashion?

A professional acting company could easily spend a hundred hours in
rehearsal preparing a fairly routine production of any given play. A
really ambitious production would take more time. A hundred hours is
pretty close to my entire contact time with an English class over the
course of a year. In that time I will generally handle a couple or three
novels, a Shakespeare, a unit on short fiction, and a unit on poetry -
weekly grammar and usage lessons, media, creative writing and so on. If
I abandoned all else to Shakespeare, sure I could get something
intriguing accomplished with even my most "challenging" English class.
But would it be worth it? If you gave me 20 motivated students for 6-8
hours a day over the course of a month - no sweat. I could perform the
whole canon over the course of five years. But schools aren't organized
that way. They are organized like factories. There is no question that
high school students (and under grads) can do a credible job of
performing Shakespeare (or any other playwright). A bit of creativity in
the way we schedule classes could facilitate such endeavours. I'm sure
teachers in other disciplines could accomplish all manner of
extraordinary things given a little flexibility. But, presently, simple
things such as a field trip may involve losing a day's pay, spending
many hours on paperwork, and enduring the complaints of other teachers
who feel their students are losing valuable class time.

When we stop managing our schools like factories, when we oblige
students to really take charge of their own education, and when we allow
teachers and administrators to get creative with time management - well
you won't have this problem. Will you?

Cheers,
David Wallace

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