Guest Post: E. J. Saul, Galax, VA

Periodically, the OCS Education blog will offer guest posts by teachers of Shakespeare, to show how educators across the country are applying Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions in their classrooms. If you are interested in contributing a guest post to the blog, please contact Academic Resources Manager .

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One of the perks of raising a child is that you have a socially acceptable reason for re-reading your favorite children’s stories. One of the drawbacks of raising a child is that you sometimes wind up reading children’s stories that you don’t like over and over and over and over again. And for a good number of years, my nighttime family reading was haunted by a dark creature named Amelia Bedelia. Amelia Bedelia was a storybook maid with a strange sort of disorder; she was completely incapable of comprehending figurative language. Amelia’s employers would tell her to do something like punch the clock, and she would shrug and walk off and start hitting the grandfather clock in the living room. That kind of thing. And it might be that one reason I found these relatively inoffensive stories so annoying is that I am an English teacher in the age of the multiple choice test, and I seem to find myself with an increasing number of students who hate any answer that isn’t simple or any language that isn’t literal.

The most extreme case was a student I had a couple of years ago, and while I don’t think she would mind if I talked about this, I will call her Yvette instead of her real name anyhow. Yvette was not Amelia Bedelia – she was a very smart young woman and could recognize time honored expressions perfectly well – but she had some kind of difficulty and/or mental block about thinking metaphorically that was a pretty big deal because Yvette was a straight A student until she took my class (something she reminded me of quite frequently), and Yvette actually got a C when we spent six weeks on a poetry unit. Clearly some kind of apocalypse was in the making, and I was its prophet.

I’m being kind of flippant about it, but Yvette’s anger and panic and frustration were quite real. Yvette was a grade A memorizer. She took meticulous notes. She was always the first person to raise her hand and ask a question, and that question was almost always: “Is this for a grade?” The thing was, Yvette was an anxious person, and she hated English class because she didn’t like questions that didn’t have one right answer, or assignments that did not have completely controllable outcomes.

Now opinions may vary, but even though I’m an English teacher, I’m really not some psychic vampire who feeds off emotional anguish and suffering. It is also true that it offends me when I see a student working hard and not achieving what they want to achieve, if only because I also have students who don’t work hard for the barely passing grades they’re content with. And it seemed likely to me that Yvette’s really good grades were going to land her in a really good school with a really good freshman English class that she was going to do really badly in. So I made helping Yvette think critically a kind of personal quest, with an emphasis on exploring symbolism.  I thought that if Yvette had some small successes and built up her confidence a little, she might stop fixating on that shrill voice in the back of her head going: “I have to get an A I’m not going to get an A how do I get an A just tell me what I have to do to get an A so I can study something that actually matters!” And then she would be fine and stop using my classes as therapy sessions.

Since there are supposedly seven styles of learning (visual, aural, physical, logical, social, verbal, and Google), I tried a variety of approaches. Besides just explaining that symbolism could work on a visual or logical level, I tried to illustrate that point with songs, charades, Rorschach blots, epigrams, anthropocentric sketching exercises, talking while tossing a ball back and forth, and so on.

One time I played “The Yellow Rose of Texas” for Yvette and asked her what the titular yellow rose represented.

“It’s a woman,” Yvette said.

“Excellent!” I exclaimed. “Why?”

“Because he calls it a her,” Yvette said.

“Great!” I enthused. “But the singer doesn’t really call a yellow rose a her. He calls a her a yellow rose. Why does he call this woman a yellow rose?”

“I don’t know!” Yvette said. “She smells nice?”

“She probably does,” I agreed, “What else?”

“She’s pretty?”

“Good! What else? What kind of pretty? How is a rose pretty? Especially a yellow rose in Texas?”

Yvette never did really suggest anything else. Instead, I did that thing that teachers do and made the mistake of giving Yvette increasingly specific questions trying to get her to state the answers that I already had in mind. Eventually we questioned and answered our way around the possibility that the woman might be a blonde and might be named Rose, but seemed rare and precious to the singer in any case because a yellow rose in a Texas climate would be a rare thing. But when I asked Yvette to apply that kind of questioning and thinking for herself, it didn’t seem that I had helped her at all.

“Can you think of something else rare and pretty and precious that the singer might have compared this woman to instead of a yellow rose?”

“A purple rose?”

“…”

“Oh God, I suck.”

“No, that answer’s just probably a little too similar to a yellow rose. Can you—”

“A purple violet?”

Yvette finally got symbolism for herself, by herself, at a random moment. Yvette’s class was studying Hamlet, and we were doing an exercise where the students had to stage the play within a play that Hamlet writes in order to trap Claudius, the only proviso being that they couldn’t use any words, words, words (this was the very first exercise I ever did at one of the OCS’s educational seminars by the way, so there’s a plug). Yvette was watching another group do this scene, and a student was pretending to pour poison into another student’s ear, and I would like to lie and say that Yvette suddenly got really excited and stood up and interrupted the scene with a big dramatic moment, but that didn’t happen.

Instead, Yvette came up to me after class with this kind of shy smile on her face and asked me if the poison that the actor poured in another actor’s ear was gossip. And she was beaming and kind of excited. And I didn’t really know what she was talking about, so I asked her what she meant, and Yvette mentioned a scene where Claudius refers to gossip as poison in the ear. And Yvette went on to say that Claudius killed his brother with poison in the ear, and gossip went in the ear, and Claudius was afraid that gossip about Claudius killing his brother would be just as deadly to Claudius as the poison Claudius used on his brother.

