“Advantageable for our dignity”: Teaching at Home and on the Road

I sometimes feel like a very spoiled educator. Most of the time, I get to teach students who really want to learn from me — the groups who come to the Blackfriars Playhouse for workshops and Little Academes are not only captive audiences, they’re generally self-selected enthusiasts with at least some interest in Shakespeare, theatre, and/or performance. Many of them are repeat customers, students I see multiple years in a row, not just passively interested but actively excited to stage a scene from Macbeth or to examine the rhetoric in Othello. Even when that isn’t the case, however, less-interested students still tend to be more respectful in our space. Maybe it’s because it feels a little like a church. Maybe it’s because they fear losing privileges if they misbehave on a field trip. Maybe it’s just that slight edge of discomfort that comes from being in a new location, but even the troublemakers tend to remain, if not actively engaged, then at least non-disruptive.

With AP Lit students in Salina, KS

With AP Lit students in Salina, KS

When we take residencies and one-off workshops into middle and high schools, the feeling is definitely different. We’re on their turf. They have the home court advantage, and they are generally not shy about pressing it. A visitor in class might be a disruption to the routine, but not so great that it shakes students from their normal modes of operation, whatever those may be. I often feel powerless to stop a student who is texting or sleeping during an in-class workshop — if their own teacher is letting them get away with it, what ground do I have to impose new rules? Sometimes we get brought in when a regular teacher is out, adding the hurdle of a substitute teacher’s impaired authority to the mix. If our workshop is not in an individual class but a large assembly, then crowd control becomes the challenge — even if the students are interested and enjoying themselves, the noise levels can rise somewhat incredibly, particularly as side conversations start splintering off, and it can feel like we spend as much energy re-focusing attention as we do teaching.

It’s also an unpredictable experience. When I first started attempting to do our Cue Script workshop using the assassination scene of Julius Caesar with high school sophomores, I was far from certain it would actually work — but it did, magnificently. On the other hand, what I thought would be an exciting, active exploration of Hamlet‘s play-within-a-play fell totally flat. An activity that works in one classroom might not in another. I’ve had senior AP students react with great enthusiasm to my rhetoric workshop, immediately able to find its cross-applications to other material for their AP exams and college essays, and I’ve had senior AP students fail to show even the slightest flag of interest. Engagement can vary wildly within a single class, and it’s easy to feel how teachers can struggle on a daily basis with keeping tabs on the disaffected while still rewarding the work of the attentive. The experience can be, admittedly, an exhausting one — but there are always little gems of moments that make it worth it, when the kid you thought wasn’t paying attention suddenly pops out with a great observation, when the students fall over themselves giggling during a scene, forgetting entirely that they thought this was hard, when someone looking at a cue script exclaims, “Oh! I get it!” The light bulbs make the effort worth it.

These on-site experiences are so valuable for me, and not only because they make me dearly wish to apologize to some of my own erstwhile high school teachers to whom I may have been less than respectful. (No one teaching me Shakespeare ever had a problem, but I confess that I was not always a model student when it came to learning physics at 7:30 in the morning). On-site workshops not only enhance my respect and appreciation for what teachers do every day, but they also give me insight into what really does work in the classroom. It helps me evaluate the ASC’s materials, in our Study Guides and in our workshops, so that I can build better activities for the future. How can we engage the most students? What tools can we give teachers to compete with the many distractions available to high school students? I know we won’t be able to convert every student to a Shakespeare scholar, but how can we at least help them find out that Shakespeare is fun, not a tonic? I can’t figure out solutions to those problems without knowing the given conditions of the classrooms they’re in.

Fortunately, Shakespeare gives us answers to these questions as well — or at least he presents us with characters facing the similar challenge of how to get through to someone. Henry V does his best to inspire and hearten his soldiers, but the skeptical Williams counters his every argument with a cold dose of pessimism. It shakes Henry enough that he lets himself be drawn into a quarrel, thus lowering his own status, and then he has to talk himself back up. Richard III has trouble moving his soldiers to high spirits and must in the end resort to focusing on consequences rather than rewards — a less satisfying pathway for everyone involved. Iago tailors his persuasion to his audience, using soft suggestion and leading questions with Othello, brute bullying with Roderigo, sly manipulation with Cassio — a tactic which works until all those moving pieces spiral out of his control.

We most often examine these scenarios in our Leadership Programs, but I think they’re applicable to teachers, too. It’s all about finding the right avenue of persuasion, the right technique, the hook that will draw the audience in. And sometimes, it’s about knowing how to take the hit and try again if your first attempt sputters out.

“Look, how he makes to Caesar” — Staging Caesar’s assassination with cue scripts

It simply wouldn’t be mid-March if I weren’t blogging about Julius Caesar. In past years, I’ve discussed the rhetoric, the blood, and the enduring legacy. Today, I want to talk about how one scene in the play — Caesar’s assassination — exemplifies Shakespeare’s mastery of early modern technology.

In the past couple of years, 3.1 of Julius Caesar has become my favorite scene to work through with cue scripts — scripts where an actor has only her own lines, plus the few words immediate preceding as a cue, rather than a full text. At first glance, I would guess most people could not imagine why. To be honest, I had my doubts when I first decided to dive into it as an experiment. The scene looks like a nightmare. Twelve speaking parts and two non-speaking roles make for rather a crowded stage (or classroom). Some of the characters speak at length; others hardly speak at all. Entrances and exits are muddied and uncertain. And somehow you have to organize everyone so that several of the characters can stab Caesar and bathe their hands in his blood. Who in her right mind would look at that and decide it’s the perfect introduction to cue scripts?

It works like a charm.

I first worked this scene with high school students in Kansas, and since then I’ve used it in workshops at the Blackfriars Playhouse, at local Virginia schools, with teachers in our seminars, and with professionals in our leadership programs. Every time, I re-discover just how good Shakespeare is at what he does.

Because a scene with fourteen actors is chaos. But it’s chaos that Shakespeare carefully orchestrates through embedded stage directions for both action and emotion. With such a crowded stage, Shakespeare ensures that his actors have to listen carefully to each other. Take a look at the cue script for Popillius Lena:

CaesarCue1

That’s it, for the entire scene. Looks simple enough, right? But there are hidden challenges. Popillius is talking to Cassius, but sometimes, depending on how students arrange the entrance, he’s nowhere near Cassius at this time. Students generally have no trouble figuring out that, no, Popillius really shouldn’t be shouting that remark over the crowd (and over Caesar’s head), so then we have to go back and figure out how to get Popillius close to Cassius. Does he enter near him? Is there a time when he can cross the stage? There’s no right answer, so it’s a moment for discussion and negotiation. Then, we find out that Brutus can’t be near enough to hear what he says to Cassius, since immediately afterwards, he asks “What says Popillius Lena?” Sometimes this requires another adjustment to where everyone’s standing and moving.

