If you happened to find yourself on the third floor of Advent recently, you would think you had stumbled onto the heath where Macbeth meets the Weird Sisters, or Macbeth’s banquet as he celebrates his new position as king of Scotland, or perhaps a street in Verona witnessing Romeo’s fatal encounter with Tybalt.
Advent upper school students were taking Shakespeare off the page. Every year, following in-depth reading and studying of Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students work with Muse of Fire, local professional actors, to prepare for a performance of selected scenes for an eagerly awaiting audience of the student body and parents at the end of a week-long workshop.
Students function as actors, directors, and prop managers. Preparation involves making decisions about costumes and staging. Encouraged to use objects that can be easily found in the classroom or around the school, students turn yardsticks into swords and a plastic kettle becomes the witches’ cauldron.
Studies show that using performance is not merely a desirable but a necessary way of getting students involved in what drama is really about. The importance of analyzing and interpreting Shakespeare’s words becomes clear when students are compelled to use their critical thinking skills to imagine and perform these texts.
During three days of intense instruction, students engage with the text. Not only do they “learn their lines,” but also consider stage directions: where do you imagine characters standing and why? What is your character thinking at the time?
In one student’s words, “I become the character.” Without exception and with utmost enthusiasm, students agreed that the Shakespeare workshop is the best activity they participate in every year. They will never read Shakespeare the same. The play’s the thing!