October: the month of Halloween; of ghouls and witches, and also the month where many school pupils are studying Macbeth. How easy is it to teach this play to young people and what resources are available out there to help teacher engage their pupils?
Googling ‘Macbeth teaching resources’ will bring up thousands of results, some useful and others less so. In this post I aim to share some of the things that I’ve found useful (and yes, I am teaching it too at the moment) and also, some of the more exciting practical performance experiences that you could offer to your students.
In my first few years as a high school teacher I was lucky enough to be part of a project run by the BBC called Shooting Shakespeare where a team from the BBC came to the school where I was teaching to take shots of the students staging elements of the story from Macbeth using found objects. Pupils were fully engaged and creative and, to this day, the photos show a high level of understanding of the key themes and ideas in the tragedy.
Currently in Moscow there is an exhibition of 150 Years of Stage Photography, also entitled Shooting Shakespeare
This runs from 1st October to 1st January 2015. As a teacher I think that a visual image from a theatrical production can be a very powerful tool (I use it less now that I am a teacher of blind and partially sighted young people) and there are many opportunities online to find these images.
The RSC Website has image galleries for most plays where productions and interpretations can be compared.
We might assume the witches to be old hags, but some pictures suggest very different ideas.
Other exciting ways to bring the play to life are to go to a live performance. Metropolitan Opera in the NYC Theatre is currently staging a version of Verdi’s Macbeth, complete with cars on stage! This particular production is directed by the British Adrian Noble (formerly from the RSC) and although it closes in New York on 18th October, it is also being screened to cinemas and theatres across the world over the next couple of months.
If, as a teacher, you fancy updating your own knowledge or getting a fresh outlook on the play then maybe ‘Macbeth from Page to Stage’ would be right up your street. A one day course run in by Vivian Heilbron (an Honorary Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford) at Stapleford Granary in Cambridge, UK on October 25th.
If live theatre is your thing then Macbeth is still playing at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton Virginia until 29th November 2014. This theatre provides pre-show presentations and talk backs with the actors most weeks; something which I have found as a teacher extremely beneficial for the students to attend. It’s always interesting to hear about an actor or director’s take on a play or role and often this can unlock things for a class studying the play at school.
Two slightly different takes on Macbeth might really grab the attention of your class. One is the new digital adaptation ‘Blood Will Have Blood’, a one man show which uses the porter as a way into the horrors of the story. This has been reinvented by China Plate Theatre for 9-13 year olds and information can be found on their website.
Finally, an oldie but a goodie: Shakespeare on The Estate. In 1997, theatre director, Penny Woolcock spent three weeks on an inner city estate in Ladywood, Birmingham, UK persuading local people to rehearse and perform Shakespeare. It’s gang culture and broken down housing estates rather than heaths and castles but might just tap in to pupils and make the play real for them.
So, enjoy your October and enjoy teaching ‘Macbeth’. I hope that some of these ideas and resources might be useful to you in classrooms and lecture halls across the world. Do let us know how you get on by commenting below or just get in touch to tell us about your favourite bits in ‘Macbeth’. Having worked on a production of it as work experience at my local theatre when I was 18, I have almost too many to mention as it is all lodged so firmly in my brain but I’d love to hear your experiences! Enjoy…