Today, four of my students accompanied me to the first of three Globe Education Academy workshops at the UC Davis Mondavi Center. We entered through the actor’s entrance, and found ourselves ushered on stage. My students’ jaws dropped. Most of them have never been to a large theater before, and here they were on stage staring at all 1801 seats. As they took in the immensity of the building, one of them asked, “Can we go to a performance?” (As I write this, I have the 2012-2013 Mondavi Center calendar open next to me looking for possible performances to take them to.)
This first session was lead by Margot Gunn from Globe Education in London. She was nothing short of fantastic. Immediately, we were up out of our seats. She led us through some warm ups that began with walking, stopping, clapping, and jumping on command, and increasingly became more interactive. (And yes, I took note. As a shy person I was amazed that the way she structured our activities to increasingly become more interactive made me feel safe right away. By the end of our time together, I was acting in front of the entire group with no qualms.)
The focus of today’s workshop was working with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Margot set the stage by splitting us into two groups facing each other. One half of us took on the role of Hermia, and the other half that of Helena. She explained to the students that our characters started off as wonderful friends and led us through an activity where we greeted each other with the line “Whither away?” (“Where are you going?”) First, we greeted each other as friends. Then she introduced the conflict of the story: that Helena and Hermia’s friendship was destroyed because of a boy! She led us through saying the same line to each other, but as enemies.
She then began to explain the complicated love triangles in the play. Grabbing a group of four, she had them stand in a line and said, “You are Helena.” Grabbing another four students, she lined them up and said, “You are Demetrius. Helena is in love with you, but that’s a problem, because you love…” She grabs another four students. “Hermia! And this is a problem because she is in love with…” She grabs another four. “Lysander. Which is great, because he loves her.” She went through these relationships, having us point to each character in question and repeating the relationships with her. Once we had it down, she had each group of characters run off into the “forest.”
After a short break, she reminded us of these relationships and then split us up into three large groups. She explained to the students that in the forest there were three groups of characters. First, there were the fairies. She asked that large group to–in five seconds–create a group statue that would represent the fairies. She repeated this task with group two, the lovers, having them create a group statue of overly dramatic teenage lovers. Finally, with group three, the builders/actors, she had us create a group statue of the worst acting we could. With these images in place, she added to the complexity and gave each group a line to repeat. (My students and I, as actors, got to stab ourselves saying “Thus I die!” and fall dramatically to the ground.) Margot pointed to each group and had us perform our short line and action. And then pointed again. And again. Until, finally, the entire stage was full of loud, engaged teachers and students.
Once the stage was set for the forest, Margot told us that we’d be going back now to check in on the lovers. She told us to pair up. One of us would be a “magnet” and the other “metal.” Only this magnet (Demetrius) was faulty. He did not want to be connected with the metal of Helena. Each character got a line:
With our partner we had a chance to play with those lines while Helena followed Demetrius. She paused us to point out some techniques that the Helenas were using to try to convince Demetriuses (begging, cornering, etc.), and the tricks that Demetriuses were using to avoid the Helenas. She then gave us new lines:
Demetrius: I love thee not!
Helena: You draw me!
Again, we were to play with these lines with our partners, fully encouraged to be up and moving. Then two more lines were added:
Demetrius: I am sick when I do look on thee!
Helena: And I am sick when I look not on you!
At this point, she picked a few groups to perform for the group at large. One of my students and I got chosen third, and got a few more lines added in, and worked out the actions that would go with these lines with prompting from Margot. It looked something like this:
Demetrius/me: (Looks frustrated, arms in the air in exasperation) I love thee not!
Helena/student: (Arms reach to Demetrius) You draw me!
Demetrius: I am sick when I do look on thee!
Helena: (Falls to her knees) And I am sick when I look not on you! I am your spaniel. (Reaches and grabs onto Demetrius’ legs.)
Demetrius: (Trips and falls) I’ll leave thee to the mercy of wild beasts! (Drags himself away and out of Helena’s grasp)
Helena: (Stands and chases after Demetrius)
Lastly, Margot reintroduced Titiana and Oberon. Again, we paired up and worked with some lines from the play. (Again, she added one line at a time.)
Oberon: Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.
Titania: What, jealous Oberon?
Oberon: Am not I thy lord?
Titania: Then I must be thy lady.
Oberon: Give me that boy!
Titania: No. Fairies, away!
She asked the students, “So who won this conversation?” They all yelled, “Titania!” When asked why they responded with, “She left!”
My big take-aways from this workshop:
- Get students up and active from the start. Gradually build in interaction. Always keep students acting as a group. It will make the shyest among your students much more confident and equal participation.
- You don’t have to use all of the lines. None of the lines above are the full text. There are lots of lines that are missing. What is key is that she chose short lines that students could remember, allowed them time to practice before adding more lines, and chose lines that got to the heart of the scene. My students never saw a single line of text, but left with a very solid understanding of the set up for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They also got to play with the language long before they will ever see it.
So what did the kids think? They l-o-v-e-d it. The entire ride home was full of, “That was so much fun!” and “I can’t wait until the next workshop! When is it again?” I even got a “Learning is fun!”
And you know, when my kids are excited, that makes me even more excited. Can’t wait for next time.