“Actually, you’re wrong,” I said. “He referred to gossip as a kind of infection in the ear. Get out.”

No, just kidding. I was thrilled. It was a pretty sophisticated argument once I untangled it, and it came out of the blue.

That’s one of the things I like about teaching Shakespeare. It always provides moments that take me completely off guard (and often in a good way). That’s good for the students, and it’s good for me because it keeps the class from feeling like a factory floor. (I just had a mental image from that Pink Floyd “The Wall” movie where kids are being marched into a sausage grinder by the way.)

I’m not claiming that Shakespeare is some kind of miracle cure for everything that ails public education, or that Yvette went on to love English and later became Poet Laureate. I’m not even claiming that teaching Shakespeare is always fun — though it can be. I love Shakespeare, but the bard is actually kind of hard for me to teach sometimes because I don’t like sharing something I love only to have it ignored, put down, complained about, or dismissed. I had a year where I taught MacBeth to my 4th period class and it was MacDeath. I would then teach the same play the same way to my 5th period class, and it was like a fresh MacBreath. There are no guarantees.

What I am claiming is that teaching high school is a lot like dropping coins in a slot machine. Just doing the same thing over and over doesn’t guarantee the same result every time, big tangible pay-offs that draw a lot of attention to themselves are rare, I have to keep plugging away while groping around for change, and I’m no longer allowed to do it in the state of Nevada.  (Ummm…again, just kidding about that last part). And Shakespeare’s writing provides lots of coins to work with because when you add the performing aspect it makes Shakespeare personal and fun and pretty much uses all of the learning styles. Kids who are visual can see the lines performed. Kids who are kinetic learners can jump around and play with staging and body language. Kids who are aural can play with soundtracks or sound effects or just listen to the different intonations when they try lines different ways. Kids who are social learners can enjoy the play as the thing. Kids who are logical can puzzle out the language, and so on. If nothing else, playing with Shakespeare takes those lesson plans where teachers have to document what standardized state objectives they are accomplishing and lights them up like Christmas trees. But that’s a cynical and pragmatic note, and Shakespeare is not about nothing else, or even what else. It can be about everything and anything else once you unclench a little and let the words speak through you.

So that’s my piece, my Shakespeare teaching moment. If any here I have offended, content yourself, my blog is ended. Piece out. :)

EJ Saul teaches English at Galax High School in Southwest Virginia.  He is a Leo and likes walks on the beach, warm sunsets, puppies, and Jazz. Oh, and Shakespeare.

You, O the dearest of creatures, would even renew me/with your eyes.

Snapshot of the October 12-October 17, 2014

 

Sunday: Filmed pre-show lecture and staged reading of the Menaechmi

Monday:  Shakespeare Theatre Association Executive Board Conference Call to finalize January Conference plans (secretary), finalize grant application for First Folio

Tuesday: All day retreat with Education Team, MFA production of Twelfth Night

Wednesday: Scholar interview with 9 OCS actors, host lecture, welcome visiting University group

Thursday: Comment on MFA workshop presentations, meet with British Education scholar, Marketing meeting for artistic season, train box office staff to use LCD projector,  host lecture, welcome visiting University group

Friday:​L​ed workshop with 3 OCS actors for University group, met with Globe Education Head of Learning, training on new software for Education Programs to implement this month

Saturday:Meet with ASL interpreters for upcoming show, welcome 3rd visiting University

Sunday:​Begin again

It​’​s been 5 years since I stepped into the role of Director of Education at the American Shakespeare Center.

​Each year has presented a variety of challenges and successes.  I am so proud of the work that the Education team has taken on​,​ and I am amazed by the output of such a small group of people. At our retreat this week, the reason we are able to do so much was once again made clear to me. We all believe strongly in the mission of this little company that can.

“The American Shakespeare Center recovers the joy and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education.”

My first task when I took this position was to write the language for the annual brochure for Education.  I went straight to our mission and used the words there to describe each of our programs. That attention to the mission continues to be a focus of our work, so much so that our recent visitors from Shakespeare on the Road commented that we all, every department, each individual, knows what is at the heart of the work here and speaks about it in uncannily similar ways. So we know why we do this work. I think the question that tickles Education right now is how.

In my first couple of years in the job, changes in the company kept the work in Education fresh and new. Whether itwas the staffing changes brought about by the economic downturn forcing us to think in new, efficient, and creative ways, or the addition of a Managing Director with an actual ​arts management degree, who could encourage and allow growth, or the new staff in Education that growth supported, we seemed to have something new to celebrate every few months–publishing our study guides, putting out our own magazine, moving our camp to the college, adding college credit, adding a new camp for Adults, adding a summer teacher seminar, re-vamping our staged readings. Each change, and the success we experienced brought us joy and a sense of renewal.  But, each also brought more work to an already taxed team. How can we maintain our quality of programming and our commitment to the mission?

We made some inroads this week in answering that question.  We are going to be looking hard at the work we do and how we do it for the next little while.  Just because we can keep so many balls up in the air doesn’t necessarily mean we should.  As we move forward, I ask you for your help.  Tell us what comes to mind when YOU think about OCS education. It can be just one word, or it can be a paragraph.  With your help, we will continue to build on our programming and create new opportunities for many others to experience the joy that Shakespeare’s plays can bring to anyone.