Then I ask the student playing Popillius Lena what he thinks he should do after saying “Fare you well”. Since that’s just saying “Bye,” almost always our Popillius wants to leave the stage. There’s no explicit exit direction, but that’s not necessarily an indication that he can’t leave — so I let him, since he’s made a valid choice based on the information available to him. But then we discover that this happens in Brutus’s cue script:

CaesarCue2

We find out not only that Popillius does not leave the stage, but that he goes to Caesar, and that he’s smiling. None of these clues are in Popillius’s script, so that actor has to be paying careful attention during rehearsal in order to adjust accordingly. This then brings up other questions later on — does Popillius stay on-stage during the assassination? If so, how does he react? If not, when can he leave? Some groups decide to have him wander off with Trebonius and Antony, just to get him out of the way. Others decide to let him stay and react — either in admiration and approval of the conspirators, if he really knew what “the enterprise” was, or in shock and horror, if he was talking about something else. The ambiguity opens up a lot of room for exploration — all in a character who only has two lines in the entire play.

Popillius is just one example, but the scene provides us with many others. Trebonius’s cue script has two entrances without an exit. Publius has a line but no entrance. Antony has no lines, yet has to listen for several embedded stage directions. The Soothsayer and Artemidorus only speak at the top of the scene and have no exit line — what do we do with them? Send them off, or let them also observe as witnesses? And then there are all the beautiful embedded directions that lead the conspirators to surround Caesar before they kill him. Casca has to be the first to stab, and students generally figure out from Caesar’s famous line that Brutus is the last, but in what order do the others perform their lethal punctures?

It looks like chaos — yet it always works out. Students of all ages figure out how to negotiate the demands of the scene with the space available to them. As a result, they not only enjoy the scene, find out that they can understand it perfectly well, and learn a little about blocking, they also see how good Shakespeare is at using the tools available to him. They can easily imagine the Chamberlain’s Men doing just as they did, working through a complex scene bit by bit, listening carefully to each other for clues, until it all comes together. That’s why I’ve come to love exploring this scene in workshops: it showcases not just Shakespeare’s verbal genius, but his technical aptitude and wonderful stagecraft.

ASC Education in 2014

As we wrap up another great year at the American Shakespeare Center, here’s a sneak peek at what we’ll be bringing you in 2014:

  • Teacher Seminars: We start the year off right with our Winter Seminar January 31st-February 1st, focusing on As You Like It and some of the wonderful learning techniques we’ve gathered from rehearsal practices during the Actors’ Renaissance Season. We already have teachers from six states registered to join us in a few weeks, coming from as far away as Oklahoma and Massachusetts. In Spring (April 25th-27th), we’ll cover Othello and The  Merry Wives of Windsor. Our Summer Seminar (August 15th) this year will be a Macbeth intensive. Our last Macbeth seminar was one of my favorites, leading to discoveries that I still bring up in workshops, so I’m greatly looking forward to revisiting the play this summer. In fact, I love it so much that we’ll also be covering Macbeth at the Fall Seminar, along with The Comedy of Errors. Registration is now open for the Winter, Spring, and Summer Seminars, and we’ll be opening registration the Fall soon.Little Academe
  • ASC Theatre Camp: We kick things off in January with an alumni reunion event: a weekend of celebrating the ARS and our former campers’ continuing love of Shakespeare. This summer, campers ages 13-18 will explore Measure for Measure, The Tempest, 3 Henry VI, All’s Well That Ends Well, and the anonymous Fair Em, the Miller’s DaughterApply now to join us this summer.
  • The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2014: We’re back in town this year for a week-long camp focusing on the theme of Collaboration. Our activities will explore the partnerships and the community necessary to create theatre then and now, from shareholding to co-authorship, from ensemble casts to audience contact. Registrations are now open, so make some summer plans to spend time at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
  • Conferences: Our biggest conference news this year is that ASC Education will, for the first time, present a teaching workshop at the Shakespeare Association of American Conference in April. We’re excited to bring our classroom methods to SAA members and to the local teachers of St. Louis. Dr. Ralph will also be leading a rhetoric workshop at SAA. Read more about the 2014 Conference and the ASC’s workshop on the SAA website. ASC Education will also appear at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in January, at the Virginia Association of Museums conference in March, and at Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays at UC-Davis in September.
  • On the Road: Our workshops are currently roaming the country with the World’s Mine Oyster Tour, and next summer, we’ll build new ones for the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll be participating in Shakespeare Month at the Alden in McLean, Virginia in January, in the Virginia Children’s Festival of the Book at Longwood in the fall, and we anticipate expanding our Educational Residencies to new territories throughout the year.
  • In-House: We look forward to welcoming Little Academes from across the country during the ARS and the Spring Season, as well as to hosting the local chapters of the English Speaking Union and Poetry Out Loud Competitions. Our Leadership Seminars are also ongoing: we celebrate our continuing relationship with the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, with programs throughout the year, and with International Paper, returning for another week-long program in April.
  • ASC Study Guides: In 2014, our Lulu offerings will expand to include a special guide on Christopher Marlowe, to celebrate the fact that the ASC will produce Edward II in the Fall Season and Doctor Faustus in the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll also be creating improved second editions of As You Like It, Macbeth, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the ShrewMuch Ado about Nothing, and Hamlet. You can preview all of our sixteen current titles online and purchase them as print-on-demand hard copies or PDF downloads.
  • Play-going Enrichment: Our Dr. Ralph Presents Lectures and Inside Plays Workshops will begin again in just a few weeks with insights into the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Join us select Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year at 5:30pm to brush up your knowledge of old favorites or to get an introduction to unfamiliar works.
  • Perfect Pairings: Our 2014-2015 Staged Reading series will feature little-known plays which complement the shows produced in our seasons. After finishing the Slightly Skewed Shakespeare series in the spring, with Nahum Tate’s King Lear in March and The Famous Victories of Henry V in April, we will present Plautus’s Roman farce Menaechmi in September, in conjunction with The Comedy of Errors, and Thomas Heywood’s Edward IV, Part 1 in October, in conjunction with Marlowe’s Edward II.
  • Student Matinees: In 2014, we’ll be offering six titles for Student Matinees: Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors in the Fall, A Christmas Carol in the Winter, with a sneak peek at HamletThe Taming of the Shrew during the Actors’ Renaissance Season, and Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing in the Spring. 
  • And more… We’re working on new initiatives in Research & Scholarship, College Prep, and Educator Resources, so look for further updates as we launch new programs and partnerships throughout the year.
A very happy New Year to all the Shakespeare lovers out there — we look forward to seeing you at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2014!

