Sacramento Shakespeare Festival: Julius Caesar

P1080572Last night, Adam and I attended the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival‘s production of Julius Caesar.  

Every year, the festival performs two of the Bard’s plays (this year: Caesar and Twelfth Night) in the amphitheater in William Land Park.   Performances start at either 6pm or 8pm, just in time for the overbearing heat of the Sacramento summer to start to be tamed by the coming of night.  People come with their picnic baskets in hand, and munch happily away while watching that night’s production.

This performance of Julius Caesar chose to make Caesar a woman, and the actress playing Caesar was fantastic.  Hands down, she was the best actor on stage.  What I wasn’t sure about was the choice to make her “Julia Caesar” and therefore change Shakespeare’s text throughout the play.  “He” became “she.”  “Man” became “woman.”  Now I know that I said in a prior post that Shakespeare isn’t sacred — we can edit it.  What I’m not sure about is changing his words completely — it throws off the meter of the line in some cases.  I almost wonder if this actress could have just played a man’s role — I mean, the Globe did an excellent job of that in their all-female production of Taming of the Shrew.

Chatting with my husband on the way home from the production, I happened upon an idea: Why not try to see all of Shakespeare’s plays performed?  (And, at the same time, get all of them read.)

My current “have watched” list:

  • Julius Caesar — Sacramento Shakespeare Festival (2013)
  • The Tempest — Shakespeare’s Globe (2013), and Sacramento Shakespeare Festival (2008)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream — Shakespeare’s Globe (2013)
  • The Taming of the Shrew — Shakespeare’s Globe (2013)
  • Macbeth — The Mondavi Center, UC Davis (2006)
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona — Sacramento Shakespeare Festival (2006)

And I’m very excited to announce that in early 2014, I’ll have the opportunity to see The Sacramento Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet.  So that would leave just… thirty more plays to go?

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Photo Post #5

These photos are from our second day at the Globe Education Academy.  Included are photos of the copy of the Roubiliac Statue of Shakespeare (1758) at the British Library, the Shakespeare Head Pub, the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, the John Soane Museum, the Shakespeare Monument (1912) at St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe (as well as a photo of St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe), Southwark Cathedral and it’s Shakespeare Monument, and the Globe’s photo of Shakespeare as a 13-year-old (as created by police sketch artists).

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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.

Globe Education Academy: Day 8

Day 8 started with Voice.  Sarah’s goal was to give us pointers for outside voices (to help with our performance) and class control.

Sarah told us that “the Globe isn’t outdoors–it’s a theater without a roof.”  We would benefit from the fact that the Globe is intimate and enclosed.  That said, there were some tricks she wanted us to remember for being on stage:

  • Articulation is key.  Your intention needs to be clear and your direction (both physical and vocal) needs to be clear.
  • You cannot wander.  You cannot let your head float.  Turn your head and body together. You have to direct your audience.
  • If it is very noisy (an airplane flying overhead, for instance), give yourself a break.

As for voice and class control:

  • Prepare your voice daily.  It will last longer and help you be heard.
  • The daily semi-supine position will help you find your breath, relax, and cultivate a sense of calm.
  • Proper alignment and straight posture is key.
  • Don’t lock your knees — it affects the voice by stopping the breath.
  • Quiet, firm speech is more likely to get people’s attention (vs. raising one’s voice).
  • Make them come to you.  Don’t go to them.
  • Think about the value of silence.
  • No one can compete with 30 young kids.  A quiet, positive voice will bring calm.  Be very clear.  Imbue your words with color (pitch/range).  Think before you speak (this gives time to calm yourself).
  • When you’re sick: Use steam for sore throats.

Then it was off to Movement with Gylnn!  After a really good stretch, Glynn had us do a run-through of our scenes so that she could see them.  Then it was time for sitting in a circle for a pep talk to get us ready for the evening performance.

That evening, we had thirty minutes with Margo to calm our nerves and four hours of rehearsal to finalize our performances.  Then it was off to the Globe stage!

P1080491I actually walked onto stage without feeling nervous.  It was amazing.  I hate being up in front of people.  Once, I had to present something at a conference in front of 1000 people, and I couldn’t eat all day.  This, though?  I had been so well prepared by everyone at Globe Education that I was just ready.

Yes, I forgot a line — which completely frustrated me.  I knew my lines cold, and I had since our first rehearsal.  I think I got so caught up in the moment that I looked at Helen (playing Tranio) and it just went right from my head.  This is where I learned to true value of team work, Helen picked up with the next line and the scene was saved.  I was able to get right back into things and stay in character, all because my teammate had my back.