“These be the stops that hinder study quite”: In Defense of Enjambment

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my current project is building a scansion workbook — a practical guide to understanding, marking, and performing meter in Shakespeare’s plays. This workbook follows a far different structure than our usual Study Guides, based on the scaffolding of language skills rather than on elements of a play’s plot, history, and staging challenges. Once we get through the basics of syllables, feet, and pentameter, we get to play with the aspects of scansion that pertain more to character and performance.

I came to scansion through Latin long before I came to it through English. Years before anyone had bothered to explain to me what iambic pentameter is, beyond perhaps a token mention of “that’s the stuff they make sonnets out of,” I was beating out the long and short vowels of Ovid, Catullus, and Horace. In my AP class, we had to recite Latin poetry aloud, which meant careful attention to the cadence of the lines. I learned a lot about elision — particularly when it comes to slurring vowel sounds together — and I learned about enjambment. One of the things my teacher hammered into my adolescent head was the concept that you don’t stop at the end of a line unless that’s actually where the thought ends. Of course, where the thought ends can be a tricky matter to determine, since Latin originally had no punctuation, and no spaces, for that matter. You either have to choose to trust the editor of your text (which I did far more readily at 16 than I do now), or else you had to figure it out for yourself through the translation. Once you made the determination, you had to put it into your voice during the recitation. Taking an unnecessary breath docked points from our grade.

Enjambment means, quite simply, that the thought or sentence continues past the end of the line. Here’s an example from Macbeth (click to expand):

Enjamb1

Now, this speech is a goldmine of information when it comes to both scansion and rhetoric (elisions! stressed conjunctions and pronouns! antithesis!), and my markup is far from the only potential choice in many of those lines. For the purposes of this conversation, however, just look specifically at those little right-pointing arrows. Each of those indicates an enjambed line. Many of them, as you can see, then lead to caesuras — those mid-line breaks — and many involve feminine endings, a final unstressed eleventh syllable tagged on to the end of a pentameter line.

Compare that to something like this speech from Richard II (click to expand):

Enjamb2

It’s one of the most rhetorically dense passages in Shakespeare — but not a single enjambed line. I could make an argument for ignoring the comma at the end of line for, after “head”, perhaps, and enjambing that line, but all the others are very clearly end-stops. They vary between full-stops, like periods, and partial stops, like commas, but in this passage, there is a sense that each line completes a thought or clause of some sort, even if the sentence continues. On the whole, Shakespeare’s later plays are more enjambed than his early ones — but you can certainly find end-stops in Macbeth, Othello, Coriolanus, and The Tempest, just as you can find enjambed lines in the Henry VIes, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew. Plays which are heavily rhymed, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are more likely to have more end-stops as well, as enjambment tends to obscure the rhyme.

Enjambments and end-stops are one of the topics I’ll be covering in this new workbook. As I’ve been researching and discussing the process, however, I’ve run across the doctrine — apparently far more dominant, at least in some spheres, than I’d ever imagined — that an actor should take a brief pause at the end of each line of iambic pentameter, whether or not the punctuation and sentence structure make that indication. I’ve heard it justified as “the way the verse works” — which ignores the fact that enjambment is, itself, part of how the verse works, a conscious choice by an author to go on rather than to create a break. I’ve also heard that it’s necessary, because ten syllables is about how much an actor can say with one breath — which seems not only to undervalue the lung capacity of actors, but to ignore the playable value of that breathlessness, should it occur.

This is a weird concept to me. How can you ignore enjambment like that? Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that punctuation alone is unreliable, what with the variant preferences of typesetters. From my explorations of the Folio and quartos, however, it’s generally pretty clear where a line is end-stopped versus enjambed, even if the precise nature of the stop as a period, semicolon, colon, or question mark might be up for debate. Even where you can’t trust the punctuation, you can also figure out where a thought terminates or turns. (Rhetoric can help here, too, by identifying shifts in focus or alterations to a pattern).

End-stopped lines and enjambed lines operate differently. If you pause indiscriminately, you lose the crucial information that the enjambment gives you — that breathless, rushing quality which is a character clue and a clue for performance. Pausing at the end of each line in that speech of Macbeth’s doesn’t just interrupt the flow of thoughts — potentially obscuring comprehension of an already-difficult bit of text — it also misses out on something critical about Macbeth himself. The entire speech is, after all, about his attempt to squish time together and “jump the life to come,” to get to the end without pausing at the middle. It makes sense that, metrically, he’d be rushing, eliding, and running ahead of himself. His cadence transmits emotional information.

One of the comments that the OCS most frequently gets from our audiences is that our plays are accessible, easy to understand. I believe part of the reason for that lies in enjambment. Our actors speak their lines with attention to scansion and stressed syllables, but also as though they are… sentences. Things that people would actually say, in the manner they would actually say them. Enjambment is a part of pentameter. I have to think that our actors’ acknowledgement of that piece of the pattern, following a thought through to its natural end rather than carving it into bits, contributes to our audience’s ease of understanding. So, when it comes to the OCS Scansion Workbook, we’re going to promote what’s worked here at the Playhouse and in our classrooms: pause when the thought indicates you should, not just because you’ve said ten syllables and need a break.

What were you taught? What do you use in practice or teach others? Can you hear a difference when listening to Shakespeare in performance?

