Globe Education Academy: Day 9

Before classes started on Day 9, I grabbed a mocha from Paul and walked with Sue and Rhiann to Borough Market.  Works cannot express how much I love Borough Market.  I bought tea for my husband, discovered Spice Mountain and wanted to stay there all day, tasted Rhiann’s chocolate croissant… And then realized that we had to get ourselves to class.

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We began with a debrief of our performances from the night before, and was followed with some practice at cutting scenes.  In November, our students will be putting on a production of Taming of the Shrew in Mondavi’s Studio Theater.  We have been told that each of our scenes (remember, we’ve divided Shew into twelve scenes) can take no more than 5 minutes.  This means we will need to cut–a lot.

P1080479To practice, Margo gave us the wedding scene from Much Ado About Nothing, where Hero’s chastity is called into question.  We first divided it into mini scenes, and then as small groups chose one of those scenes to cut.  We then “performed” each of our cuts to the rest of the group.  Margo’s consistent feedback was that we did a great job cutting, but that we probably could have cut a little more.

This idea of “cutting” Shakespeare was, well, freeing.  Sometimes I think we look at Shakespeare and think, “Oh.  He’s cannon.  He cannot be touched.”  But really, who says that you can’t pare things down and make it more accessible for your kids–especially if they’ve never read Shakespeare before?  Kids need to feel success with something small, before they can build up to something larger.  If that means cutting a scene and looking at just that small part in depth, then so be it!

After quickly eating my Waitrose salad, I ran back to Borough Market with the rest of the group.  We picked up some French cheese, yogurt, and strawberries to have as snacks during the performance of The Tempest.  I also tasted Helen’s toasted cheese sandwich.  Apparently, it’s the “best toasted cheese sandwich in the world,” made by Kappacasein.  (It was pretty amazing–and I’m not even a huge fan of melted cheese.)

Photo courtesy of Kelley

Photo courtesy of Kelley

Then we made our way to the Globe for a reward: The Tempest.  This, hands down, was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.  They really made use of the entire theater.  A character descended from heaven.  Another came up from under the stage (hell).  Characters not only entered through the groundlings, but could be seen in the balconies listening in on conversations.  When some characters stood in the upper galleries and threw out flower petals that rained down upon the audience, I was entranced!  It even rained during the performance, and I know this sounds silly but I felt like that made it more of an authentic experience.

The actor who played Ariel was Colin Morgan, Merlin on the TV show “Merlin.”  I was sitting behind a few rows of British schoolboys, and when he appeared on the stage one of them excitedly turned to his friends and whispered, “Is that Merlin?!”  To make my day even more complete, a young woman–a groundling dressed in a bright pink shirt–would sigh and bat her eyes at Mr. Morgan every time he came on stage.  For a while I forgot to pay attention to the performance and just watched her for awhile.  She was rather amusing.

I had tentatively planned to stand in line after The Tempest to see if I could get return tickets for Macbeth (which would be performed that evening), but after such a long week I could feel the exhaustion hitting me.  I didn’t even walk home as usual.  I hopped on the bus.  Thank goodness Rhiann was with me and kept me talking, because in spite of that I felt myself falling asleep.

If she hadn’t been there this would be a completely different blog post, where I discussed waking up somewhere in the middle of London on a double decker bus and having to find my way home.  But alas (for you), I lived the more boring version: doing laundry, packing, eating Waitrose’s tomato and basil (with a touch of balsamic vinegar!) soup, enjoying a snack at the Betsy Trotwood, reading, and sleep.

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Workshop #3

Today, three students and I attended the last of our Shakespeare workshops for this semester.  This time, we met at the Three Stages Theater at Folsom Lake College.  This is a really incredible theater.  There are three stages (for varying types of performances and audience size), a recording studio, a costume workshop, and a scene workshop.  Unlike Mondavi which specializes in touring performances who bring their own sets, costumes, etc., Three Stages puts together shows from scratch.  Having toured Mondavi several times, it was interesting to take a backstage tour of a very different theater.

After some warming up that involved moving around and learning a few names, we split into groups of six.  In turn, each group came to center stage.  They were given a description that they had to create a tableaux of in 3 seconds.  Working together, we created tableaux that demonstrated girlishness, war, nervousness, exhaustion.  By having us react in 3 seconds, it forced us to go with our guts.  By getting us up in front of each other right away, it helped any nervousness disappear.

We then turned our attention to Taming of the Shrew.  We were divided into two groups: men on one side of the room and women on the other.  Using lines from 2.1 of the play (where Petrichio and Kate meet), we began to play with dialogue.  For example, the gentlemen amongst us as a group would say the line “Good morrow, Kate; for that’s your name, I hear.”  They decided to say it in unison while walking purposefully towards the line of females playing Kate.  It was up to the women to respond with “Well have you heard, but something hard of hearing: / They call me Katherine that do talk of me” in a way that showed just as much purpose.