I applied to this program, because I wanted to challenge myself.  I wanted to do something that I was completely not comfortable doing.  Traveling without my husband to London, spending two and a half weeks with people I barely knew ahead of time, and standing on a stage acting pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me a lot about myself and about teaching:

  • Being comfortable in front of a crowd isn’t necessarily a personality trait.  It’s something that we have to build as teachers.  The practitioners at the Globe provided a safe, nurturing environment where I felt comfortable taking risks.  They then provided structured practice time so that we could practice our performance until we were all on the same page and knew our parts cold.  As a teacher, I’m constantly asking my students to get up in front of the class and give presentations, but I’m not sure if I do as good of a job making that as effortless for them as the Globe did for me.
  • When I was on stage, I knew that my team had my back and that we could get through any difficulties.  When things didn’t go as planned, they were able to pick up the slack and the performance moved on.  There were hugs backstage at the end of the performance.  We were a team, and we had grown close not only because we had a common goal and had spent so much time together, but because our director made sure from the beginning to do acting games and warm-ups to start developing that sense of team.  She said that this was a play, and that we would play together.  I think that’s a lovely idea to bring into teaching.  My students work in “teams” all the time, but how often do I let them play together in order for them to build the trust that they need to actually work together?

I’m so glad that I applied to this program.  I’m glad that I was able to stretch myself as an individual, and that I was able to learn so much from some great teachers.  You too can apply by clicking here.

Globe Education Academy: Day 7

Many apologies for so many days between posts.  Our schedule at the Academy didn’t leave a lot of room for blogging, and the jet-lag that I’ve been experiencing didn’t leave a lot of motivation to blog.  I’ll be catching up on the last four days of the Academy throughout this week.  I’ll also be posting photos–yes, long overdue–from my trip.

On Tuesday, we returned to the Globe well-caffeinated, and ready to work.

We started with a two hour session with Margo on “Creating a Production.”  For the first time, we sat down together to tackle the task of putting together our own production of Taming of the Shrew with our students.  Our first goal was to split the play into 12 parts.  (Each of us will be responsible for casting and directing one of these sections, our students eventually performing on stage at Mondavi.)  Margo split us into two groups to come up with a list of sections.  As always, she had us practice what we were learning: creating a tableaux for each of our scenes.  We then compared our lists and compiled one master list.  This was e-mailed to all of us so that we could take a look at it on our “spare time” and come back later in the week to finalize.

Our next session continued our Globe Education Practice.  We worked with Romeo and Juliet.  First, Margo split us into groups of three.  Each group was given three strips of paper that contained key lines from the text (each line representing a separate moment in the play).  We came up with a tableaux for each of the lines.  Then, Margo had us sit in a circle, and began to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet as if it were a fairytale.  When she got to each of the major moments, a group would go up and create their tableaux.  One member of the group would read the line.  They would then sit down and Margo would continue with the story.

I thought that this activity could be great at the beginning of a Shakespeare unit: to preview the play.  It could also really work at the end, to summarize what was learned.  You could also do this for individual scenes.

Next, we turned to a particular scene in Romeo and Juliet (the beginning of 3.1, starting with Tybalt’s entrance).  After reading the scene through with a partner, Margo introduced us to five signs:

  1. To accept: We opened our arms wide
  2. To block: We crossed our arms in an “X” in front of ourselves
  3. To hook: We moved our arm like we were hooking an object
  4. To probe: We pointed and twisted our finger from one side to another
  5. To attack: We made stabbing motions with our pointing finger

We then worked in groups reading the same scene (each person taking on one character).  Our job was to decide which actions went with the words we were speaking.  After time to decide and practice, Margo had groups demonstrate what they had come up with.  What was interesting to note was the different–and valid–reasoning between groups.

Knowing that there would be differences between groups, Margo introduced a protocol in order to ask questions during a group’s demonstration.  We could clap to interrupt and ask a question.  Allowing the class to interrupt and ask a question holds the group presenting accountable to the actions that they had decided upon.

To finish, we looked at a scene between Banquo and Macbeth.  In pairs, we read through the scene.  Margo then introduced the following idea:

  • When your character is attacking, take a step towards your partner.
  • When your character is retreating, take a step away from your partner.
  • When your character is trying to figure things out/maneuver, step to the side to circle your partner.

Again, this got us thinking about the intention behind dialogue.

After two hours of historical dance, we had an hour for dinner and then three hours of rehearsal in preparation for our performance Wednesday night.