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

Evolution of a Study Guide

Since starting work with the OCS in June of 2010, I’ve created Study Guides covering 19 of Shakespeare’s plays, along with our From Class to Cast guide to production. Each year’s new Study Guides typically cover the shows which are our Student Matinees at the Blackfriars Playhouse. These are usually major curriculum shows such as Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, though not always, as my guide for The Two Gentlemen of Verona can attest. This year, however, all of our matinee shows are plays I’ve already created Study Guides for (Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors in the Fall, The Taming of the Shrew in the Actors’ Renaissance Season, and Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing in the Spring). This has given me a few different wonderful opportunities.

IMG_1491First, I’m getting a chance to do a Version 2.0 on each of those guides. This process has been a revelation to me, since it’s a tangible representation of how my pedagogical thoughts have shifted and expanded over the past four years. Some of that has come from observation, some from things I’ve learned at conferences (our own Blackfriars Conference or others), and some of it has been simple trial and error. Working with teachers in our seminars has helped me see which activities take off like shining stars and which need a little extra boost to hit maximum efficacy. In the guide for The Comedy of Errors, for example, I’ve updated the section on the rhetorical device of stichomythia based on an activity that really fired everyone’s imaginations in a later year, when we were working in Much Ado about Nothing (see the picture at right — and if you’re curious what that’s about, join us Oct 3rd-5th for the Fall Seminar!).

Since updating the guides doesn’t take as long as writing one from scratch, however, it also frees me up to expand our offerings in new ways. By the Spring, I’ll have a Marlowe guide to add to our Shakespearean shelf, focusing mostly on Doctor Faustus, to help teachers who look at these two early modern heavyweights in conjunction with each other. I’m eager to find out where the similarities and differences will lie in building a guide for Kit instead of Will.

I’m also starting work on something in an entirely new format: a scansion workbook. This is in early stages yet, but I’m excited to develop it. I’m hoping to create a hands-on, step-by-step guide to the mechanics of metrics and their application for actors. This guide was partly inspired by watching our actors in their tablework rehearsals this summer. Since we so strongly believe this is a tool that all students and actors of Shakespeare should have at their disposal, it makes sense to add a scansion-focused workbook to the resources we offer. If all goes well with that, next year I’ll build a similar workbook for rhetoric.

We’re also looking into ways to build more multimedia into our educational resources. Over the next year, the Education Department hopes to produce a series of short videos sharing exciting discoveries, tips and tricks, and demonstrations of activities.

One of the best things about Shakespeare, I think, is that you can never stop learning from the plays. Dr. Ralph has been teaching for forty years, and I still get to watch him make brand-new discoveries in the middle of workshops, when some nuance of rhetoric or staging strikes him in a way he’s never thought of before. It’s that energy that drives me when I’m building and rebuilding these Study Guides: the idea that however many discoveries I make, however many activities I create, I’ll never be done. There’s always something else to explore — and that’s the energy I most want to pass on to classrooms.

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

Summer/Fall 2014 Playhouse Insider: On Sale Now!

The seventh issue of the Playhouse Insider is now available at the Blackfriars Playhouse Box Office. Here’s a sneak peek at the articles within, exploring the shows of the 2014 Summer and Fall Seasons:SF14InsiderCover

  • What is it that most defines Cyrano de Bergerac? His panache. OCS Education Artist Natalia Razak explores “what it really means to live, love, and die without compromise.”
  • Jeremy Fiebig of the Shakespeare Standard and Sweet Tea Shakespeare examines characters as actors in Macbeth and Hamlet, with particular attention to how the titular men fit into or fight against their own stories.
  • Former OCS actor Luke Eddy, now teaching at the University of Central Oklahoma and at Oklahoma City University, discusses how playing Antipholus of Syracuse in the OCS’s 2008/9 touring troupe helped his own journey of self-discovery.
  • What makes Macbeth and other villains “break bad”? Benjamin Curns, a longtime OCS actor and fight choreographer who is now pursuing an MFA at UNC Chapel Hill, explores the nature of villainy in Shakespeare’s plays.
  • MBC student Sarah Martin discusses the rehearsal process behind the MLitt program’s 2012 production of Pericles, including the dramaturgical information on the play’s sources which contributed to the cast’s stylistic choices.
  • Bob Jones, who holds an MFA from Mary Baldwin and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Austin, discusses his experience directing Edward II at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2008, focusing on the relationship between Edward and the audience.
  • What’s Shakespeare like at a re-creation of one of his other playhouses? Katherine Mayberry of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare shares experiences from actors and audiences at the Rose Theatre in Twin Lake, Michigan.
  • Did you know that our Director of College Prep Programs is also a champion of under-appreciated early modern plays? Kim Newton celebrates Fair Em, which had its North American premiere during this summer’s OCS Theatre Camp.
  • Last year, the OCS passed a major milestone: completing Shakespeare’s entire canon in its 25th year, and audience member Tim Hulsey has seen all thirty-eight plays at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Find out what keeps him coming back, season after season.

Pick up your copy of the Playhouse Insider at the Box Office for just $5 — a perfect companion to your playgoing experience. The issue not only contains the brilliant words of these contributors, but full-color photos from OCS productions, as well as from performances by MBC students and the OCS Theatre Camp, and from the Rose Theatre.

38 Plays / 38 Days Winner

Thanks so much to the dozens of you who participated in our #OCS38Plays challenge! This was a wonderful chance for us at the OCS to see what it is that draws so many people in to Shakespeare’s plays in different ways, and it opened up some wonderful conversations both here in the office and online.

