I play for Shakespeare

I am among the fortunate group of people who can claim “I work for Shakespeare.” Strangely, that statement is often used, almost, defensively–as in “We all work for the same guy, let’s stop competing.” This past week, however, at UC Davis outside of Sacramento, California, I had the pleasure of celebrating with my fellows from other Shakespeare companies the fact that we all engage with the plays for a living (or, we play for work). This meeting of minds and practice, called Shakespeare Works when Shakespeare Plays (and the brain-child of Patrick Spottiswoode at Shakespeare’s Globe in London), renewed me in ways I will continue to use for as long as the memory lives.

Memory is a funny thing. Though I work for Shakespeare, a writer whom many people can quote with ready abandon at the slightest provocation, I have never been one to hold onto his exact words for long. I have played a few parts in my time. I have directed several productions. And I talk all the time about our ASC actors’ portrayals of specific moments in the plays. Yet, the sentence “I’m paraphrasing here” is probably the most frequently used in my collection. This weekend, however, I re-discovered what physicalization can do for memorization. I was reminded what playing–really playing–can do to help your brain hold onto a line. Kevin Coleman, from Shakespeare & Company, based in Lenox, MA,took the 80 teachers at the conference through a workshop titled “Air Broadswords.” After we all learned the defensive moves, the aggressive moves, the killing blow, and the dying, we put the action together with lines from Macbeth,

MACDUFF Turn, Hell-hound, turn.
MACBETH Of all men else, I have avoided thee.
But get thee back! My soul is too much charg’d
with blood of thine already.
MACDUFF I have no words, my voice is in my sword.

I have been repeating that last line to myself all weekend, and thinking of all of the lovely metaphors and connections Shakespeare concocts with 10 beats of iambic pentameter.

Not surprisingly, iambic pentameter figured heavily into Ralph’s plenary presentation called “Bill’s Advice to Dick: Clues for Actors (and Students) in the Text.” Teachers were delighted to hear the methods our actors engage with in their preparation for a role at ASC, and to discover ways to engage those practices in their classrooms. The teachers split up for workshops: mine, Asides and Audience Contact, built on Ralph’s ideas, while Kevin Costa, from the Folger Shakespeare Library, worked with teachers on pre-reading activities next door. Across the courtyard, our friends from LA Shakes, Oregon Shakespeare, and Shakespeare’s Globe engaged teachers by helping them learn to find tactics for differentiation, to do instead of to read, and to work with archetypes, respectively. Rebecca Ennals, from San Francisco Shakes, opened the conference with a plenary session which asked students to engage with visual elements in the exploration of the text . The teachers enthusiastically responded to the workshops, but I think if pressed, they would concur that the most enjoyable part of the weekend was the jig taught to them by Sian Williams of Shakespeare’s Globe.

Like the ASC presenters, Sian drew on contemporary (and historical) Globe practices to engage the teachers in a concert of movement. Teaching anyone to move to music is a challenge unto itself, but putting together two dances with 80 participants in less than 2 hours is an amazing feat. As I watched the rehearsals and talked to my colleagues about the glowing joy exuding from the participants’ faces, I tried to suss out what makes us so responsive to dancing. I don’t think it was about taking it back to the classroom–I think it was a very “in the moment” experience–much like the joy an actor would find in a discovery onstage. It seemed like the teachers weren’t thinking about anything but their motion, about the movement to get from the step they were on to the next one–and so they let go of all of the crowdings of life for that moment. Rather than being concerned about themselves singly, they were engaging with the collaboration of the other bodies onstage–helping their dance partners to look good by doing their own jobs. I think they were relishing the music telling them what to do (instead of their bosses), the grace and beauty every body can express (with just a little nudge), the gift of power imbued by appreciating audience eyes.

These feelings, linked to the performance of dance, are transferable to performance of many kinds, including performance in a classroom. When we give our teachers tools to create safe performance explorations in their classrooms, we give students a chance at the gift of grace, beauty, discovery, a glow of joy, power, appreciation, and collaboration. Are these traits useful only in the arts? Only with Shakespeare? No. We need our students, our future leaders, to learn the traits of humanity Shakespeare painted for his actors in rich and lasting characters. And performance is the surest way to unlock them all. Shakespeare works when Shakespeare plays could easily be called People work when People play. So, I’m going to change my mantra to “I play for Shakespeare” and see where that takes me.

