Guest post by Patrick Hastings, Upper School English Department Chair:
Each year, the Shakespeare Festival provides an opportunity for our Upper School students studying Shakespeare to plan, rehearse, and perform scenes from the play they have read in their English class. In the past, this event has involved only the sophomores, but this year we were fortunate to add Mr. Malkus’s 9th grade students to the mix.
Our English 10 students read Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in late October and early November, focusing on close reading of Shakespeare’s language and interdisciplinary discussions of certain elements of the historical context in which the play was performed (e.g., Malvolio, the object of the play’s scorn, represents those same Puritans we celebrate at Thanksgiving!). Equipped with this level of readerly understanding of the text, the students are put into groups and assigned scenes to perform at the Festival. The boys have about a week and a half to conceptualize the scene, make production choices, gather props and costumes, memorize lines, rehearse, and perform in front of their peers.
This creative and performance-based project asks students to employ the same analytical skills that they have been developing since the beginning of the year in their English classes, but now the boys’ interpretation takes the form of stage blocking, speech volume, casting decisions, and gestures rather than sentences in an essay. Plus, the endeavor gets boys active and out of their seats, which they always enjoy, while allowing them an opportunity to collaborate in groups. The event itself, which occurs during two consecutive assembly and lunch periods, serves the sophomore class as a bonding experience — each boy knows that he will get on stage, so they do a great job of supporting each other and celebrating the courage, effort, and thoughtfulness required of the exercise. And the perk of Pepe’s pizza doesn’t hurt, either!