Things I Learned in Shakespeare Club

Those of you who know me know this: I have a Shakespeare problem. Well, maybe more of an obsession than a problem. In fact, the only problem is that the world does not have enough Shakespeare-related things in it! As much as I do consider myself a teacher with very contemporary methods and an eye to the future, I also look forward to teaching Shakespearean texts each year with the anticipation of a child before a birthday party. I love the stories. I love the language! I love the drama!! SHAKESPEARE!!!

…Like I said, I have a problem. But the point of this story is how I have proudly transferred this problem to the next generation: a very satisfying accomplishment. After our Romeo and Juliet unit this year, a small group of my sixth hour sophomores were sad that it was over. They half-jokingly requested that I set aside one day a week during our enhancement (RtI) period to preside over a Shakespeare club so that we could act out more Shakespearean plays together. I narrowed my eyes momentarily as I attempted to discern if this was some type of crude joke. My heart fluttered. As it turns out, it was an earnest request. Shakespeare Club was formed in the next 30 seconds with my single word response: “Done.”

 To my great delight, Mr. M agreed to join me in the teaching/ play/ performance/ monitoring of Shakespeare Club. I gathered a list of interested parties (about 12 students), and sent each one a sealed invitation, anonymously delivered during lunch or via friends:

IMAG1397

We started with Macbeth, reading from the No Fear Shakespeare text for maximum accessibility during our brief time each week. Before each meeting, I previewed the section so that I could explain and narrate as needed while student actors milled about. I also created index card nametags with brief descriptors for each character that would be speaking (such as “Lady Macbeth – Straight-up Crazy” or “Donalbain – Duncan’s other son”), so that we could keep straight who was playing whom. Each week, students could select a part to read and take part in the action. All were welcome. Overjoyed but still dubious, I thought it might last two weeks at best.

That, however, was not the case. We eventually had pretty consistent attendance of over twenty kids who came each week to read Macbeth. We got T-shirts made. We also held a brief discussion of the play and had a “Monologue-Off” where both teachers and students prepared original-language Shakespearean monologues to perform for the group. We rewarded these actors with copies of Shakespearean texts that I was able to pick up at Half Price Books for a steal. Shakespeare Club was pretty darn awesome, and it’s something I hope I can take with me into future years of teaching, because–in my humble opinion–there are more kids out there who need to get irreversibly hooked on Shakespeare.

10 Things I learned in Shakespeare Club

1. Shakespeare attracts a great mix of kids–spotlight hoggers, Ivy league aspirers, fun lovers, romantics, literature heads, misfits, and kids who just like to pretend that they have swords.

2. Shakespeare Club is actually an acronym (C.L.U.B) for Come Learn Ur Bard.

3. Even kids who aren’t confident inhabiting themselves can bravely inhabit a Shakespearean role.

4. Don’t take advice from witches.

5. Caliban’s hunched, bumpy back can be crafted by shoving plastic cups beneath one’s shirt.

6. There actually is such a thing as a freshman who will independently memorize and then perform Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy flawlessly for absolutely no other reason than having the opportunity to do it.

7. Cool t-shirts are one of the best ways to raise awareness for a niche academic club. (Thank you, CustomInk.)

8. Students love to cheer for each other.

9. Students get important things from reading modernized Shakespeare. They also get important things from working with the original language.

10. Shakespeare continues to “amaze indeed the very faculties of eyes and ears,” even on Fridays, at the end of the day, amidst a group of squirrely 14-18 year olds.

20130523_172418

Does anybody else out there have a Shakespeare Club for high school students? When and how do you run it? Does anybody want to start a ring of Shakespeare Clubs that can communicate online and/or occasionally meet in person to attend plays and such? What do you think? Like the Universe as Text Facebook page to start the conversation! 🙂

Tagged

5 thoughts on “Things I Learned in Shakespeare Club

  1. Mr. M says:

    I know I plan on continuing the club next year. Maybe a teacher at a nearby school, say Port Washington can also create one there so that we can do awesome collabs and such. 🙂

  2. Mom says:

    This is too cool! I think I must have a T-shirt!

  3. Emily says:

    This was perfect! I’m a student in high school and this year, like your story of the birth of Shakespeare club, a group of students and I have decided to make our own club with the help of our was-then English teacher. We’re still in the beginning phases but so far we’ve decided to read an act a week at home, discuss them during our allotted meet up period on Fridays, maybe travel to watch a Shakespeare play, make and buy T-shirts, vote on President and Vice Prez, and hopefully do a couple of Poetry-offs (or Monologue-offs, haha). Any suggestions?

    • Ms. H says:

      Hi, Emily! Glad to know there are other like-minded Shakespeare lovers out there! You are only limited to what you and your gang can aspire to… with Shakespeare, there’s a long way to go! I would suggest that you do an internet search for “teaching resources [insert name of play here]” to find tons of fun activities, games, and informational resources for any play. YouTube is also a great place to mine for student-made music videos, monologue performances, and re-enactments to inspire your own. Most mid-size cities and larger will have a high quality Shakespeare performance at least once per year that the public can attend, and there are many books to be found that retell or research all of Shakespeare’s stories. Let’s not forget film versions, too! One of my favorite things to do with students is compare film interpretations and discuss how the director’s choices influenced the effect of a particular scene in two different versions. I would also check out “The Reduced Shakespeare Company” if you haven’t heard of them as well as Ryan North’s Choose Your Own Adventure novelized version of Hamlet, “To Be or Not to Be.” P.s. If you’re REALLY serious, talk to a trusted, inspired educator about writing a grant to finance your club’s big dreams–it’s not too hard to apply for free money. Besides, come on… what’s more worthy than Shakespeare?! Above all, to thine own self be true. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *