Beware the Ides of March… but no need to beware this week’s education post. As we near spring time, the only pretty ring time, there is plenty of interesting and informative stuff going on out there in the world of Shakespeare and teaching. For a taste:
Shakespeare in Syria
The most amazing Shakespeare teaching story of recent weeks is that of Syrian actor Nawar Boulboul and his efforts to bring Shakespeare to children in Za’atari, the biggest refugee camp in Syria. Boulboul’s work was described in articles in the Christian Science Monitor, the Economist, and the Global Arab Network online, and it’s worth reading all three to get a well-rounded grasp of this remarkable artist and what he’s achieved already in the camp.
From the Monitor article: “The character is wonderful,” says Majid Amari, a 7th-grader who plays King Lear. “I learned from Mr. Nawar that acting is not an ordinary thing – it is something really wonderful and beautiful.”
From the Network article: “I watched the rehearsal for two plays of Shakespeare: Hamlet and King Lear, with the Syrian kids in Za’atari refugee camp… None of the children had heard of Shakespeare before. But the children found the script easy to understand and easy to act out. It captured the important scenes and kept the Shakespearean flavor.”A Chicago student reading a contemporary novel in a high school literature class
Shakespeare’s shifting place in the high school classroom
Somehow decades ago it became a sort of ironclad expectation that all high school freshman would study Romeo and Juliet, all sophomores Julius Caesar, juniors Macbeth, and seniors Hamlet — at least that’s how I remember it from the ’70s. (Anyone else have a different sequence in your era/ area?) Now that tradition might be fraying a bit at the edges, according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune discussing how more contemporary works are replacing some of the rites-of-passage classics, including several Shakespeare plays.
Noisy little eyases….? Like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling?
We’ve all been to the occasional student matinee performance where certain children just couldn’t stop attempting to make themselves the center of attention, rather than the actors. Here’s a story of just such an occasion, experienced by Susan Elkin, a columnist for The Stage.Co.UK, at a recent RSC performance of Taming of the Shrew:
“Most of the primary school pupils seemed intent on, and enraptured by, what they were seeing and hearing. If only the same could have been said for the older students. There was a great deal of raucous shouting out, especially when a character kissed or thought about kissing another. And yes, I know this may have been what the groundlings did in the 17th century but it is definitely not acceptable now when etiquette requires that you allow the people around you to hear what the actors are saying. Why had teachers not explained this in advance to pupils? I’ve led many dozens of school theatre trips and every child I ever sat with in a theatre, or school hall for that matter, understood what was required because I had made it absolutely clear beforehand.”
In the Guardian, columnist Lyn Gardner echoed Elkin’s questioning in a piece entitled, “It is time to teach theatre manners to children?” Gardner’s take is somewhat different, as she suggests that — despite her agreement with Elkin that manners are important — children are the ultimate test of a company’s ability to cast a spell through performance. In some cases, she argues, a restless audience could mean that the players need to up their game:
“I have seen raucous audiences comprised of teenagers fall entirely silent as the magic of a show takes hold. I recall a brilliant production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Improbable, involving a sticky-tape forest, that when it began could barely be heard, such was the noise in the auditorium – but which after 10 minutes had conjured the kind of silence that makes it feel as if everybody is holding their breath…. Of course politeness and good manners have their place in the theatre (as they do in everyday life), but too much politeness, combined with the insistence of teachers and parents that it must be good just because it’s theatre (even when it’s quite clearly not), is what turns kids off going to the theatre, perhaps for good. I’m certainly not advocating rotten tomatoes, but whatever their age, I’d opt for noisy and engaged audience members any day over viewers poleaxed with indifference.”
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