How Shakespeare Changed Everything

Last night I picked up Stephen Marche’s How Shakespeare Changed Everything.  The book gets mixed reviews on Goodreads, but I thought I’d give it a chance.  I understand now why it gets mixed reviews.  I myself am about to give it a mixed review, and I’m just one reviewer.

Marche clearly loves Shakespeare.  He claims that he chose Shakespeare as the subject for his PhD because he believed he would never bore him, and was right.  The entire book is a love letter to the Bard.  The problem is that Marche tends to see Shakespeare’s influence in things where it may not be present.  Here is a man who has devoted much of his academic life to the study of one author.  By this point, he really does see him everywhere.

My first problem with the book came with the title.  The book really isn’t so much about How Shakespeare Changed Everything.  This bothered me for 142 pages until Marche finally acknowledged that “all these global effects” that he had been describing are really “accidental by-products of Shakespeare’s power to move individuals.”  Shakespeare himself did not, for example, bring starlings to North America.  It was a person as in-love with Shakespeare as Marche who decided to introduce to North America every bird ever mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.  A more apt title would be How Shakespeare Influenced Everything, which I agree is just not as catchy.

My second problem came with some of the mental leaps that Marche wanted me to take with him.  For example, the back of the book claims that Shakespeare gave us Obama’s presidency.  I find his interpretation of Othello and it’s connection to Obama bizarre–as does the other library patron who scrawled notes in the margins of our now shared book.  Marche goes on to discuss “how little any of [his] questions about race mattered” to his college students in Harlem.  He claims that he would, “bring up the history and no one would want to talk about it” (21).  My suspicion is that, like me, they did not want to take this mental leap with him.

Now, when Marche stuck to history I found the book very engaging.  His discussion of how we quote Shakespeare without knowing it and how we still use words that he coined today was something that I might use in class next year.  His discussion of Romeo and Juliet and adolescence gave me ideas for this year’s final exam.  (More on that later.)  I had no idea that John Wilke’s Booth had performed in a production of Julius Caesar with his brother prior to Lincoln’s assassination–and later wrote prior to being shot that he did “what Brutus was honoured for” (90).  In my research about the Globe I hadn’t come across this little tidbit: “For the right price, you wouldn’t have to choose between prostitutes and a play, because in the most expensive seats female and male hookers conveniently and discreetly serviced clients during performances” (40).  Lastly, I had no idea that Tolstoy hated Shakespeare so vehemently.

As for his last chapter?  There was no need for it.  Yes, it was an interesting piece on how little we know about Shakespeare, but I have two problems with it:

  1. It just doesn’t fit with what he had been writing all along.  Perhaps if it had been the first chapter, I could have been okay with it.  But after several chapters about how Shakespeare has “changed” everything to have a quasi-biography/discussion of the authorship question just didn’t fit.
  2. If you’ve read Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World as Stage, you realize that this chapter was sheer repetition of something that has already been written.  Many of Marche’s points mirror Bryson’s rather too closely.

I felt like Marche thought, “Oh goodness.  My book ends and is only 152 pages.  Certainly that isn’t long enough” and tacked this 40-page chapter at the end to make his book more substantial.  I personally think in this case less would have been more.

Viewing A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I’ll keep this short and sweet:

How is it that I have never watched the 1999 film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream before today?  First, it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Second, it stars a pre-Dark-Knight Christian Bale.

Of all the Shakespearean films that I have viewed thus far this year, it is my favorite.  I’ve seen that it gets a lot of mixed reviews from critics, but can I be honest?  I liked this much more than the critically acclaimed Romeo + Juliet.  It held my interest far longer than West Side Story. I found it more accessible than either of the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptations that I’ve viewed.

I fear that the only thing that will top it is a movie that I already know that I like–10 Things I Hate About You–which I will be viewing after I read The Taming of the Shrew.

Finishing Romeo and Juliet

Again, due to chaperoning duties for the next week, you will unfortunately not get a day-by-day account of the exciting conclusion to our study of Romeo and Juliet.  The following is how I envision that the week will go.  My team teacher and I have chatted over next week’s lessons.  He’ll be taking these loose ideas and making them his own.

Day 17: 4.3-4.5

After covering those three short scenes, students will discuss who is most responsible for Juliet’s “death.”  Many actions and reactions have pushed Juliet to make her drastic decision.  We would start with a brainstorm on the board.  Afterwards, each student will “research” the character that he or she believes is the most responsible for Juliet’s predicament.  They would search through the play for words/actions of the character that might have made Juliet feel like she had to take such a drastic course of action.