Wake-Up Workshop #4: Asides and Audience Contact

A fine Saturday morning to you all. Cass Morris here from 8-8:45am to liveblog the fourth and final Wake-Up Workshop of the 4th Blackfriars Conference. Sarah Enloe, the ASC’s Director of Education, will be presenting on Asides and Audience Contact.

Enloe begins by discussing how, as a high school teacher participating in an NEH Institute, she learned about the ASC’s methods of audience contact, and knew immediately that she wanted to use it in her classroom — but wasn’t sure how to implement the ideas effectively. ASC Education, with the help of ASC Actor Ben Curns, developed this method to help teachers think through the various approaches and opportunities.

Enloe asks if anyone knows when the word “aside”, as we currently think of it, first appears, and when no one does, she explains that it’s more than 150 years after Shakespeare’s time. The term appears only twice in Shakespeare, and never with that precise meaning. She prefaces that the group will explain the different kinds of asides that Curns helped ASC Education identify, and will then work through a scene together to identify character choices.

The first method of audience contact is casting the audience. Enloe gives examples of the audience serving as Henry V’s army, as the plebs of Rome, or as Portia’s suitors in The  Merchant of Venice. She points out how Shakespeare not only writes these opportunities into the plays, he also writes in opportunities to return to that audience reference later in the scene or the play. Casting the audience gives the audience member a specific role inside the world of the play.

The second way that we identify audience contact is that of the visual aide. Enloe notes that this can be a difficult distinction for students sometimes, as it has some similarities to casting. The difference is that, rather than bestowing an identity, the visual aide uses something that the audience member already is — generally a physical attribute, something they’re wearing, or something else essential to their own identities, used as an illustration. Enloe uses the example of perhaps casting a man and woman sitting next to each other as an adulterous couple. Auditor Michael Hendry notes that he has been the bald-pated man used as an example in The Comedy of Errors. Enloe notes the favorite example of her co-worker (yours truly): Benedick’s “One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another is…. virtuous… yet I am well,” with the actor picking out a fair and wise woman, but unable to find a virtuous one in the audience.

The third example, which Enloe notes as particularly obvious in characters like Iago and Richard III, is that of allying with the audience. Many characters who get a lot of time alone on-stage with the audience use this to get the audience on their side — and quite often, those characters are the villains. This can also be an example of the character letting the audience in on a secret or providing them with clarifying information.

The fourth way that Enloe identifies audience contact is seeking information. Enloe gives an example of Curns as Polonius in the ASC’s 2011 Hamlet asking an audience member, “By the mass, what was I about to say?” and notes that Curns often got two examples: the terror of “eighth-graders frozen in the headlights”, or the graduate students able to provide the correct answer. She gives another example from Hamlet (this time the Q1, when Curns was playing Hamlet), from the moment when Claudius is on his knees praying, and Hamlet enters, asking, “Should I kill him now?” When Curns took this to teenage boy sitting on a gallant school, the boy replied, “Absolutely, he must die”. In that moment, the actor discovers that Shakespeare in fact wrote in the answer to that question in the rest of the monologue.

Enloe then addresses the probability that someone in the audience is asking how we know that Shakespeare really did write these opportunities into the plays intentionally, and she uses an example from Henry VI, Part 1 to illustrate how, in that early play, Shakespeare actually pokes fun of the convention of audience contact in a conversation between Margaret and Suffolk. Enloe notes that as proof in the text that Shakespeare is thinking about that convention.

Enloe then discusses the possibility that almost any line could be taken to the audience — but that not all of them should be. She suggests letting students go all-out with every possibility at first, then reining them back in so that we don’t lose the connections between the characters. The group then discusses some of the challenges in audience contact, including how to deal with unexpected contributions from the audience. Enloe notes that some of our actors acknowledge everything, and uses the example of Gregory Jon Phelps responding to sneezes or particularly loud laughs.

Moving on to scenework, Enloe hands out the first fifty lines of Julius Caesar. Enloe explains that this worksheet has the four types of audience contact listed at the top, along with the fifth option of actually speaking to a scene partner. Enloe divides the room into three groups, assigning one group responsibility for Flavius, one for the Carpenter and Cobbler, and one for Murellus. She then gives the auditors a few minutes to work through the text, assigning modes of audience contact to each moment for each character.

Each group sends an avatar to the stage to walk through the scene. Enloe notes that the opening stage direction, Enter Flavius and Murellus and Certain Commoners over the stage, is a little odd and cites Dessen & Thomson’s Dictionary of Stage Directions as to what “over the stage” might mean. They take the first suggestion for the Carpenter and Cobbler to enter from the back, through the audience, though Enloe notes that we generally don’t allow that in our Playhouse since there is no evidence of it occurring in the period.

The first decision has the Flavius taking all of “Hence! home, you idle creatures get you home: / Is this a holiday? what! know you not, / Being mechanical, you ought not walk / Upon a labouring day without the sign / Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?” to the audience. The group discusses whether the final question, answered in the play, can appropriately be asked of an audience member. Enloe notes that, at Julius Caesar‘s first performance at the Theatre or the Globe, the audience would in fact have been full of idle creatures who were skivving off work. The group has, sadly, run out of time to run the rest of the scene, but Enloe notes that you can see, through just that little bit, how much audience contact can change the play.

Teaching Shakespeare on the Road: ASC Education Residency at Roanoke College

The American Shakespeare Center has a unique Educational Residency program that brings our education artists and workshops to high school and college campuses. In the last two years, we have completed weeklong residencies at high schools in Kansas and Ohio. Last week, we were at Roanoke College in Salem, VA for our first-ever college residency.

After a whirlwind summer of directing the 2013 sessions of the ASC Theatre Camp, I was curious about what it would be like to spend a week working with older, college-aged students, guiding them through nearly half a semester’s worth of workshop materials. Daniel Kennedy and Andrew Goldwasser, two ASC actors, made up the rest of our residency team. Daniel is a long-time ASC actor and is a former director for the ASC Theatre Camp. Andrew is a veteran of our touring troupe, and he will return to the Blackfriars Playhouse for our upcoming holiday season.

