The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0190  Friday, 25 January 2002

From:           Jay Johnson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 19:55:22 -0700
Subject:        High School and College Productions

To the list:

When I posted several weeks ago to this short-lived thread describing my
experience of producing shortened or condensed versions of Shakespeare's
plays, the reaction was dismissive and perhaps a bit morally indignant.
Billy Houck said:

   << Yes, I have seen many published one-act versions of Shakespeare
plays....No, I do not use them. The only editing of plays I ever do is
production purposes only.>>

and Stephen Manger said:

    <<There are indeed excellent and useful single act / hugely cut
versions of the plays perhaps more for classroom introduction, but does
anyone share with me the view that to use such versions as a college /
school main show is a tad patronising to both casts and audiences?>>

I remain unrepentant and unconvinced that putting on student productions
of condensed versions of Shakespeare's plays symbolises such a
slackening departure from good practice that they are somehow
embarrassing, and I would like to take a few minutes of the list's time
to make my case more fully.

First, let me admit to being  in awe of all of you who testified about
your experiences of presenting full-length Shakespearean plays in

Stuart Manger said:  <<My place regularly do Shakespeare in 8-9 weeks
8 hours a week only as rehearsal times, three -four performances, up to
three hours per night.>>
Virginia Byrnes said:  <<I produce full length Shakespeare plays  in a 7
week period..2 afternoons a week  2 hours a day..they  are bright and
shows are strong.>>

and Billy Houck said:  <<We regularly produce full-length Shakespeare
in a 5-8 week rehearsal period meeting five days a week for two hours a

To all of you and others out there who are capable of bringing to
fruition a full-length play with student cast and crew in such
circumstances, I take my hat off to you.  But I wonder how many of you
there are out there, especially in North America.  I wonder how many
teachers  of English in Canadian and American high schools and undergrad
colleges put on full-length Shakespearean plays every year, or even
every other year.

And I wonder if those of you who testified are drama teachers or English
teachers.  I am an English teacher; I teach (among other courses) "Intro
to Dramatic Literature" (1st year) and "Intro to Shakespeare" (2nd
year).  Though these are English classes, I regularly include a
performance requirement which I spell out in my Course Objectives (#4
out of 5): The student successfully completing this class will develop
an appreciation of the theatrical, production dimension of Shakespeare's
work through some kind of performance assignment.

Sometimes this requirement is filled by students choosing their own
scenes, individually or in small groups, working them up over several
weeks and then presenting them during Performance Day; sometimes the
requirement is filled through a Readers Theatre performance of a
substantial chunk of text (such as MV 4:1 "The Trial Scene"); but most
recently and most satisfactorily it has been filled by a class
production of a Shakespearean play which I have shortened to one-act.
These are the most fun, though they also take the most effort.

Performance is obviously a very important element in my classes, but it
is not the only, or even the most important, element.  In a 14-week
class where we have to read  6-8 plays and study them from a variety of
perspectives (structural, historical, metrical, figural, and rhetorical,
etc.--not to mention just simply assisting freshmen students to gain a
reasonable level of understanding of plot and character), performance
cannot hijack the whole course.  And this course is only one of five
that a full-time student takes, in addition to extra-curricular
activities, sports, work, and, for many, families.  But I can and do
devote some in-class time and expect extensive out-of-class time to
enable students to fulfill their Performance requirement.  We are able
to mount a very effective one-act Shakesplay in 4 or 5 weeks, without it
taking over our lives.

It is my intuitive opinion that in the vast majority of highschool and
college English (not drama) classes, where Shakespeare is studied, the
closest that most students get to performance is to sit in their seats
and read the lines of a character.  Or perhaps, a teacher might clear
some classroom space and go through some very basic blocking for a
particular scene.  Or some, like I have done, might require students to
work up a scene.  I think that very few English teachers, on the whole,
have much if any formal drama training (by which I mean theatrical,
production training), and though some of these teachers might like to do
more performance work in their classroom, the thought of mounting a
full-length play is daunting in the extreme.

The process of condensing a play can be quite interesting and even
somewhat creative.  One aims for a script that runs about 45-50 minutes,
that has a clear throughline and sense of unity, and that shares lines
fairly equitably between characters.  When I am working on a script, I
cut lines out of speeches, I cut whole speeches and even scenes, I cut
whole characters, and I cut subplots.  But I do not rewrite and
modernize; when I am finished the words are all still Shakespeare's.
These one-act versions are intended only for performance, and when one
is selected for performance, the full-length text is carefully studied
beforehand.  I am not attempting to palm off Shakespeare-Lite on my
students; they know clearly the difference between the full text and the
acting text.

I have done several of these condensations, and I am working on more.
It is my intention to publish these, together with an introductory
section dealing with practical production issues such as direction,
blocking, staging, sets, and speaking Shakespearean verse.  This is
intended as a resource for high school and college teachers of English
who  teach dramatic literature and respect performance but do not have
the dramatic training to undertake as much performance work in the
classroom as they would like.

If you would like to examine my condensed version of "Twelfth Night,"
please go to this website:


Yours sincerely,
Jay Johnson
Medicine Hat College

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