Our 38 Plays / 38 Days  winner is: Alexi Sargeant! Alexi diligently participated throughout the 38 days of the contest, sharing photos, quotes, and personal recollections from productions he’s been in. He’s also an OCS Theatre Camp veteran several times over! He wins a pair of tickets to an OCS performance, and we look forward to welcoming him back to the Blackfriars Playhouse.

We also congratulate the winner of the Session 1 camp contest, Matt Gieseke, and runner-up Rachel Hubble.

“My life and education both do learn me how to respect you”: Teaching and the Art of Collaboration

Projects have a funny way of infiltrating one’s thoughts and setting up their own domain in  the mind.  I think this may be why research institutions want  their faculty showing the product of their labors (read: publication).  By encouraging faculty to invest time in  something–research, an experiment, a paper– they facilitate new solutions, innovations, connections. The project on my mind this summer is our No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, for which Cass and I (collaboratively) selected the theme of collaboration.  As I’ve been planning for it,  it has tickled my brain about all of the work we do and how it connects (or, sometimes, doesn’t) to that one word.  

 I was lucky enough to meet a scholar who is new to town for coffee yesterday to discuss some upcoming projects and to see if we could work together.  I’d been giving a lot of thought to our work in the Education Department even before this meeting, in which, as we were trading tales and getting to know one another, my colleague asked “What do you do at OCS?”

Most of the time, when I answer that question, I tend to start with our divisions — College Prep, Educator Resources, Research and Scholarship, Life-Long Learning.  I talk about the programs in each, what they mean to me.  Depending on the day, one or the other may be my favorite.

But the programs we run are not, really, what we do.  We bridge a lot of territory here in our little world — or, as we often say, we wear a lot of different hats. Kim and I are administrators, wrestling with budgets, staffing, communications.  Cass and I are curriculum developers: we worry with Common Core, clear instructions, and quelling ShakesFear. All of us write and market and edit and network and schedule and (some days it feels like more than anything else) answer emails.  Each of us have been performers at various point in our lives, and we still enjoy the aspects of our jobs that entail performing and putting together scenes and plays. We don’t get to act so much at the office or day-to-day like our colleagues a block away at the Playhouse, but we do get to teach — and in a way, that is the most collaborative and rewarding kind of performing.

We talk a lot about collaboration in theatre, but  not so much in the classroom.  It is a buzzword in one part of my job because the folks in the arts need to be collaborators in the most essential sense of the word: from the OED (you know it is a good day when I get to open that baby up) col- together + labōrāre – to work.

The word seems to be so essential in theatre that I am a little surprised (okay, disappointed) that the OED doesn’t credit Shakespeare with being the first to record it.  Instead, it first appears in print a good two and a half centuries after his death,

To work in conjunction with another or others, to co-operate; esp. in a literary or artistic production, or the like.

Shakespeare does record the concept in some of his plays. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck describes the how the Mechanicals “were met together to rehearse a play” and we see their first production meeting as they discuss the ins and outs of staging Pyramus and Thisbe. But one doesn’t find the same acknowledgement of learning, teaching, or educating together. In Shakespeare, those activities generally occur with singular pronouns — “I” or “you” or “she” or sometimes the royal “we/our.”

On the best days, the Education team gets out from behind our desks and go into a room full of people and we teach. We teach Shakespeare, history, acting, teaching.  We do it in a particular way that we learned from watching our boss, Ralph Alan Cohen, when he teaches, and from watching other teachers, who include both faculty in the Mary Baldwin Shakespeare and Performance program and the actors who work on the stage at the Blackfriars.  We teach students who are with us for one hour or one week or one semester.

We learn something every time we stand up in front of a group of people. We are lucky that the people in our classrooms, unlike those, say, in a typical public school English/Literature arts class, have chosen to be there. They want to hear what we have to say. We are doubly lucky in that our classrooms have resources that win interest instantly — actors and the stage. We are triply lucky that in our classrooms we have the opportunity to take a collaborative approach to learning.  We are not lecturers or authority figures so much as facilitators. We take pride in showing our students paths and helping their navigation and exploration. In raising genuine questions and discussing them. In exploring options and working together to achieve the best result for that moment, that group, that classroom. Knowing full well that the next moment, group, and class may resolve the exploration in a completely different (and exciting) way. That collaborative journey and its different landing points is part of why Shakespeare stays fresh on stage and in the hands of students invited to think like (and given the tools to work like) performers.

Little Academe

 

Over at the Playhouse, the artistic staff and actors spend time in a room together from the beginning of rehearsals until the closing night. Whether they are closely studying the text in table work, getting up on their feet and blocking it, or taking their curtain call, they are giving space and sharing credit with one another. They discuss the colors of the costumes and the period of the props, the movements and gestures that will unify or create the feel they are looking for from a particular moment. They will try things in different ways and work through challenges and disagreements with conversation.  They will, essentially, model an ideal environment for learning and creating: an environment that the best teachers and businesses are interested in making the norm.

In the quote from Othello that forms the title of this post, I see the three essential pieces at the heart of any genuine collaboration: life (experience), education, and respect. I think it is the last one that causes the most problems for teachers and others looking to work in a collaborative way.  For some reason, respect is a feeling that is hard to conjure up for some people with a lot of life experience and education. In the recent past I’ve noticed that the ability to collaborate with our students or with our co-workers is inversely related to how much more life experience or education we think we possess relative to theirs–or, in short, to how much we respect what they bring to the effort.  Sometimes, those in  a collaborative may need to ask: how much effort we are willing to give to showing respect? What will make this collaboration a success?