After a brief break, we came back and worked with iambic pentameter.  We were each given a balloon to blow up.  After a brief review of iambic pentameter, we looked through Petruchio’s speech (just prior to meeting Kate), and selected a line to learn.  First, we practiced by ourselves, saying our line aloud and hitting the balloon to keep it up in the air each time we got to a stressed syllable.  Then we took this show on the road.  One at a time, we were asked to do the same line, but instead of standing in place to push the balloon across the stage.  What this did was forced us to emphasize the stressed syllables.  It also helped us not to become quiet with the last word.

Now, an actor isn’t going to get on stage and say their lines entirely in iambic pentameter.  What meter does is help you to understand what words are important and should be stressed.  So in

And woo her with some spirit when she comes,

I might decide that woo, spirit, and comes are important for the meaning of the line.  The line then becomes

And woo her with some spirit when she comes

when acting it out on stage.  Balloons in hand, we said our lines now emphasizing the important words.

Workshop #2

Waiting in my e-mail yesterday afternoon was my Globe Education Academy Summer Residency info!  Fourteen glorious pages answering every question I could ever come up with regarding my life in London for two and a half weeks.  It’s currently printed and sitting on my coffee table along with my Fodor’s London travel guide.  I’m getting excited!

Also in recent news: Today my students and I attended the second of our Globe Theater workshops at UC Davis.

The focus of this workshop was rehearsal.  After a few warmups (including a demonstration of living iambic pentameter), we found partners and were assigned a scene from Taming of the Shrew to rehearse.  We were given no other instructions.  My partner Rhiann–a fellow-teacher participant–and I were assigned a scene between Bianca and Katharina from Act 2, and energetically went about rehearsing our scene.

After a short break, our facilitator asked us what we had done to rehearse and asked if what we had done had really helped us to understand the text or the characters’ motivation.  He introduced a five-step method of rehearsal that he advocates, and then led two different pairs through this rehearsal process in front of the group:

Step 1: Simply read through the text.  You’re not acting here.  You’re just reading from beginning to end, getting a sense for the text.

Step 2: Talk about it.  Ask questions like:

  • What’s the context?
  • What are the characters talking about?
  • Why are they talking?  What’s their purpose?
  • How do the characters feel?
  • Are there any words that I don’t know?  Anything that I just don’t understand?  (And get those clarified.)

Step 3: Put down the script and improvise.  One thing that we all noticed was that by holding the script in front of us, we weren’t interacting with our acting partner.  Instead, we were focusing on saying the words correctly in the right order.  Taking our responses to step 2, we were encouraged to put down the script and improvise our way through the scene.  By improvising, you learn motivations behind the characters’ words.  You also apply the answers to the questions that you asked in step 2 to your acting.  We were encouraged not to focus entirely on doing it right.  Just as much can be learned by making mistakes–you learn what you don’t want to do in a scene.

Step 4: Talk about it.  Go through the improvised scene and talk about what worked and what didn’t.  What would you keep for performance, and what would you leave out.  What you learned about the character you portrayed and the character you interacted with.

Step 5: Read through the script a second time.  Here, you’re not necessarily standing up and acting.  What you’re doing is reading it through and noticing what makes more sense now about your scene.  (What you’ll see, though, is that students will read through this time with more emphasis, inflection, and passion.)

Now the part that I love: the drive home with the kids.  I never have to ask them what they thought, and I never have to ask them how we can use it in class.  They tell me.  As we drove back to Sacramento, Brianna told me all of the ways that we could have used this strategy in class this year.  She thought it would have been great if we had used it with the novels we read (like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird).  She said that going through a similar process with important pieces of dialogue in a book would have helped her understand the characters and their motivations a lot better.  (She also is excited that we’ll definitely be using this strategy when reading Romeo and Juliet.)

My takeaways:

  • I think I’m going to attempt the living iambic pentameter with my kids.  I think it’s a great way to introduce them to the idea of meter that is both kinesthetic- and audio-oriented.
  • I am definitely going to have my students use this rehearsal protocol in class in order to help them interpret the text.  (Besides, I promised Brianna I would!)  I think my next step is to go through the play and determine which sections we’ll attack through activities like Reader’s Theater, this protocol, etc.  I like this protocol, because not only do I think it helps kids get to a deeper understanding of the text, but it also changes up how we attack our in-class reading.

Workshop #1

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.

Screen shot 2013-02-25 at 8.31.10 PMShe 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:

Demetrius: No.

Helena: Yes!

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.