P.S. Speaking of playing, some of the best times during the weekend were just being silly with people who love Shakespeare as much as I do, quoting the plays at one another, singing Sondheim (the Broadway Musical’s Shakespeare) and The Fantasticks, pulling up Edna St Vincent Millay on our iPads, and reading poetry aloud. Nothing better than playing with your workmates.

-Sarah Enloe

ASC Education in 2012-2013

The announcement is officially out, the Facebook Jeopardy game is complete, and that means I can share ASC Education’s plans for the upcoming year. If you’ve missed the information elsewhere, here’s the American Shakespeare Center artistic line-up for 2012-2013:

Summer
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Fall
Cymbeline
King John
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Holiday
A Christmas Carol
Santaland Diaries
, by David Sedaris
The 12 Dates of Christmas, by Ginna Hoben

Actors’ Renaissance
Julius Caesar
The Country Wife
, by William Wycherly
Henry VIII
The Custom of the Country
, by Francis Beaumont & Philip Massinger
Two Noble Kinsmen

Spring/Tempt Me Further Tour
Twelfth Night
Love’s Labour’s Lost
The Duchess of Malfi
, John Webster

What does this mean for Shakespeare Education at the ASC? For a start, throughout the year, we’ll be offering Student Matinees of The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Cymbeline, A Christmas Carol, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, Twelfth Night, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. To complement these opportunities to bring your students to the Playhouse, I’ll be preparing brand-new full-length Study Guides for The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Twelfth Night, as well as revising (and, quite possibly, adding to) last year’s Julius Caesar guide. I will also produce mini-guides for Cymbeline, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Henry VIII.

We will, again, have four Teacher Seminars in the 2012-2013 season. On August 10th, we’ll be looking at that perennial curriculum favorite, Romeo and Juliet (for which I will also be producing a full-length Study Guide), where both the construction of the language and the complex interplay of comedy and tragedy provide many opportunities for exploration. Our Fall Seminar, September 14th-16th, will focus on The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I’m excited to tackle the challenge of these two off-kilter comedies, from the racial tensions in Merchant to the troubled ending of Two Gents. Both plays are full of emotionally charged moments, opportunities for audience contact, and clever, fast-paced language, all of which make wonderful fodder for teachers. As we did in 2011 with The Comedy of Errors, we will be linking these non-curriculum plays with their more-frequently-assigned cousins, in order to provide teachers with the greatest opportunity to incorporate staging with study. We also champion these plays as ideal for teachers who are tired of always retreading the same material. The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona will provide intrepid educators with a new, invigorating approach to Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft.

Our Winter Seminar, February 2nd-3rd 2013, will focus on Julius Caesar, a play I can never get enough of and can’t wait to return to. That play features so prominently two of my favorite things to talk about: rhetoric and audience contact. Those two elements define Caesar for me, more than anything else, and they provide wonderful avenues for making the play exciting for students. Our Spring Seminar, April 12th-14th 2013, will focus on Twelfth Night: frothy fun with some dark undercurrents. I look forward to reawakening some of the same topics I’ve looked at in As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, and Much Ado about Nothing — twins, gender-bending, gulling, etc — as well as exploring the role of music on the early modern stage.

Throughout the year, we’ll continue to hold our lecture series, on select Wednesday and Thursday nights, prior to the evening shows. We’ve moved the timing of these events to 5:30pm, which will allow attendees enough time to go get a quick bite or a drink at one of downtown Staunton’s fabulous eateries before the show begins. I’m pleased to announce that this year, we will have both a Dr. Ralph Presents lecture and an Inside Plays workshop for every play in the Fall, Actors’ Renaissance, and Spring Seasons. We’re especially pleased that this will allow us to offer audiences some more insight into the shows which are enjoying their Blackfriars Playhouse premieres in 2012 and 2013. See the schedule on our website for more information.