Collaboration is not easy in the best of situations — as I think the OCS has learned in the act of putting up plays since 1988. At various times, whether while running productions by two to three troupes simultaneously, or because we added new initiatives like our College Prep camp (1997) and the Actors’ Renaissance Season (2005), we have discovered that it takes time and energy to establish the system that will make the collaboration fly. And, it hasn’t always worked right off the bat. Within a system, collaborators have to be willing to acknowledge when something is broken and to work together to fix it. Otherwise they risk, in the words of one of our recent Leadership participants, that “a problem for some can quickly devolve into a problem for none.” If one person alone is not forced to deal with an issue, then it never gets addressed at all, as everyone it bothers will assume someone else will handle it.  The challenge for groups working in a truly collaborative way is to show respect for one another by recognizing an issue and bringing it to the group, working on a plan to solve it, and taking steps to do so.  Once is not enough, though; newly rising issues require the same approach whether they occur once a month or once a day.

As I watch our partner program experiment with this notion with their new MFA third year, I am learning just how important both the systems and the dogged determination to deal with situations as they arise is to the healthy functioning of a group.  And how difficult it is to build truly collaborative work into the day to day tasks we do to DO our work.  Our new third year demands collaboration of 11-12 souls for a year of their lives, and has set up some guidelines and tools to make that possible. It is the ultimate melding of pedagogy and art–a model of how to teach collaboration through process.  It has taught me that Collaboration needs not just invitation, but also stakes–something that we MUST accomplish together.  Something that gets us out from behind the devices and into one another’s space, something that has a deadline and an audience, something that we can feel pride in together.

At No Kidding Shakespeare Camp this year, our study will focus on the collaboration we find evidence of in Shakespeare’s company, the collaboration we engage in daily at the OCS, and the discoveries about collaboration we are making in the MFA third year company. We will experiment with models of collaboration drawn from what we know of Shakespeare’s rehearsal process, explore musical collaboration to see if we can compose something together, and discuss the implications of Shakespeare’s collaboration with other artists. I hope we will find new ways to engage and “work together” that feed our campers when they leave and our organization as we continue to mount productions and learn about the world of  early modern theatre. Won’t you join us?

38 Plays / 38 Days Challenge

Share your love for Shakespeare during our 38 Plays / 38 Days Challenge as we count down the days to the start of the OCS Theatre Camp! Our first session begins on June 22, and our second session begins on July 20. The OCS is also celebrating the close of our 2013/2014 Artistic Year and the completion of Shakespeare’s canon.

38Days

How to Play:

  • We’ll post a different Shakespearean play title to the OCS Facebook page and OCSTC blog every day starting on Thursday, May 15 (38 days out from the start of OCSTC Session 1).
  • Share a post about that play on any of your favorite hashtaggable social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, or Google+). Your post can be a performance (audio or video) of your favorite line, a quote, a photo, a meme, or a song.
    • Tag #OCS38plays to your post, then share it on the OCS Facebook page or as a comment to that day’s play title post.
    • Anyone can play! Participants will be entered into a drawing to win two free tickets to an OCS show. Registered OCSTC campers have the chance to earn extra prizes.
    • Each day that you post counts as one entry into the grand prize drawing, so you have up to 38 chances to win.
  • We’ll announce the winners on June 22.
  • Remember, you have to tag your post with #OCS38plays!

The Benefits of Summer Camp: “Here’s a change indeed!” — Othello, 4.2

Summer camp marks an important time of growth in the life of teens, and the effects of camp reverberate with them long after they leave a summer program. The OCS Theatre Camp provides more than just an intensive theatrical performance program for the students who study with us. OCSTC also meets teens’ developing social and psychological needs in an environment that provides more individualized and positive support than what most students receive at school alone.  Campers gain skills that are essential to spreading their wings as independent thinkers, no matter what they end up studying in college.

From OCSTC13's Pericles; photo by Miscellaneous Media

From OCSTC13’s Pericles; photo by Miscellaneous Media

Anyone who has been to the OCS Theatre Camp performances can attest to the incredible depth of skill, heart, and bravery that the campers bring to the stage during each of their shows. The performance festivals are just the capstone to what many campers describe as a life-changing transformation. The challenges which campers face in the three weeks that they spend here help them to grow into better performers and set them on a path to being conscientious leaders and artists.

The teens that find a home-away-from-home at OCSTC know that being part of our community will imbue them with a spirit of creative generosity, which is something that they can apply to any discipline. Some of our incoming 2014 campers already know their “dream jobs”; many applicants indicate that they want to be actors, but many more share that they are thinking of other paths – being musicians, anthropologists, teachers, writers, psychiatrists, journalists, lawyers, engineers, computer scientists, and astronomers.

Performing Shakespeare is just one way for all of these talented young students to celebrate their collective diversity and their inherent need to communicate about all the complexities and challenges of life, things that Shakespeare can capture in the turn of a phrase. Shakespeare speaks to teens in a way that sometimes their parents and teachers cannot.

At the conclusion of each camp session, we survey our campers about their experience. Sometimes, they write to us to share their heartfelt reflections on their time in Staunton:

“One of the first things I remember hearing at camp was “I am enough.” This was a phrase that constantly resurfaced in my mind while at camp and even now three months later and 900 miles away from Staunton …At the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp, I experienced abundant support from each person with which I made contact.”

