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Teachers learn, with Shakespeare, ‘the play’s the thing’

Dance instructor Sian Williams leads a group of teachers in a jig Saturday evening on the Jackson Hall stage at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. The teachers visited UC Davis to learn new techniques for teaching Shakespeare to their middle school, high school and community college students. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | January 18, 2012 |

Shakespeare got a physical workout at the Mondavi Center last weekend as teachers learned how to get their students “into the act,” so to speak.

Some 80 teachers and representatives from leading Shakespeare festivals and theaters — including Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London — gathered for a three-day conference at UC Davis that covered effective methods for teaching Shakespeare in middle schools, high schools and community colleges.

Titled “Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays,” the workshops included many hands-on, theater-centered activities.

As many scholars have noted, Shakespeare didn’t publish his plays during his lifetime — he intended for them to be spoken aloud and performed, not read silently in a quiet room in a solitary manner. And as many teachers have found, when students experience Shakespeare in an active, participatory manner, they are much more likely to “get it.”

“We want (participating teachers) up on their feet,” said Patrick Spottiswoode, director of education for Shakespeare’s Globe, adding that “Shakespeare’s scripts were written to be played.”

And the more students participate in the performance-type classroom situation, “the more students will take ownership” of Shakespeare’s characters, language and stories.

The workshops included activities that were, well, playful. Teacher Linda Darling of Highlands High School in Sacramento County’s Twin Rivers School District explained, “We started with the letter O, and then presented it with anger, with surprise, with scolding. … It was very hands on. We were always up and moving.”

Mike Mahoney, an English teacher at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento County’s San Juan School District, said he appreciated the emphasis on “treating the plays as scripts” that provide an opportunity for active learning by his students, “not as archaic texts to comb through” in a dry discussion.

Carrie Pilon of Davis, who teaches at Harper Junior High, said she enjoyed the “wonderful exercises and activities that will help me engage my students in the richness of the language … especially the fun of the language.”

Pilon said that the key is “helping students get over their ‘Oh, it’s Shakespeare!’ apprehension.” She said once they recognize the wordplay that is inherent in almost every Shakespeare play, they start enjoying what they’re doing.

“Shakespeare’s plays were not meant to be read on the page,” Pilon concurred.

Several of the events took place in the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, and retired UCD Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef was on hand for some of the sessions, smiling as he saw the teachers participating in dance excercises and other activities.

Don Roth, the Mondavi Center’s executive director, greeted the teachers at a reception and noted that UCD and Shakespeare’s Globe in London have a relationship that extends back to 2003.

A touring company of the Shakespeare’s Globe presented a sold-out performance of “Love’s Labours Lost” at the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall in November 2009. Roth said he’s keen on bringing another touring production by Shakespeare’s Globe to Mondavi, when the opportunity arises.

Harold Levine, dean of the UC Davis School of Education, which co-sponsored the event, said, “The arts in California education are on life support right now” because of huge reductions in state funding for the public schools.

“This workshop conference is a small way we can breathe life back into the arts in our classrooms,” he said.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055.

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