Our Staged Reading series also continues in 2012-2013, with four dynamic titles: the anonymous Edward Ironside (October 28th), an early English chronicle play full of patriotic glory, violent energy, and inventive language; George Chapman’s An Humorous Day’s Mirth (November 4th), where jealous husbands, absurd courtiers, lapsed Puritans, and lustful monarchs collide; Aphra Behn’s Restoration hit The Rover (March 24th, 2013), a quick-witted and wickedly wanton comedy where a group of amorous English exiles revel their way through Naples; and The Insatiate Countess (April 28th, 2013), by John Marston and collaborators, a play of merry widows, virtuous wives, and subverted theatrical conventions. We’re in the process of making some exciting changes to how the Staged Readings operate, and we’ll have more information on that for you as the year progresses.

And, of course, summer 2012 will be full to the brim with camps for Shakespeare enthusiasts of all ages. ASCTC Session 1, June 17th-July 8th, tackles Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and John Lyly’s Gallathea, while Session 2, July 15th-August 5th, takes on Much Ado about Nothing, 1 Henry VI, and Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher’s A King and No King. Our Midsummer Day Camp for ages 9-12, July 9th-13th, moves from the light-hearted comedies of the past few years to the high-octane thriller, Macbeth. Finally, the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults, June 25th-29th, will explore Movement — both the movement of the actor on stage and the movement of plays from one playhouse to another and out on the road.

It’s almost hard to believe that here we are in January 2012, already planning for April 2013, but that’s the way of it. The whole education team is looking forward to a full and fabulous year — we hope you’ll be joining us for these explorations into early modern staging.

‘Richard III’ Study Guide Now Available!

I am tremendously pleased to announce that the ASC Study Guide for Richard III is now available for purchase online! We’ve got lots of juicy information for you in this one, stuffed as this play is with amazing language, fascinating characters, and active staging requirements.

As usual, I have a ten-page preview for your preliminary enjoyment. This Study Guide includes the following:

  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Rhetoric: Stichomythia. Quick, back-and-forth dialogue characterizes some of the play’s most memorable scenes. How does Shakespeare use this device to engage the audience’s affections?
  • Perspectives: Cursing — No, not that kind of cursing. This activity goes to the heart of what power a play can invest in words. Does Margaret really bring down the House of York with her invective language, or does she merely prophesy what was already destined to occur? Your students will explore some of Shakespeare’s most inventive insults and deliciously antagonistic vitriol to determine the relationship between language and fate.
  • Staging Directions: Richard III has some of Shakespeare’s most explicit and detailed stage directions, uncommon for the early modern stage. Your students will explore what information those directions offer versus the information embedded in the text of the play itself.
  • Perspectives: Richard’s Reputation. What was the historical reality of Richard III’s reign, where did Shakespeare get his ideas about crookbacked Dick from, and how can an actor use this information in performance?
  • Staging Challenges: Haunting Richard and Helping Richmond. Your students will explore ways of bringing Richard III‘s supernatural elements to life.
  • Textual Variants: While the 1623 Folio is the longer text and the version more closely related to Shakespeare’s sources, the earlier quartos may reflect changes made for the stage or while the company was touring the provinces. Your students will explore the transmission of text and how those alterations can change the overall impression of the play.
  • Rhetoric: Richard and the Audience. In Richard III, Shakespeare created one of his most enduringly memorable characters, and Richard’s relationship with the audience is critical to his legacy. But how does Shakespeare craft that relationship?
  • A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom

And that completes the set! All of the Study Guides for our 2011-2012 artistic year are now complete, and you can preview any of them before purchasing your downloadable PDF. We also provide hard copies to educators who attend our Teacher Seminars — join us next month for Much Ado about Nothing and Richard III. Teachers who bring students to matinees can receive download access by contacting Ben Ratkowski.

My next task (already in-progress) is to update last year’s guides for Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors, and As You Like It with the newly expanded Basics section. Once I’ve completed the upgrade, I’ll move on to the Study Guides for the 2012-2013 artistic year. What will those be? I can tell you… next week! Artistic Director and Co-Founder Jim Warren will be announcing the 2012-2013 lineup tomorrow night, before the opening of Much Ado about Nothing, and after that, I’ll be able to detail which of them will be our school matinee and Study Guide shows. Stay tuned next week for that information — or, join us at 7pm Saturday night and hear it from Jim!