The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death was an appropriate backdrop for the Humanities 7 students to bring the magic of The Bard’s words to life last week, as they participated in a Shakespeare in the Park performance. Students were learning “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in class, but teachers Ms. Min Maclean, Mr. Don Pollock, Mr. Mike Danskin and Ms. Jane Rees wanted them to experience Shakespeare as it was intended to be experienced.
“Shakespeare, for the children to best appreciate it and understand it, is best when acted and not just read sitting in the classroom. For them to experience the physicality of being outside, as Shakespeare intended that play to be experienced, is important to deepen their understanding, but also develop a love and a joy for something 400 years old,” Jane says.
Prior to last Friday’s performance at the University of Victoria’s Finnerty Gardens, students got into groups and selected scenes to perform. A couple of the Humanities classes welcomed Mr. Cam Culham (a former SMUS houseparent and a longtime actor) to offer his words of wisdom to help students better perform and, therefore, better immerse themselves in Shakespeare’s work.
“We wanted them to search to see the relevance of the themes and stories that appear in Shakespeare and be able to relate them in some way to their own lives, we wanted them to become familiar with the language, and we wanted them to experiment and dabble in their ability to act and present as other characters,” Jane says. “Performing at Finnerty Gardens is great because the whole story is set in the woods and the magic happens in the woods, so it added to the excitement and authenticity of the learning experience.”
Jane credited Ms. Maclean and Mr. Pollock (who are both retiring this year) for taking the lead on the Shakespeare in the Park project for the Grade 7 students, and for bringing their knowledge and enthusiasm of Shakespeare to the students.
“I think that our Shakespeare project went well because we had our lines memorized, so we could focus on other things like volume and pronunciation. I think when we performed we had good volume and showed emotion. It was difficult, at first, to learn how to pronounce everything and what they meant. Mr. Culham’s advice that you need to react to what the other characters are saying was helpful because even if you’re not talking you are always on stage and people can always see you. I also found it helpful when he said to figure out your character’s personality and try and use emotions.” – by Devon M.
“I think one thing that went well was that I tried to get out of my comfort zone with my acting by trying to react to the lines and trying to add some actions to keep the emotion of the scene alive. When I went out of my comfort zone, I realized I could be my character. When I wasn’t ‘over-acting,’ I stepped out of my comfort zone, acted like mischievous Puck, and impacted the scene. I think maybe I could try out for a lead in next year in the Middle School play. I think Mr. Culham’s quote, “Let your words inform your movements,” was most helpful because it explains the basics of acting: you need to react to your lines. The scene needs emotions, and it needs great acting to meet its expectations. I really enjoyed this project and I would love to do another Shakespeare play later in Grade 7 or in Grade 8.” – by Alex R.
“The most difficult part was the pronunciation because I had never heard a lot of the words before. After we did some research on our parts I got a better idea on how to say the words. Next time I would get to know what my lines meant a little more, because it was very difficult to say my lines properly without knowing what they meant. My advice to students doing this next year would be to have fun and to be confident with your lines. And don’t be shy, because you’re only performing to your friends, and they won’t judge.” – by Grace C.
“I think the whole Shakespeare project worked out very well. I really liked choosing the scenes, parts and lines to present. I think the most difficult part in the Shakespeare project was trying to memorize my lines. Even though I didn’t have to, memorizing lines helps you sound more like your actor. Mr. Culham’s advice was very helpful. I think one that helped most was to speak clearly, but not too loud. It helps to make your character feel more like the actual one. This was fun and I hope we can do it again.” – by Oliver K.
“I think I had a great character, which made the project more enjoyable for me. One thing that was particularly successful about my character were her lines – I didn’t have too many or too few lines, and they were pretty easy, so I memorized parts of it. I think it was difficult to act, especially with the other characters in my scene. Lysander was in my scene, and he was asking Hermia (me) to marry him, and I tried to act like I was saying yes and that I was excited, but it was hard and embarrassing. What I’ve learned about myself with regard to this kind of learning is that if I just work hard and apply myself, I can accomplish lots of things. One of Mr. Culham’s words of wisdom that was the most helpful was “Let the words inform your movements.” That really helped me because whatever I said I would relate it to my movements. I think this was a really fun project, and I really enjoyed doing the play, rather than just studying William Shakespeare in class.” – by Alanna H.
“Lots of things went really well with our group, but I think the biggest thing was how well we worked together so that the final performance was smooth. I found it difficult to memorize all my lines because I had one of the main roles, and it was quite difficult to understand the old English. If I could do anything differently, I think next time I would try and make more of an effort to actually understand what we were saying and try and find a modern English book to get more of a comparison and understanding. Mr. Culham’s most helpful word of wisdom was to focus on body language. I think that this gives a really good effect to any scene and makes the audience a lot more excited and engaged. I would tell students next year to be really confident with their role and to speak loudly. This was a very memorable experience, and I had lots of fun throughout the whole thing.” – by Seb L.
“I think what went well with Shakespeare in the Park was my understanding of the characters. I like how we spent the time to research and read different scenes. For me, knowing the background information and personality traits of my character made the scene quite a bit easier to act. Understanding the Shakespearean words and language was quite difficult – it made it difficult to act when I didn’t know what I was talking about. I think the most important words of wisdom that Mr. Culham gave us was to react and to listen to your other actors in your scene. Sometimes it was easy to lose interest in rehearsing and I would just stand off to the side waiting for my next line. But if you’re showing emotion and reacting to what the character is telling you, it makes the scene 10 times better and much more entertaining. I think this was a fun project! I hope we get to do some more collaborative presentations like this.” – by Marina F.
“Our group’s rehearsing went well because we made sure to face the audience and use proper diction. We were also able to get the parts that we wanted so that helped motivate us all to do better. I found the Shakespearean language difficult because we were confused on what some of it meant and it made our lines much more challenging to memorize. I believe that Mr. Culham’s most helpful of words of wisdom were to have good diction and project your voice.” – by Theo Y.
“Once I knew my lines well enough to not use my script, it allowed me to act more and be more into the character, not just in my voice but body. Next time I would research the sentences more to get a full understanding of what they mean. I knew the main gist of what they meant, but I feel like if I had known them that much deeper I would have been able to act it out better. I think that it was a really good experience.” – by Tori F.
“My Shakespeare in the Park project went well because I was not nervous and tried my best not to underact. I think the best piece of advice we got was to use body language to express your character’s feelings and emotions because if you just stand there and speak the lines like a robot, it is not going to convince the audience that you are your character. I would tell students doing this project next year: don’t get nervous or scared of the acting because it is all fun and it is just going to enhance your acting skills. You should forget about yourself, step into the shoes of your character and turn into them.” – by Rune W.
(photos by Sarah Craig)