Teachers learn how to put Shakespeare on stage

By From page A1 | July 12, 2012

Students in Davis classrooms will have a chance to learn Shakespeare not just by reading, but by doing, thanks to a program connecting local teachers and Globe Education, a branch of the London-based Shakespeare’s Globe program.

Carrie Pilon, an English teacher at Harper Junior High in Davis, was part of a group of 12 teachers from the Sacramento area who traveled to London for two weeks in late June and early July to participate in the Globe Education Academy for Teachers. Other partners in that trip included the Mondavi Center, the Los Rios Community College District and the UC Davis School of Education. (Dean Harold Levine of the School of Education also went on the trip.)

The goal of the visit was to prepare the American teachers to work with Shakespeare in their classrooms.

“It was a really intense program,” Pilon said. “Some days we were busy from 9 in the morning until midnight. We participated in workshops and rehearsals, we saw plays, we met with text experts. We did several segments on movement, and on voice. We even got to perform ourselves on the Globe’s stage — at midnight, after the evening’s regular performance was over, mind you.

“We also had the opportunity to see the Globe’s practitioners working with children that were coming to them in London, which was great,” Pilon said. “We got to see the practitioners take the British equivalent of ninth-grade boys, in their English school uniforms and neckties, and this group of rowdy 14-year-olds into Shakespeare.

“They were working on ‘The Tempest,’ we watched them enter into the text and flesh out the relationships between Prospero (an exiled ruler who uses spells from a book of magic), Ariel (a spirit controlled by Prospero) and Caliban (half-man, half-fish, with a bad attitude toward Prospero). For us as educators, it was very useful to observe other experienced educators educating.”

Pilon and her fellow teachers also spent a good deal of time working on the play “Henry V,” going through the script line by line and also seeing a production.

“What it is leading up to is that in the fall, the 12 of us will be putting on a version of ‘Henry V’ with our students. We divided the text into 12 parts; now, each of us will take our chunk back into our classrooms and we will apply the skills and techniques we learned in London.

“A practitioner from the Globe will come over in October to see how we are doing,” Pilon said. “And then in November, we will all get together at Mondavi and put on ‘Henry V’ with our students.”

The Globe’s view is that Shakespeare’s plays should be explored practically, as plays, rather than read passively as texts, Pilon said.

“The idea is to bring the plays into our classrooms and into our communities. And a lot of it is about helping the students to enjoy the language and the playfulness of Shakespeare, without letting them get intimidated about the idea that they are doing Shakespeare.”

As part of the process, Pilon and the other teachers will be showing their students a police department artist’s rendering of what Shakespeare might have looked like as a 14-year-old boy. The artist took pictures of Shakespeare as a balding adult male, and “regressed” that image to a teenage face with a mop of dark hair, but with the same twinkle in the eye that marks the adult portraits.

Joyce Donaldson, director of arts education at the Mondavi Center, added that there also will be activities at Mondavi relating to the performances of “Hamlet” in early November. There will be a session at Mondavi on Jan. 18-20 called “Shakespeare Works When Shakepeare Plays,” with Globe practitioners working with more local teachers on how to teach Shakespeare in American schools.

The combined effort among Globe Education, the Mondavi Center, the UC Davis School of Education and the Los Rios Community College District, which has been under way for six years, was just funded for an additional three years with financial support from the School of Education, Los Rios and Rosalie and Larry Vanderhoef.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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