Friday, July 16, 2010

Bringing Shakespeare to a New Audience

This week, in my quest to learn all that there is to know about the American Shakespeare Center, I assisted Sarah Enloe, Director of Education at ASC, in a workshop at Clymore Elementary School, teaching basic stage combat to a group of around forty children up to ten years old. The point of this workshop was to educate and excite the children about Shakespeare, showing them that there’s more to his plays than just his recognized verse: there’s action, intrigue, and even death! Though perhaps the kids were mostly excited about the presence of a broadsword, even if they were only allowed to hold it briefly under Sarah’s careful supervision; stage swords aren’t sharp, but they can still hurt.

However, the structure of the workshop ensured that the students got a chance to both practice their newly acquired combat skills, using imaginary swords, and learn a bit about Shakespeare, through the scene in Macbeth when Macbeth fights and kills Young Siward. With Sarah’s guidance, the children explored how the text of the play can give information about the characters, even foretelling what will happen to them later in the story. In the example from Macbeth, Sarah explained how he reveals in the passage that he cannot be killed by just any man, saying, “What’s he/That was not born of a woman? Such a one/Am I to fear, or none” (Act 5.7). His statement foreshadows his own death, since he is killed in the end of the play by Macduff, who was technically not born of a woman because he was born by C-section. With all of this information in mind, the children were able to act out Macbeth and Siward’s fight, combining their new combative techniques with the story of the scene.

As with my experience last week, this week’s adventure provided me with a wonderful opportunity to see younger peoples become enlivened by Shakespeare. Sword or not, the children delighted in their chance to practice an important aspect of the Shakespearean stage, hopefully going forth with the desire to delve even further into the world of Shakespeare. I like to think that a passion was kindled in those young minds, and that in the years to come they will find even more to enjoy in Shakespeare’s work than they did in that hour of swordplay. If there is one thing that I learned from my time with the children, it’s that Shakespeare can hold just as much interest for an eight-year-old as for an eighty-year-old, further proof that his plays can reach out to any age.

Elizabeth Reams

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