William Shakespeare knew how to pull an audience in.
He had to. His survival depended upon it. That was part of his job – to make sure he and his fellow actors and shareholders at the Globe made money. As languaage arts teachers often put it, he knew how to set "the hook."
It all happens in a few seconds. Before a performance, the playing space is empty. It’s just a stage, a bare wooden platform. Then with one line it becomes a very specific and vivid place:
“If music be the food of love, play on…”
“In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.”
“O, for a Muse of fire, that would ascend/
The brightest heaven of invention…”
The moment before one of these first lines is spoken, we are sitting talking with our friends in some space – an auditorium, a theater, a park, or a classroom. Then we are suddenly thrust into the company of very real and very interesting people. They are right there, standing before us. Within moments there is a conflict raging, or a mystery afoot. With words, a world is being created. We are curious – what will happen next?
We have become part of something larger.
Welcome to the fun of a Shakespeare play!
This is what we want to our young students to experience. When Shakespeare first dazzled audiences 400 years ago, folks leaving one play couldn’t wait to come back and see the next one. We want the kids to feel the same way.
So how do we do that? How do we bring the magic and majesty of the Globe Theater – or the warm glow of the Winedale Theater Barn – into a tiny little classroom? How do we kick this project off with a bang, and awaken an energetic curiosity in the kids? And how do we proceed from that first moment, through many other moments of work, to a final performance that represents an exceptional achievement for these students?
The only way to find out is to jump in ourselves.
We have to kick things off with that same excitement and passion we want to see in the students. We need to read the play at home at night, and learn some lines, and perform them with spirit. We must set the pace and then we have to keep it up, even through the doldrums and the times when everything’s falling apart and it seems like the kids will never pull it off. They will, and you will too. Together you will find that Muse of fire.
Enter teacher, stage right!
So let’s dive on in. Look on the right column at the top, under “Index”; we have some suggested activities to share with you. This section is your handy fold-out trail map, your toolkit, your idea file. We borrowed many of these from other teachers or from innovative theater artists; we’ve developed some in collaboration with hard-working classroom teachers; we’ve even invented some right on the spot with the kids.
Take what you need, adapt them as you’d like, and feel free to write us with questions, comments, or feedback on any of these.
Also, be sure to stop in at the “Resources” page. That’s in the main index on the left.