Day 18: 5.1-5.2

After reading through these two scenes, I would lead students in the five-step rehearsal protocol that I learned from workshop #2.  In pairs, they would choose one of three “scenes”:

  • 5.1a — The conversation between Romeo and Balthazar
  • 5.1b — The conversation between Romeo and the apothecary
  • 5.2 — The conversation between Friar Lawrence and Friar John

In their pairs they would be asked to:

  1. Read through the scene without acting.
  2. Talk through the context, character emotions, character purpose, etc.
  3. Put down the scripts and improvise the scene.
  4. Talk about it: What worked and what didn’t?
  5. Read through the scene one more time, this time acting it out.

I would then have pairs share their scenes.

Afterwards, we would look at Romeo’s drastic decision with Jim Burke’s decision tree (R&J Decision Tree).

Day 19: 5.3

In the morning, we have a guest speaker coming to discuss gangs/gang prevention.  (Remember that the project that they will be completing after our reading revolves around this topic.  They will be drawing comparisons between our modern-day issue of gangs and Romeo and Juliet.  When we teach this next year, I think I’d like to shift the focus to adolescent psychology.  Looking at decisions, why teenage characters act the way they do, etc. would be a better tie in, I think.  More on this later.)

After finishing the play, we had two ideas for activities (depending on time):

  1. A discussion of fate: The stars and fortune are repeatedly discussed in the play.  I’d like students to discuss how much Romeo and Juliet really did have control over what happened to them.  Peter’s idea was to look specifically at how Romeo and Juliet created their own fate using the four points that Joaquin Fabela (our first guest speaker) presented to our students.
  2. Romeo’s Final Words: Students will perform a close-reading of 5.3.74-120.  They would have time to look at the speech in small groups and complete this handout (Romeo’s Final Words).  After discussing as a class, each student would select one component from the handout and draw conclusions about it.  (How does that component reflect Romeo’s mental state?  How does it relate to the larger themes/lessons/ideas of the play?  How does it contribute to the effect of Romeo’s final words?)

Day 19-20: West Side Story

Since we are tying the family feud in Romeo and Juliet to the issue of modern-day gangs, we thought that viewing West Side Story as a class would be a good transition from the reading of the play to the completion of their project (creating PSAs).

The Original Plan for 4.1-4.2

If today happened exactly as I thought it would, we would still have acted through 4.1 and 4.2.  However, we would have then focused on subtext.

Now there are various ways that subtext is defined.  We would have worked with the following definition:

Subtext can refer to the thoughts and motives of the characters.  It is the content underneath the spoken dialogue.  (Under dialogue, there can be conflict, anger, competition, pride, showing off, or other ideas and emotions.)  Subtext is the unspoken thoughts and motives of characters – what they really think and believe.

To start to get the idea, we would start with something simple.  The sentence “I’m glad you’re here” would have been written on the board.  We would then explore how the meaning of the sentence changes every time you choose to stress a different word in the sentence.  If I stress “I’m,” the message that I’m communicating non-verbally is that I personally am glad that you are here; others may or may not be happy about your presence.  However, if I stress the word “you’re,” I’m communicating that out of all the other people present it’s you that I’m happy to see.

Students would have then been paired up for the next activity.  Each pair would have been given the following set of lines:

Character 1: You’re late.

Character 2: I know.  I couldn’t help it.

Character 1: I understand.

Character 2: I thought you would.

Character 1: I have something to give you.

Character 2: Really?

Character 1: Yes, this.

Now, even though every group has the same lines, they don’t have the same scenario.  Scenarios included:

  • Two friends: The late friend has just arrived at what will be a surprise party for him/her
  • Pizza delivery man and customer: The pizza deliverer is late.
  • Bride and groom: One has arrived late for the wedding.
  • Spies: They are meeting secretly to exchange information.
  • Teacher and student: The student is handing in a paper late.

After a little time to practice skits, groups would perform.  For each skit, we would focus on examining what each character thinking while delivering the lines.  Afterwards, we would look at the tools the actors used to get their thinking (or subtext!) across.  These could be things like:

  • The emphasis placed on certain words
  • Inflection
  • Pauses for emphasis
  • Non-verbal communication, such as gestures, postures, the presence or absence of eye contact, etc.

Finally, we would have returned to the text.  For each of the scenes we looked at in class, we would have examined subtext for one character.  Students would have recorded their thinking on this graphic organizer (4.1-4.2 – Subtext Homework).

Alas, not this year.  Maybe next year. :)