In the weeks leading up to the residency, I worked with our contact at the college to arrange our trip; we distributed fliers to promote the residency during the touring troupe’s production of Othello at Roanoke College, and our campus coordinator scheduled us to visit 3 classes throughout the week. In total, I planned 13 workshops, and Sarah and Cass taught 6 additional workshops for a weekend teacher seminar. In addition to the workshops, we scheduled multiple rehearsals for the students to have individual coaching on selected scenes and monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.

We arrived in Salem just past noon on Monday, in time to take a brief tour of the performing arts building and other campus facilities. The campus reminded me of Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, but without the hills. Roanoke College is small, with only 2,000 undergraduate students. 10 students are enrolled as theatre majors, but several students from other departments take acting classes to fulfill their elective requirements. We visited the acting class first, and I led an introductory workshop on the basic building blocks of Shakespeare’s text: iambic pentameter, scansion, verse, and prose. None of the students in the acting class that we visited had ever performed in a Shakespeare play, and the material was completely new to them.

As the week passed, I noticed our students engaging with their texts in the cafeteria before workshops, diligently and carefully marking the stressed and unstressed beats in their scripts. One student that I worked with found paraphrasing in the ASC style to be especially helpful as she prepared to play Imogen, a character in Cymbeline.

Daniel and Andrew led workshops in rhetoric, clowning, stage combat, music, and acting choices. During one of the acting classes, the students had the opportunity to direct us as we played the first scene of Richard III . Using their newly-learned skills for identifying embedded stage directions, character and relationship clues, and the various forms of asides, the students directed us through the opening scene. Twice during the week, we met with an English class and explored embedded stage directions in the party scene (1.5) of Romeo and Juliet, and I led them in a discussion about the textual variants in the play and their effect on character development, staging, and other production choices.

On the final Friday in-class performance, there was excitement in the air. The students were nervous, even in our informal setting; we spent the week in a small black-box studio with warm honey-toned wood floors, soft lighting, and mix-matched chairs and small sofas collected through the years and re-purposed from old set pieces. We created a makeshift Elizabethan stage with the chairs surrounding the playing space on three sides.

Their performances began. We saw the brash and rude struggle between Katherina and Bianca in the Taming of the Shrew, followed by the frightful and foreshadowing scene between Casca and Cassius on the stormy evening before Caesar’s murder; Imogen scorned Iachimo after his vile attempt to plant seeds of jealousy in her heart; Ophelia’s haunting songs gave way to the street brawl between Mercutio and Tybalt; Antony mourned over Caesar’s body; Viola evaded pursuit by Olivia in the garden while attempting to maintain her composure, even as Olivia exposed her heart to a servant who could never requite her love. The students’ scene showcase was a testament to the work that can be accomplished with only a few hours’ rehearsal and a careful analysis of the performance clues that Shakespeare provides in the text of his plays.

In our final wrap-up session following their scene showcase, I asked the students for their feedback and to help us brainstorm ways of making the residency program better. If we came back to Roanoke College, what would they like to do differently or the same? The program technical director suggested that we come back for several weeks or even a whole semester to direct a play rehearsal process from start to finish. The students enthusiastically agreed. I noted that this model was certainly something we could consider doing for them in the future. Our residency program is flexible, and currently our longest program offering is three weeks. Other students said that they would love to plan a trip to the Blackfriars Playhouse, and they all arrived at the consensus that they would commit to participating in another residency if given the opportunity. I was touched and warmed by their responses. Just as much as we would love to go back to Roanoke, we also wanted to provide advice to help them beyond the classroom. We encouraged the students to keep in touch with us throughout the year, and I encouraged several of them to inquire about our year-round internship opportunities.

Neither we nor our campus host and coordinator anticipated just how enthusiastically the students would respond to our presence and to the work we accomplished together in just a few days. The students were eager to absorb all they could from our workshops, and many of them stayed for several hours late into the evenings to work with us individually. Students re-arranged other commitments to attend our classes, and others came even when they probably needed that free time to study for other exams and tests; but Shakespeare is fun, and Shakespeare brings people together.

I’ve been fortunate to see other young students bond and create lasting friendships through collaboration and their collective pursuit to learn more about Shakespeare and the theatre of his time. This experience showed me that even in a small theatre program struggling with low enrollment, Shakespeare empowers students by giving them all the tools they need to create theatre that is engaging, inspiring, and community-building. I look forward to sharing similar experiences at other schools and campuses.

Kim Newton
Director of College Prep Programs

Leadership Seminar: International Paper

Last week, ASC Education embarked on a bit of an experiment by holding our first-ever week-long Leadership Seminar. We’ve been holding shorter seminars, anywhere from a quarter-day to two full days, since 2003, but this was our first go at expanding that model. A group of professionals from International Paper joined us Monday evening through Friday afternoon for a week examining persuasive techniques in Shakespeare’s plays, practicing communication and presentation skills, and exploring problem-solving techniques in teams.
The group consisted of individuals from many facets of the company – sales, IT, marketing, transit, legal, food services – and was truly international, with members from China, Venezuela, India, and Poland. Most of this group had little to no experience with Shakespeare, and for those international participants, it was literally a foreign language to them. So we had quite a challenge ahead of us, to get this group not only to see what Shakespeare could teach them about leadership, but to get them to have a good time doing it.
It totally worked, and in large part precisely because of Shakespeare’s stagecraft. All we had to do was show them the tools; once they got those down, they could see all the directions that he writes into his plays – everything from prop needs to movement to emotions to status markers. With that empowerment behind them, they easily grew out of their fear and into not just appreciation of but enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s plays.
Leadership Seminar participants from International Paper, back three rows, with ASC coaches and staff, front row.
Photo by Ralph Alan Cohen
 We structured our week as follows: Each morning, we examined “Shakespeare’s Models of Leadership,” examples of effective or ineffective leaders in Shakespeare. This included everyone from the obvious examples and heavy hitters – Henry V, Richard III, Antony – to less-overt or less-well-known examples of leadership and communication: Claudius, Feste, Jack Cade, Beatrice. The IP group got to watch our talented actors present scenes and monologues, and then Ralph talked through them, drawing attention to particular points of persuasion, audience appeal, personal presentation, and other aspects of communication. These examples gave us a ground level to start from and a common experience to point back at as examples throughout our other activities.
Early in the week, the group also heard from a few real-life, modern-day experts in communication and leadership, including Ronald Heifetz, the co-founder of and senior lecturer at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University and author or co-author of several important books on leadership, including Leadership without Easy Answers, Leadership on the Line, and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing your Organization and the World. In his lecture, Heifetz talked about a leader needing to be able to “look down from the balcony” – referring to the ability to step back and look at the big picture. That language stuck with the group throughout the week. Again and again, they considered the benefits of standing apart from a situation, taking up residence on that imaginary balcony and exploring the advantages the new viewpoint provided them. Several of the participants mentioned Heifetz’s lecture as a critical component to the week, providing them with inspiration and with some concrete ideas to return to as they worked through their own leadership styles.
In the rest of the day, we explored language analysis and presentation in two ways. The first was by having the participants construct, practice, review, and alter “challenge statements” – brief descriptions of some challenge they are facing in their professional or personal lives. Confused? Here’s one that one of our actor-coaches, Gregory Jon Phelps, wrote during our planning sessions, which we gave to the IP group as an example:
When presented with the task of writing this Challenge Statement, it seemed at first to be an easy assignment; its purpose clear, structure simple, and design helpful toward fully understanding the participants’ experience. However, the actual creation and construction of this statement, given all the possible subjects from which to choose, has, indeed, proven to be a challenge. The solution is simple: set aside the time it will take to write the statement, be alert and focused, and a subject will come to mind. It still seems easier said than done, though, since it is the actual deed itself, not the theoretical planning, that must be completed. Once the time has been blocked off, all other distractions have been dealt with properly, and an environment conducive to writing has been established, I’m confident that I will be inspired with a subject, that it will be effortless to write the statement, and that it will prove to be no challenge at all, but, in fact, quite fun.
The goal is to be simple, succinct, and persuasive – to be concise, but to make a strong point. We gave our participants a lot of different things to consider. Who might their intended audience be? How can they appeal to that audience? Are numerical details important? Or a personal anecdote? Do they want to present a problem and then suggest a solution? Or just focus on the problem itself? There are a lot of options; the goal is for the participants to find the approach that will work best for them, to find the way to tell the story they most want to tell. Working through these, we asked the participants to consider both their physical and vocal presentation, using lessons learned from the coaches as well as from Doreen Bechtol’s morning warm-up sessions, as well as the structure of their thoughts, their word choice, patterns of speech, and specificity of language.
The second exploration challenged the participants to put together scenes out of cue scripts. In many ways, this involved leadership in practice more strongly than anything else they did during the week. Due to the nature of cue scripts, each member of the team only had part of the information necessary to build the scene, so they had to figure out how to communicate their needs to each other. The exercise also stresses the importance of listening, since one character might have embedded stage directions not in their own lines, but in what someone else says.
Both of these challenges made some of our participants pretty nervous on the first day. I could see the standard markers of hesitation and fear. We strove to combat those reactions by creating safe spaces for experimentation, and part of that meant starting in smaller, non-threatening groups. We started the week in small groups of three or four participants, attached to one coach (myself or one of the six actors working with us through the week: Miriam Donald Burrows, John Harrell, Daniel Kennedy, Gregory Jon Phelps, René Thornton Jr., and Jeremy West). Those small groups worked through both the challenge statements and the cue scripts on Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, we teamed up into groups of five and six, with two coaches: slightly wider range of feedback for challenge statement, slightly larger and more complex scenes to work through. Thursday, we glommed further into groups of ten and twelve, with three or four coaches, and on Friday morning, the entire group presented their final challenge statements and final scenes. This structure allowed the experience to build from simple to complex, as well as fostering the participants’ increased confidence each step of the way.
IP participants rehearse a scene from Julius Caesar,
with acting coach Daniel Kennedy visible, lower right.
Photo by Cass Morris
It was amazing to watch. On Tuesday, my group members needed a lot of help from me. The coaches weren’t meant to direct, but I found that I did need to ask a lot of leading questions about both the challenge statements and the scenes. Is there another way you can try that? Was that a conscious choice, or an accident? Is there a place you can choose to move? What in the text tells you that? Who are you saying that to? So, too, my group had a lot of questions for me – about the language, about pronunciation, about character relationships. I gave them only the bare necessities, nudging them to look in the text for clues.
And they got there. By Friday morning, with four coaches in the room, they barely needed us at all. Many times, I would notice myself or one of the other three coaches in the room start to open our mouths to suggest something or to ask a question – only to shut them again because the group had already gotten there, had already found the clue in the text. The language was no longer a barrier. They were hunting out clues, listening for embedded stage directions, considering the stage picture and the requirements of the scene, making decisions about who could and should stand where, and when they should move. I could hardly keep from bouncing with glee, it was such a thrill to watch them, knowing how far they had come in just a couple of days. What’s more – they were laughing their way through it, enjoying even the errors, making big and bold choices and delighting in the process. I love things like this, because it verifies what we claim about Shakespeare – that he wrote those clues into the text, that he wrote for actors, with the ideas of staging in mind.
Over the course of the week, we coaches became pretty attached to our groups. Having the privilege of seeing a group through from Day 1 to Day 5 was incredible, and when one of “mine” nailed something in a presentation, I felt a burst of pride (and sometimes couldn’t stop from doing a joyous fist-pump in the air). As we merged with other groups, it was also great to see how their members had evolved, what challenges they had faced that were similar to or different from ours, and how they integrated those ideas when working together.
The final challenge statements were a world apart from where the participants had started at the beginning of the week. Instead of mumbling voices, shuffling feat, hunched shoulders, and aimless sentences, we had bold tones, clear enunciation, excellent posture, straight backs, and focused statements. From hesitancy and obfuscation, we got confidence and clarity. (And, as a bonus, I think we all learned something about both the mechanics and the business of producing paper). The best part, though, was that I could sense the confidence our participants had gained over the week. At the beginning of the week, it had been a bit like drawing teeth to get anyone to volunteer to speak. By Friday morning, they were queuing up, eagerly anticipating their turns to take the stage.
One of the most touching moments was when one of the Chinese participants gave her final speech. She hadn’t been in any of my working groups, so I hadn’t had the opportunity to see her through that process of evolution. Instead, I got to see a night-and-day difference. The first day, she had been shy, uncomfortable with presenting in a foreign language, apologizing for herself (even though, as we pointed out, absolutely no one was judging her, since she certainly knows more English than any of us know Mandarin). On the last day, she delivered her challenge statement in Chinese, rather than in English. Having no Chinese myself, I didn’t understand a word, but I could still see a world of difference in her presentation. She was confident, she stood tall and straight, and even though I didn’t know what her words meant, I could tell which ones were important. She was choosing places to pause, choosing where to get louder or softer, and using her body to tell the same story of emphasis as her words. It was remarkable, and I know I wasn’t the only one getting a little choked up, seeing how far she – and all the others in the group – had come.
Following those scenes, we had one last conversation with the whole group, and here, the participants confirmed a lot of what I’d been seeing in practice. Getting to hear, in their own words, what this week had meant for them and what they had learned was incredibly valuable, and also quite touching. Several of them found the cue script exercises to be valuable, particularly for what it taught about giving and receiving focus, about when it’s a leader’s job to speak, and when it’s a leader’s job to listen. Others had awakened to the value of trying out a speech different ways, with different inflections or different word choices, of playing around with the language, and of giving themselves permission to try something that might not work in order to find the thing that would. Still others appreciated the opportunity to be vulnerable and to go through the process of self-auditing and reflection. They talked about the value of asking questions, of showcasing different aspects of communication, of learning about different kinds of leaders, and of finding inspiration in unexpected places.
One of the greatest joys in my job is getting to see people awaken to both the great value and the great joy of Shakespeare, and last week demonstrated both of those as thoroughly as I could imagine. Expanding the Leadership program to a full week gave me and the other coaches the opportunity to see the transformative nature of this kind of work. Best of all, throughout the entire week, I never heard a single person say, “No, I can’t do this” or “No, I won’t do this.” Skeptical as they were at the outset, they were still willing to try – and once they took that first step, the infinite variety lay ahead, just waiting for them. I can’t wait to do it again.

Exploration and Revelation: The Winter 2012 Teacher Seminar

This past weekend, we held our Winter Teacher Seminar, a two-day event where participants attend workshops and lectures and see two of the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Thanks in part to a generous grant from the Richard and Caroline T. Gwathmey Memorial Trust, more educators than ever were able to join us – and we had a group from diverse teaching backgrounds: middle schools, high schools, and universities, public and private, military and religious, as well as some professional acting companies and arts organizations. We also had participants join us from as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as representing 16 cities and counties within Virginia. It was so exciting to have such a full, enthusiastic group with us for the weekend. I always feel so energized after these events, so full of joy for the work that we do together and for the new avenues of insight these educators feed back to me.

Saturday’s workshops focused on Much Ado about Nothing, Sunday’s on Richard III. Ralph drew connections between the two plays, and how each has its moments of invited and inappropriate laughter, and each its moments inviting or castigating silence. He drew a correlation between these moments on stage and in the classroom – after all, there are times teachers desperately hope that their students laugh at a joke, and there are times teachers abhor hearing laughter. He also encouraged the teachers to find their own personal hook within the play, something that calls to them and energizes them, and to teach those moments. Teaching requires no small part of vulnerability, to lay out the things you care for to what may often seem an unruly mob of the disaffected and cynical.

Saturday morning, we also modeled one of the activities out of the Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide. This one was my baby, and I’d been looking forward to working through it with our seminar attendees ever since I wrote it back in November – so I was actually fairly nervous heading in. Like any teacher, I have had, on occasion, something I’m really excited about flop rather pathetically when brought to the table. I always learn something from that experience – how I might need to tweak the activity, toss out elements that aren’t working, or graft a new idea on – but failure isn’t exactly pleasant to go through, however constructive it may ultimately be. So, heart in my hands, I stepped up to lead this workshop. And it went wonderfully(!).

The exploration is an active one, examining how language can inform character choices in the various sparring matches between Beatrice and Benedick. Participants – with the help of the rest of the class – look for moments when one character repeats the other, builds on a metaphor the other started, or arranges contrast of some kind. What the seminar attendees discovered – as I’d hoped they would – is that while Beatrice and Benedick use the same rhetorical devices with each other in three different scenes, the way they use them creates three very different moods, from the aggressive sparring of 1.1 to the tender hesitation of 4.1 to the playful equilibrium achieved in 5.2. We make these devices visual and kinetic – to appeal to different kinds of learners – by having our Beatrice and Benedick peg nerf balls at each other each time, highlighting the verbal tennis match they engage in. It was great to see at what moments one of them (usually Beatrice) was able to score more points.

I love this activity for how it demonstrates several different advantages of performance-based learning: first, how Shakespeare creates these characters as so right for each other. No one else in the play – even in a play as full of quick wits as Much Ado is – can quite match their verbal dexterity. Second, the activity highlights that “infinite variety” of performance choices Sarah and I are always talking about. The rhetoric gives actors – and students – not an answer, but the grounds on which to make a decision. Our avatar Beatrices and Benedicks were able to offer so many alternatives on even the smallest moment – it really drives home that idea of performance-based learning. Finally, this activity appeals to many different kinds of learners, as it involves verbal, textual, visual, and kinetic elements. Everyone from the class clown to the shiest member of the class has a place in this activity. I think all of those elements came across for our seminar attendees, and I’m so pleased I got to share this workshop with them.

You can view a sample of this workshop in-progress on YouTube:

The Gwathmey grant also allowed us to bring two guest speakers to Staunton, giving our participants the chance to interact with scholars whose research bears a direct emphasis on the plays they saw and their classroom activities. Chelsea Phillips, a veteran of MBC’s MLitt/MFA program and now a third-year Ph.D. student at Ohio State University, came down to share thoughts related to her dissertation: the presence of pregnant bodies on stage. This discussion is particularly relevant this year, as Miriam Donald, who plays Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing and the Duchess of York, among other roles, in Richard III, is visibly pregnant. We wanted to offer teachers – especially those bringing their students to see one of those two productions this year – the benefit of Chelsea’s research into the historical precedent of pregnant actresses playing non-pregnant roles, in order to give them a solid grounding on which to base classroom discussion. Chelsea also works on Ohio State’s partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company implementing the RSC’s Stand Up for Shakespeare program in local schools, making her a valuable resource on Shakespeare in the classroom. On Sunday, Carter Hailey joined us for a lecture-demo on textual variants. Carter has taught Medieval and Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, and textual studies at Washington and Lee University, the College of William and Mary (where yours truly was one of his students), Sweet Briar College, and Georgetown University, and he publishes on matters bibliographical, lexical, and editorial. In addition to discussing the textual histories of Much Ado about Nothing and Richard III, he shared Hailey’s COMET, a portable optical collator of his own design and construction, which provides critical editors with a new way of examining variants between texts. We synthesized Carter’s lecture with an exploration of how to use textual variants in the classroom as a way to give students greater ownership of the text, allowing them to realize that there is no One Shakespeare to Rule Them All – rather, that the text as they see it has already passed through the hands of many compositors and editors, and that they may make choices based on this awareness.

So, that was the weekend. As ever, I wished I had more time. There’s always so much more to say, more staging moments to discuss, more of Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft to explore. I’m already looking forward to our spring seminar, in April, when we’ll be leaping into A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale. I’m also going to be releasing a survey soon, both to our seminar participants and to anyone who’s purchased a Study Guide from us, asking for feedback on the information and activities we provide. It’s interesting to have to examine what it is I need to know from our teachers – a sort of backwards self-evaluation. I’ll be putting their feedback into practice when I start – very soon – building the Study Guides for next year. My first endeavor will be Twelfth Night, as we already have folks booking the touring company asking for it. I love seeing so much advance enthusiasm for the ASC’s synthesis of education and performance. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who joined us this past weekend, and I sincerely hope we’ll see you all again soon.

The Ides of March are come…

You can’t get around the Shakespeare-oriented Internet today without discovering that it’s the Ides of March. The #idesofmarch tag on Twitter is pretty interesting — varying degrees of clever jokes, historical facts, and complete nonsense, with a lot of people saying RIP Caesar and even more saying “Watch out!” or that they hope nothing bad happens today. The Ides of March has become, through a slightly weird cultural association, a bad-luck day, inauspicious, much like Friday the 13th. I wonder what Caesar would make of it to know that, two thousand and fifty-five years later, his death remains so prominently remembered. I also wonder how much Shakespeare has to do with that — Would Caesar’s legacy remain so prominent if not for Shakespeare’s dramatic presentation of his death? Would Plutarch and Suetonius be enough to prick the memories of western civilization? I don’t think we can ever know — You can’t prove a negative, after all. But I was a classicist in a former scholastic life, so I’ve read my Roman historians like any good Elizabethan schoolboy would have done, so I can say this much for certain — Shakespeare certainly told the story in more dramatic and exciting way.

Given the day, I thought it might be a nice opportunity for a mini-lesson on rhetoric. I use Mark Antony’s eulogy for Caesar (or, at least, the first chunk of it) as my standard example for rhetorical exercises, because it’s just so beautifully constructed. It’s genius for the character within the world of the play, and it’s genius for what it tells an actor playing the part. I had the great fortune last week to test out my rhetoric workshop (still very much a work-in-progress) with groups of visiting students from Colorado College and the University of South Dakota. As giddy as I get playing with rhetoric on my own, it’s so much more exciting to bounce ideas off of other people, lead them through what I know, and then see what they find that I didn’t notice.

So. Mark Antony, grief-stricken but already plotting revenge, convinces Brutus and Cassius to let him speak at Caesar’s funeral. Brutus goes first, giving a prose speech where he explains that he killed the tyrant though he loved the man. When Antony steps up, he’s initially fighting a losing battle. He addresses it thus:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

I wish I had a way to put my rhetorical markup in the blog, but I don’t think the system will support it, so I’ll have to talk you through instead.

The dominant devices in use are those of repetition and those arranging contrast. He repeats key words throughout the speech, reminding the audience both that “Brutus said he was ambitious” and that “Brutus is an honorable man.” What I like is the build; he starts out just repeating words (polyptoton on “grievous”), then he moves into phrases, then, by the end, it’s full lines (diacope and epistrophe). There’s a sort of confidence-building you can see in the way Antony structures his repetitions. But why repeat those words specifically? Well, the very repetition of those ideas forces his audience to call the truth of them into question. Each time he says Brutus is honorable, he’s making the plebs wonder if that is, in fact, the case. That he mates the repetition with carefully seeded rhetorical questions (erotema) amplifies this effect. The focus on honor is also Antony’s way of avoiding blame; no one can accuse him of inciting the people against Brutus if he keeps telling them that Brutus is honorable. What one of the students in our workshop pointed out last week is that the repetition could also be a way of re-hooking the audience if he senses that he’s starting to lose them, to pull them back in. In this way, the rhetoric gives acting clues not just for Antony, but for the plebs as well.

Antony’s devices of direction are sometimes of building force (auxesis), but more often of arranging contrast (antithesis). His either-ors contrast Caesar’s generosity with his supposed ambition. He wants his audience to draw distinctions between what they knew about Caesar and what Brutus said about Caesar, between Caesar’s actions towards the people and Brutus’s claims of ravenous ambition, and then to decide for themselves that Brutus was wrong to kill him. Whereas Brutus had to justify his actions, Antony doesn’t have to justify anything. He simply lays out facts about what Caesar did, what ambition should look like, and what Brutus said, and lets the plebs drawn their own conclusions. This contrast works hand-in-hand with the repetitions, as noted above. By circling around to the same ideas over and over again, he reels the audience in, taking them by degrees away from their allegiance to Brutus.

So, what does this tell us about Antony as a character? What clues does it give an actor? As one of the students in last week’s workshop said, he’s smart. Smart as a whip, in fact. The devices he uses are clever, and all the more so because he’s using them while under emotional duress, grieving for a friend, and with every awareness that the mob could turn violently against him. But Antony keeps it together. He presents his ideas clearly, and the constant repetitions seem to indicate that he knew from the start of the speech where he wanted it to go. He knows how to bring his audience along with him; the rhetorical questions, the contrast drawn by his antithetical statements, and his use of repetition lead the plebs to his way of thinking without his having to tell them directly what to think. They get there themselves, and that’s so much more effective for Antony’s purposes. His thoughts have a distinct and recognizable pattern.

Until the very end of the speech, he seems very much in control of his words, but then he breaks off, overwhelmed by emotion — a device known as aposiopesis. The end of the speech presents choices for an actor: Is Antony truly overwhelmed with passion, forcing him to break off his speech, or is he playing the emotion up to win the pity of his audience? Considering how methodical Antony has been up to this point, I would say that the emotional outburst is a calculation, another way Antony is manipulating the crowd. But an actor could definitely choose to play it differently, to show Antony as more emotional, and to connect his real heartbreak to his desire for revenge that much more strongly. One of the greatest things about rhetorical analysis is that it so often isn’t about finding the “right” answer — it’s about discovering options.

There’s so much I could say about this speech and this play — I didn’t even touch on Antony’s use of metonymy, and of course his address to the plebs goes on for another 130 lines or so, with plenty more rhetoric to pull apart. But all of that will have to wait — fortunately, I get to write a Study Guide for Julius Caesar, and we’re holding a special Teacher Seminar for it in August, so I’ll have plenty of time and plenty of opportunities to keep engaging with these fascinating words.

"But give me leave to try success": Goals and Achievements from 2010 to 2011

Yesterday, I served as the recorder for the ASC’s strategic planning meeting, which meant I had the privilege of listening in on several of our department heads and board members as they decided how we want to most focus our company’s efforts. Between that and the expected slew of New Year’s Resolutions I’ve been seeing around the Internet, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals and planning. I’ve been with the ASC for just over six months now, so this seems as good a time as any to look back and see what I’ve done so far as a part of the ASC Education team.

2010 Achievements

  • New study guides. When I came on in June, I took this project over from Christina, who had already started us down the new road. These guides were my first project at the ASC, and I’m ridiculously proud of them — they’re so much more directed towards our mission than the earlier generations of guides were, and they’re designed to help teachers get the students on their feet so they can explore the plays as they were meant to be experienced.
  • The Playhouse Insider. This is a huge thing, because we’ve never done something quite like this before. I’m so pleased with how it turned out — the articles are great (thank you, contributors!), the layout is beautiful, and there’s so much room for growth.
  • Growth of the blog — That’s right, this blog. We now get almost 900 hits a month, and that average is rising all the time. So thanks for reading, everyone! I’m so glad to have you all here.
  • Increased confidence in leading workshops, seminars, etc. I’ve gone from basically shadowing Sarah to feeling capable of developing and leading workshops on my own, and it’s been a blast. Whether it’s talking to high school students or retirees in the Road Scholars program, I make new discoveries each time I have the opportunity to share Shakespeare with a new group.
  • Tracking web mentions of the company. This project is ongoing, but I’ve been using Google Alerts to let me know whenever someone out there in the ‘tubes is talking about the American Shakespeare Center and the Blackfriars Playhouse. It’s been fascinating to see where we get mentioned (it’s a great way to keep track of our touring troupe, for one thing!), and it’s also made sure that I get to see what people are saying about us in blogs and reviews from outside the Shenandoah region.
  • I’ve learned how to use Google Docs. This program has made such a huge difference to how education has been able to build documents, refine language, and otherwise communication.
  • Twitter presence. Brand-new for the ASC this year, the whole education department got on Twitter back in the summer. I currently have 53 followers from all over the US and the UK, and the whole experience has been wonderful so far.
  • Facebook growth — Together with the marketing and development teams, we’ve seen steady and significant growth in our “likes” and followers on our Facebook page over the past six months. I use Facebook a lot to redirect to our website or to this blog, and it’s definitely increased traffic.

Not bad for six months, I think. I’m feeling particularly pleased because so many of the projects under my purview contribute to one of the company’s main strategic goals, of enhancing our company’s visibility in the world at large. ASC Education had a great year overall in 2010 — our summer programs were nearly at capacity, we had thousands of students in for school matinees, our seminars and Little Academes all went so well — the whole department has a lot to celebrate.

So, with those things achieved, or at least put into action, where do I want to be by this time next year? Here are my professional goals for my work in ASC Education in 2011 — things I’d like to improve on, expand, or achieve.

2011 Goals

  • 6 new study guides in enhanced format. With help from the rest of the education team, I’ll be building guides this year for Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, Richard III, Much Ado about Nothing, and Julius Caesar, and ideally, I’d like them all in the spiffy format our Othello guide was in this year.
  • Online resources for students. Our study guides, as they are, are geared towards teachers; we’d like to re-purpose some of those activities and to build some new projects that we can put out on the web to help students who are looking for resources on Shakespeare.
  • Expand The Playhouse Insider. I’m so excited about this project, and I want to make it even better in 2011. More articles, more world-class scholars as contributors, and, hopefully, a wider readership.
  • Read the Complete Middleton. Okay, this goal isn’t strictly professional, but I’ve had the Middleton Complete Works since last Christmas, and I’ve only cracked it open a few times. This year, I want to read as many of his plays as I can — especially since the ASC has started producing so many of them.
  • More Twitter followers — I’d love to break 100, at the least.
  • Continued growth of blog popularity — Since we went from practically zero to 900 views per month in just the last five months of last year, I’m going to aim for 2000 views a month by the end of 2011.
  • Use all of these social media connections to further relationships with other Shakespeare organizations, both in the US and internationally.
  • Host a successful Blackfriars Conference. This is obviously far from my sole responsibility, but ASC Education will be busy with this through much of the year. I want the conference to run as smoothly as possible, for all of our visiting scholars and other participants to enjoy themselves, and for everyone to learn a little something and come away with some new ideas.

I think it’s going to be a great year. We in ASC Education have so many exciting plans and things we want to make happen, and we definitely have the drive to get to our goals. I love working with Sarah, Christina, Doreen, and our interns, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the interns that will be starting in January, as well as newest team member Tom, who’s recently come on to help with our summer programming.

How about you folks? Any Shakespeare-related resolutions? I know there are several reading challenges floating out on the Internet, or maybe you’ve set a personal goal. Share, if you have — I’d love to hear about it!

Tina Packer on Leadership

The American Shakespeare Center plays host to another Federal Executive Institute today, and Shakespeare & Co’s Tina Packer, director of this semester’s M.Litt/MFA production of Pericles was on hand to talk on leadership in Shakespeare’s works. While this is a private event, your friendly neighborhood ASC education department blogger is on hand to bring you the inside scoop.

Packer starts by asking what struck institute attendees from their readings from her book Power Plays, which institute attendees have been reading, and what has moved them personally in the last couple of years. She promises to also “spill her guts” to help get the conversation moving. While going around the room, Packer introduces the idea that leaders need “to be the generator of the energy.” Persuasion and manipulation can go hand in hand. “Am I manipulating everybody? Yes. Can they be happy I’m manipulating them? I hope so. I’m only averse when you’re manipulating them to something bad.”

Packer characterizes rhetoric as being the essential component of Renaissance education. “Whether they were studying history or the humanities” the students of the Elizabethan schools were always studying the art of communication. This is what enabled the enlightenment, and Packer identifies the influence of Renaissance rhetoric on the founding documents of the United States. She considers that modern sensibilities of truthfulness have veered away from refined language and the art of communication. We too often today associate honesty with being “a man of few words” and focus on “truthful grunting.” This, she argues, is not a type of communication conducive to effective leadership. The tools of acting and persuasion can be used to create a more truthful leader who is more connected to both their causes and those whom they lead.

“We often don’t know how our creativity is going to affect other people” she says, citing Ira Aldritch’s influence on British Parliament’s decision to not support the Confederacy during the American Civil War. She argues that human beings are inherently creative, and that by harnessing the impulse to play with others that we all share, you can start to become truly creative. “All resistance is energy that’s blocked,” she says.

She concludes her session by having institute attendees experience finding the tension in their own bodies in an attempt to release that tension. She also directs them in a breathing exercise to help them control themselves through control of their bodies. With that, it’s time for the FEI to move on to another session, but Packer leaves us on a great note of individual empowerment, and with another great example of art influencing life.

And it’s time for me to be moving along, too, but thank you for joining the American Shakespeare Center Education Department once again.