Exciting Opportunities for Teachers This Summer

The Valley’s trying hard to break through the chill into more spring-like weather, but at ASC Education, though, we’re already thinking ahead to summer! I just wanted to take a moment to showcase three chances that teachers have in June, July, and August to learn new techniques for invigorating their classroom exploration of Shakespeare.

June 22nd-26th, we’ll be up at JMU in Harrisonburg leading a Content Teaching Academy. Sarah and I are tremendously excited about this, as it’s a chance for us to squeeze a full model Shakespeare unit into a single week. Using Julius Caesar as an example text, we’ll go through all the building blocks of scansion, rhetoric, staging conditions, audience contact, and more, and then we’ll use those as a scaffold for exploring characters and performance choices, as well as the ideas of theme and tone that your students will be expected to address in standardized tests. Attendees are eligible for 30 hours of professional development credit, and for an extra fee, can receive three hours of university graduate credit from JMU. This is really an incredible deal — nowhere else are you going to get such value in such a short time. Learn more and register now!

Teachers are also invited to attend the week-long No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, July 20th-24th. This year, we’ll be exploring the theme of Social History, looking at the cultural, religious, economic, and interpersonal aspects of the early modern world that shaped Shakespeare and his playmaking, through special lectures from Ralph Alan Cohen, Mary Hill Cole, and Steven Urkowitz. Through these sessions and the workshops led by ASC Education staff, teachers can earn 20+ hours of professional development credits. We’ll also have our usual festive schedule of rehearsal observations, field trips, a cast party, and of course you’ll get to see the shows of the ASC Summer Season. Here are just a few of the ways that past participants have described NKSC — If these entice you, registrations are open through the ASC website.

  • “I found this to be one of the top experiences that I have had at ASC.”
  • “I enjoyed talking to other campers and finding out about everyone’s diverse backgrounds. I appreciated that we all came to Shakespeare in different ways.”
  • “I walked away with not only practical knowledge, but with some new insight into myself”
  • “This is a unique opportunity to learn about Shakespeare’s world from top-flight experts, including the ASC’s own Ralph Cohen, in the most casual and friendly settings imaginable. You’ll come back with a much more in-the-bones feel for the circumstances the plays were born in.”
  • “This was truly a time to rejuvenate myself as a teacher and Shakespeare enthusiast. Thank you ASC!”
  • “It was a splendid feast— Shakespearean, cultural, and historical , for the mind, body and spirit”

If you can’t make a week-long commitment, never fear! We’ve got a single-day Summer Teacher Seminar on August 7th. This year, the Summer Seminar will focus on Shakespeare’s Toolbox — the basic components of his texts that allowed him and his actors to create their plays. We’ll be going deep and narrow into not just the mechanics but the application of meter, rhetoric, and Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions, so botteacherseminar08120030-1h teachers new to ASC methods and our frequent flyers will find valuable insights. This is, in some ways, an expansion of what we’ll be teaching during the Shakespeare Association of America Conference in Vancouver later this week — but here, we’ll be on our home turf with more workshop hours to devote to giving you all the tools you need to make Shakespeare a hit in your classroom. Register now to join us in August!

We’re absolutely thrilled that we have so many opportunities to engage with teachers in the coming months. We want to put the lessons learned on-stage at the Blackfriars Playhouse into as many classrooms as possible, because we know that these methods change the way students experience and think about Shakespeare. As one of our frequent seminar attendees says, “My students LOVE Shakespeare and get excited from the moment they see the classroom re-arranged.” Get your students eager to rush to your class, and spend some time with us this summer!

Winter/Spring 2015 Playhouse Insider

The latest edition of the Playhouse Insider is now available for purchase in the Box Office! Here’s a sneak peek at the goodies within:photo (6)

  • An interview regarding “Bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst” with Sarah Fallon, who has played the role of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew three times.
  • A look at the amazing Aphra Behn, the woman behind The Rover — and some of the complicated gender politics of Restoration England.
  • Professor Stephen Purcell of the University of Warwick discusses how The White Devil has “flummoxed” readers and spectators throughout history.
  • From Penn State Harrisburg, Professor Margaret Jaster tells us why she keeps bringing her classes back to the Blackfriars Playhouse for Little Academes.
  • Meredith Parnes, frequent resident of the gallant stools, on what’s kept her coming back not just to the shows but to the Blackfriars Conference and the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp as well.
  • Actors John Harrell and Kate Eastwood Norris, the first to portray Benedick and Beatrice at the Blackfriars Playhouse, share their memories and their thoughts about Much Ado about Nothing 11 years later.
  • Dane CT Leasure, MBC MFA graduate and Artistic Director of Rubber City Shakespeare, discusses his experiences working on the special effects of Rogue Shakespeare’s 2014 Doctor Faustus.
  • Our Playhouse Manager, Melissa Huggins, provides some insight on how the ASC’s costuming practices are “following an original practice without consciously trying”.