Many teens come to camp burdened with the social weights of high school peer pressure. Although our students are already bright, confident, and mature, they leave camp with an extra boost of self-assurance that propels them to another stage of independence – that stage where being yourself is cool, nerding-out is acceptable, and Shakespeare’s words transform into personal mantras. “We have heard the chimes at midnight” is one of my favorite quotes from Henry IV, Part II, which OCSTC produced in 2006. I might not be as old as Falstaff, but recalling the days of youth and summer will always remind me of the transformative power of camp.

“It’s a place where you don’t have to worry about being judged. Camp takes you out of your comfort zone, but in a good way. It really allows you to be yourself as well as figure out who you are.

My self-confidence improved monumentally during the time I was at camp. I went into camp shy and quiet, constantly fearing that I was going to be judged negatively. By the time camp was over, I truly believed that it didn’t matter if people judged me because I am enough just how I am.

The support that our campers receive from our staff, counselors, and guest artists reverberates through their lives, especially as they prepare for college and the daunting experience of starting their careers. Building positive, professional relationships with trusted adults helps campers learn to articulate their own ideas as well as fostering self-efficacy.

From OCSTC13's Volpone; photo by Miscellaneous Media

From OCSTC13’s Volpone; photo by Miscellaneous Media

“Every single one of the teachers seemed very concerned with giving us all the advice, guidance, and knowledge they could offer so as to improve our theatrical craft; the classes, rehearsals, and performance experiences truly helped me grow as an artist in so many ways. I feel OCSTC was the perfect vehicle for college preparation for me.”

“OCSTC has helped me further discover who I am and what I love to do. The environment and people have helped me thrive into becoming a more confident and happier individual.”

Perhaps the most profound impact that camp has on our students is that they leave inspired to continue to share their joy of Shakespeare with others. We do our best to stay in touch after they “graduate” from our program. Many campers return as counselors in following summers to share their knowledge with the next crop of young Shakespeare enthusiasts. Here are some of the other great activities that our alums have been doing after they leave our program:

  • Managing and working for many professional theatre companies across the country
  • Working as engineers, computer programmers, filmmakers, librarians, business managers, producers, and entrepreneurs
  • Teaching Shakespeare to middle and high school students
  • Forming and sustaining collegiate Shakespeare companies at Exeter University, Yale University, New York University, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and many others.
  • Touring Shakespeare’s plays to schools
  • Pursuing graduate work in many disciplines, including Shakespeare and Early Modern Studies at Mary Baldwin College and King’s College London.

The OCS Theatre Camp is a community of students, young professionals, and seasoned teachers and artists who continue to create theatre, to support each other’s artistic and educational goals, and to build professional opportunities long after the summer fades away. My hope is that we enrich the lives of the campers who study and perform at the Blackfriars Playhouse and that we always cherish the contributions of young artists to the rich history and new horizons of Shakespeare in performance.

This summer, Session 1 campers will perform Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Measure for Measure, as well as Fair Em by Anonymous on July 13. Second session campers will perform Henry VI, Part 3 with two casts along with All’s Well That Ends Well on August 10. We hope you can join us.

“I will return to camp next year because camp is the most wonderful place in the whole world. I learn so much, I make so many friends, and I get to be 100% of my nerdy self 24/7. It’s fantastic!”

 

-Kim Newton

Ben Crystal Lecture Liveblog — Original Pronunciation

Sarah Enloe begins by introducing Ben Crystal as brought to us by good fortune and our connection with Tyler Moss and Sybille Bruun of The Shakespeare Forum in New York City. She opens by noting similarities between the work we do at the OCS and in the Mary Baldwin graduate program, and introduces Crystal as an actor, director, producer, and author. His biography and links to his books are available on the OCS website.

Crystal opens by stating that this year, he will be taking Original Pronunciation techniques into the new Sam Wanamaker theatre in London, and he begins with a history of his work with Original Pronunciation practices. There have been numerous Original Pronunciation productions of Shakespeare in the United States, but none in the UK for almost a decade. Crystal relates a conversation with his father, a linguist, and Mark Rylance about whether or not the pronunciation is recoverable, and, if so, how it would play to an audience. After two initial productions at the Globe, “it just sort of drifted away”. A few years ago, Crystal was asked to record a section of Richard III in Original Pronunciation for a museum display, so that museumgoers could hear the language while viewing quartos of the play, and to record an Original Pronunciation video for the Globe’s Open University. Last September, the video went viral, renewing broader interest in the practice.

To demonstrate the difference and how it changes him as an actor physically, Crystal delivers the opening Chorus of Henry V first in received pronunciation, then in Original Pronunciation — though he jokes that, with the opportunity to work on the Blackfriars Playhouse Stage, he might just “ignore all of you and just do some Shakespeare….and now, the entirety of Hamlet.” Crystal then asks what the Original Pronunciation reminds us of. Julia Nelson suggests “pirates,” and Crystal notes that that is the most popular response when he takes this lecture into schools. Another attendee suggests “a very broad country accent;” another “a bit of Irish;” others “Appalachian,” “upstate New York,” “American.” Crystal says he’s also heard Canadian and Australian. Matt Davies notes that with the pronunciation of “stage” in a long, open A, “you’re heading up into Lancashire.” Sarah Blackwell notes that “it seems to waver between accents.”

Crystal notes that, “the thing is, everyone is right,” thanks to the melting pot that London was at the time, mixing a broad variety of English accent of the times. From there, the accent moved out (voluntarily or note) from Bristol to the United States and to Australia. He then notes what the accent does physically — the vowel shifts tend to drop the voice into a lower register, as well as helping him to ground his feet. A visiting actor from the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory states that he “can hear the alliteration more.”

Crystal further discusses the tendency of Original Pronunciation to speed up a production. A Romeo and Juliet became ten minutes faster, awkwardly so when Romeo and Juliet, meant to finish their shared sonnet at the same time as their dancing, ran out of lines considerably before running out of dance.

Discoveries Crystal has made about the text, which he will cover in the lecture, include jokes, rhymes, meter, and “this lovely emotional quality” that he believes comes out more strongly in certain moments. Beginning with jokes, “the greatest example that we’ve found is As You Like It.” Jacques’s “fool in the forest” speech, Crystal points out, has a joke that is not at all funny in regular pronunciation — “from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and from hour to hour, we rot and rot, and thereby hangs a tale” — but in Original Pronunciation, the similar pronunciation of  “hour” and “whore” (both more like “oar”), the joke works spectacularly (as evidenced by the appreciation of the Playhouse audience). Crystal notes that he doesn’t think this means we should always use Original Pronunciation in productions, but that there are great discoveries to be made. Gower in Pericles and Edgar’s Poor Tom in King Lear are two examples of characters he thinks work well in O.P. He also notes the rhymes in Midsummer that don’t work in received pronunciation, and that O.P. is not the only option — it works in a rural Southern drawl as well.

The new Wanamaker theatre is giving Crystal “the opportunity to explore what this sounds like in a really, really small space”.  Since the Wanamaker is an even cozier performance space than the Blackfriars Playhouse, “We’re going to find out what it’s like to choreograph a fight for Macbeth in what is essentially a wardrobe.” He’s curious to find out how the tendency of the O.P. to change physicality will work in a new, smaller space.

Crystal then discusses how he’s sussed out precisely what O.P. sounds like: the rhymes, particularly in the sonnets; the Folio, “spelt much more like they used to speak”; and the work of linguists and translators in-period who published books discussing pronunciation. He claims that they can figure out all but 10%. “And that last 10% drives my father crazy.” But Crystal loves it, because “that last 10% is what I can fill up with me.” The accent draws him more out of the head of the standard accent and into the heart. This, he believes, brings “an ownership over Shakespeare that is rare,” both for the actor and the audience. Americans, he notes, have sometimes told him that they feel like Shakespeare isn’t theirs because “we can’t do your accent,” but that many of the vowel sounds in O.P. may in fact be more accessible naturally to Americans than to modern Brits.

Crystal then delivers the opening speech of Richard III in both received and O.P., drawing attention to the line “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature”. Original Pronunciation alters the rhythm of the line considerably, giving it a more active “canter”, particularly in creating a greater similarity between “feature” and “nature”.

He ends with “probably the second most-famous sonnet… which you’ve probably heard at a wedding… because it has the word ‘marriage’ in it.” Speaking it in O.P. opened up the true meaning of the sonnet for him as less to do with marriage and more to do with “the truest love that stands the test of time,” long beyond the physical.

Crystal then opens up to questions. An audience member asks Crystal to explicate further how O.P. changes actors’ movement, particularly with regard to the speed. Crystal thinks it’s “something to do with the center dropping,” less declamatory and “more fight-ready” in a way. He also thinks that O.P. brings out a lot of “directness” and a lot of the speed with which Shakespeare’s characters think. Crystal also discusses the tendency of productions to “use a Southern or a Birmingham accent to denote stupidity”, and how that affects the presentation of various characters in O.P.

Rebecca Hodder asks “How do you teach this?” Crystal answers that he’s not a voice coach, but thinks there are several avenues. The International Phonetic Alphabet is one route, though he states that the most common source on using IPA for O.P. “tends towards the Irish” accent, particularly in the vowels. His father is “up to J in creating an O.P. dictionary”, due for publication in 2016.

Patrick Midgley asks “how O.P. made your Hamlet more active” and requests part of the first soliloquy. Crystal relates a story where a friend complained that he rushed through that speech, though the rushing is really appropriate because, “He wants to leave. Oh, man, I’m really mad at Claudius, but I’m going to give a speech first.” He also points out that O.P. resolves the solid/sullied problem, since they are the same in O.P. He then examines “to be or not to be” and how slow many actors deliver that speech. “My god, look at David Tennant’s video on YouTube! Get on with it!” O.P.’s rapidity of delivery presents a different, less ponderous Hamlet — rather, a Hamlet anxious to get the audience to catch up to his own mind. Crystal delivers the speech in O.P. (then dissolves into giggles of glee). He also notes how the meter ought to drive speed, particularly when it comes to choosing pauses.

Charlene Smith asks “Have you done any O.P. works with other early modern playwrights.” Crystal answers, “I know nothing about other early modern playwrights. I slander Marlowe all the time.”

Another audience member asks about how the other O.P., Original Practice, works with Original Pronunciation, and asks what value Crystal finds in that. Crystal discusses the restrictiveness of the costumes, but thinks that his greatest discovery was regarding the pillars at the Globe and how they inform entrances and stage pictures. “I adore the pillars; I climbed one once.”

Michael Hendry asks about the future of O.P. — if it will come to dominate performance. Crystal isn’t sure, but thinks that “if in fifty years, we’re speaking Shakespeare in accents that let the rhymes work, that would be great.” As his final statement, Crystal says he hopes that the discoveries possible in O.P. will become more commonly used, even if the accent itself isn’t, helping to move further away from received pronunciation.