Stop by soon and get all these insights into the shows of the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the Method in Madness Tour for just $5!

Julius Caesar: Early Modern Blockbuster

As has become traditional in March, I’m using the excuse of the upcoming Ides  to expound my feelings on (and love for) Julius Caesar.

This year, I want to riff off of a really excellent post about the play from what might seem like an odd source: The Tor Blog. Tor, for those who don’t know, is a sci-fi fantasy publisher, an imprint of Macmillan (one of the Big 5 Publishers). The author of the piece is Chris Lough, who usually blogs about superheroes. If that all strikes you as strange, it really shouldn’t. I’ve long suspected a large overlap between fans of Shakespeare and fans of genre fiction. If you love language, great storytelling, and captivating characters, you’ll rarely find better than you find in sci-fi and fantasy novels, so it’s quite natural to me that many people who love one also love the other.

What delights me so much about this post is the unbridled enthusiasm Lough expresses for Caesar. It’s just so refreshing! I usually hear about people approaching this play with great trepidation or with weary resignation, and that so depresses me, because, as long-time readers of this blog know, I think there’s so much there to unpack and rejoice in. And Lough hits on so much of it. He calls Caesar “a visceral and fast-paced epic,” “tightly plotted,” and, most tellingly, “a blockbuster.”

These are the things I’ve always loved about Caesar. I’ve long said it should share renown with Macbeth as a high-octane thriller. I know teachers struggle to get students to see that awesome energy, though. Many educators have trouble feeling the love themselves. So why? What is it that gets in the way?

Well, for one thing, it’s about the most Dead White Guys Making Speeches you can get, and that can be off-putting from a distance. Of all the famous Dead White Guys Making Speeches in history, these are about the most famous. Not without reason! The men are culturally important and the speeches are fantastic. But it can cause a not-unreasonable knee jerk reaction for students who are tired of being buried under such viewpoints. For female students, particularly, there are few immediately apparent avatars. The women in the play are scarcely better than non-existent. Calpurnia mostly exists to have her (perfectly rational) fears brushed off and ridiculed, and while Portia gets some great language, her apparent instability and desperation don’t make her the best of role models. (And then she disappears after 2.4). So there are some instinctive barriers to get past when it comes to encouraging students to empathize with the characters.

The other, I suspect, is that it’s given as a tonic. It’s a mandatory part of most high school curriculi, where it looms like a precariously placed boulder over the syllabus. Dr. Ralph talks about this in the opening of the Caesar chapter of ShakesFear and How to Cure It, envisioning a Shakespeare who dreams of the future industry built up around him and is bitter about it:

…[Will] woke up grumpy. His work, his words, his ideas were going to be a major industry and make strangers rich. It was more than he could stand. How could he stop or at least limit the damage? He thought all day, and then he had a brilliant idea. He would write a play without comedy and without sex, full of long and serious speeches, and he would make that play about an historical event and famous personalities so pivotal to western history that every public school in the English-speaking world would put it into the curriculum. Students would first be introduced to his work with this play, and the result would be that they would never want to read or see another work by William Shakespeare in their lives. In this way, he would assure that a large majority of the modern world hated him and thus reduce to a fraction the profit others would make off his works. That evening he started writing Julius Caesar.

Actually Julius Caesar is a wonderful play; it’s just the wrong one to use for teaching teenagers a delight in Shakespeare. Like you, however, I have to teach it, and the first time I stood in front of a class trying to get them interested in hubris, tragic flaws, and dramatic irony, I felt more and more as if the class was looking at me through soundproof glass. At the end of the hour, I told them I wanted a rematch.

The challenge, then, is for teachers to find the joy in the play themselves and then to communicate to students. I’ve had great luck in classrooms by exploring the embedded stage directions around killing Caesar and the fun you can have with blood. Once you hook them with that, you can get them excited about the gorgeously manipulative rhetoric, the really warped sense of ego all of these guys seem to have, and the conversations about personal and political power we’re still having today. That’s when you can start seeing Julius Caesar as the tightly-plotted blockbuster we ought to consider it.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager