Archive for May, 2013

Shakespeare in the City (and, occasionally, beyond):

From the NY Post: Shakespeare in the Park goes for laughs with sitcom star Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Shakespeare in the Park doesn’t have summer to itself anymore. Pretenders have popped up with all kinds of gimmicks: site-specific environments. Shows where the audience follows the cast as it moves about. Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.

And yet the Public Theater’s series continues to reign supreme—when you talk about outdoor theater in New York, it still means the Delacorte, in Central Park.

This season’s two offerings aren’t among Shakespeare’s masterpieces. But don’t think that’ll make it easier to score one of the free tickets.

BTW: “The Comedy of Errors” starts previews May 28 for a June 18 opening; “Love’s Labour’s Lost” starts previews July 23 for an Aug. 12 opening. Info: shakespeareinthepark.org.

Double BTW: A Former Usher’s Tips for Getting Shakespeare in the Park Tickets

Feeling a little musical? Upcoming at the 92nd St Y: Max Von Essen, Daniel Breaker and More Set for BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE: THE BARD AND THE BROADWAY MUSICAL, 6/1-3

It’s gonna be a Girls Night Out: Donmar’s all-female Julius Caesar wins New York transfer – Phyllida Lloyd’s production, which places Shakespeare’s tragedy in a prison, to open Brit-heavy season at St Ann’s Warehouse

Get ready to be Jammin’, Rhymmin’ and Flyin’ next year: Bob Marley, Shakespeare and Peter Pan part of New York’s New Victory Theatre season

A new musical featuring the songs of Bob Marley, the world premiere of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure by the innovative Fiasco Theater company and an Australian take on Peter Pan are among next season’s offerings at The New Victory Theater.

At the Huffington Post, Bess Rowen writes about Bringing Shakesy Back: New York Shakespeare Exchange’s Sonnet Project

A few days ago, I attended the launch party of the interactive, yearlong Sonnet Project at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, organized by Ross Williams, the Artistic Director of NYSX. The clean, sharp, smart space was the perfect backdrop to a multifaceted evening of events surrounding the release of twelve Shakespearean sonnet videos, each of which was shot in an important New York location. In addition to the videos, we were treated to live sonnet readings by fantastic performers like Cady Huffman (currently performing on Broadway in Lincoln Center Theater’s The Nance), who will also star in an upcoming sonnet film.

Those of you who read my column regularly might remember the name New York Shakespeare Exchange from my review of their last show, Island; or To Be or Not To Be. Also, their resident dramaturg, Shane Breaux, made an appearance in my article “What is a Dramaturg.” I have been a fan of this company since I saw their The Life and Death of King John two years ago, which introduced me to their smart and dynamic approach to Shakespeare.

Not to be outdone, The Voice of America says: Shakespeare’s Sonnets Come to Life in New App

A new app launched on Monday aims to bring William Shakespeare’s sonnets to the masses with the help of short films starring stage actors performing them in front of New York landmarks.The Sonnet Project is a free app for the iPhone and iPad that showcases the bard’s poetry through films of up to two minutes and performances by Tony-Award winning actors Joanna Gleason and Cady Huffman, among others.

Yes, I’m a Joss fan: Joss Whedon reveals new characters for Avengers 2 (and how Shakespeare saved his career)

And finally, from Glasgow, Scotland: Much ado about graffiti as street artist tackles Shakespeare project

Forelorn emoticon faces spouting Shakespearean verse are popping up across Glasgow’s streets without warning.

Hanging their heads and bemoaning their existence through Hamlet’s second-act soliloquy, these illegal street artworks pose questions to passers-by about technology, language and human emotion.

The latest project of street artist and Glasgow School of Art student Peter Drew, Emoticon Hamlet has dotted eight of a planned 16 solemn, pixelated Hamlets around the city – sights which have bemused and captivated Glasgow’s residents with equal measure.


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— William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

_DSC5912Shakespeare and Competitions?  Who does that in the 21st Century?  It’s the age of teamwork and collaboration.  Why have a competition when the end product of Shakespeare is an ensemble performing  a play?

At least, that’s what I thought when I took my job three Shakespeare seasons ago.  But as Director of Educational Programs it was, and is, my job to oversee just such a program.  The English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition.  A mouthful of a name in which a  ¼ of a million teenagers have proclaimed the Bard’s lines for the past 30 years.

High school students from Boston to Honolulu learn, memorize and perform monologues and sonnets.  It’s not a festival.  The end product is not collaborative.  And someone wins.  Which means many people do not win prizes.  How can I defend this as an educational program in 2013?  This is just what I was recently asked to do at a conference of Shakespeare theater professionals.

To prepare, I researched “schools and competitions.”  I talked to high school teachers and principals.  And I thought and thought and thought.  Here’s what I gleaned:

Who does competitions?  The answer is SCHOOLS.

Schools get the idea of competitions.  Administrators and parents understand them.  What do you think sports are?  And then there are Knowledge Bowls, Odyssey of the Minds, Chess, Spelling and Geography Bees, Science Fairs, Math Competitions, the National Latin Exam, Speech and Debate….  In fact, most schools have a big case near the front office reserved for trophies from all of these competitions.  No trophy?  Look for the framed certificates on the wall.

By the way, what is a theater audition anyway, if not a merit-based competition?

Benefits of Competition


Competitions provide motivation, promote self-esteem, teach students how to deal with success and rejection and subjectivity in a competitive world.   A performance-based competition also promotes public speaking and self-confidence.

But to just say that schools understand the mechanisms of competition is not a sufficient answer to the question: Why hold a Shakespeare Competition.  There are beauty competitions too.  That’s not educational and, I promise you, I’m not running one of those.

So, what makes a competition educational and worthwhile for a diversity of students—not just the winner?

According to the research, competitions are successful educational tools if they include:

  • Extrinsic motivation (winning) facilitates intrinsic motivation

–it’s not just one off event

–it requires preparation and the development of work habits

Shakespeare Competition begins in the schools with students closely reading Shakespeare’s words.  (Note: meets Common Core) Skills that will guide their reading and understanding of Shakespeare throughout high school and college, and hopefully lead to a lifelong engagement with the Bard.

  • Positive feedback throughout process

We’ve developed assessments that explain what makes for a successful presentation—understanding Shakespeare’s original language is key.

  • Rewards directly relevant to nature of work

Students perform on professional stages.  Prizes are theater tickets, trip to New York to perform on a Broadway stage and summer theater programs for high school students in London and Virginia.

  • Work appreciated by professional and professional institutions in the field

Judges are actors, directors, theater educators and Renaissance scholars.  Time and again, these professionals are amazed at the capacity of these young people to present a Shakespeare for the 21st century.

Boy, oh boy, oh boy_DSC6108

And then there is an unintended consequence.  Competitions attract boys. That’s what the “experts” tell me.  And, let’s be honest—as educators and parents, we know that empirically.  In AP English classes, girls significantly outnumber boys.  Yet this year 50% of our national participants were boys.  I would like to study this idea further—does the competition engage young males with Shakespeare who otherwise might not be interested in the Bard through a regular English class or dramatic production?

Why are we afraid of Competition?

I suppose the other question is what is wrong with a Shakespeare Competition?  I believe, as educators and artists, we are afraid that the student who does not win will be disenfranchised.  That the experience will discourage them from developing that relationship with Shakespeare that we are so eager to promote and facilitate.  Is this really a 21st century question—we can only create programs in which everyone “wins”?

I see a lot of Shakespeare Competitions—and not just the Nationals in New York City.  Across the board, the biggest round of applause at a community competition is not for the winner.  Rather it’s for the student who froze—the one who started their monologue, forgot their lines and ran off the stage.  And then, inevitably with encouragement from a parent or teacher who found the student crying in the bathroom, the student returned.  Remembered the lines.  Recited the 400-year old words.  The applause is always deafening, the smiles never bigger on the student and every audience members’ face.  Sometimes I think that student learned the most of all.

The end

It’s the best part of my year.  Spending a weekend with 60 young Bardophiles from all over the country.  The kids are brave, smart, witty and ever so talented.  I’m even intimidated by them.  They seem so self-assured and sassy in a good way.

Truth be told, this is the icing on the cake.  The real work is done by the teachers in the classroom, making differences in the lives of thousands of students.  That’s why we organize and sponsor the National Shakespeare Competition.  To provide teachers with another tool to engage students in Shakespeare.

I work in non-profits to change lives.  I believe the ESU National Shakespeare Competition changes lives.


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Ah, commuting in New York.

We’ve all had a cab pass us by, a pedestrian saunter in front of our moving car, a bicycle messenger come within a hairsbreadth, or a subway car close in our face.

Take a breath, and then release your frustration at the doors with a pithy Shakespearean insult you made your self using the Folger Theatre’s handy-dandy “Pick one from each column” menu.

Here’s one to start you off:

Thou purpled, clay-brained, hedge-pig!

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 PS 166-Sarah Abrams & Kailie Larkin

The Shakespeare Society’s program Shakespeare in Schools hosted a weeklong Shakespeare Festival at PS 166 this past week.

Five Teaching Artists visited twenty-five classrooms in three days serving approximately 1,000 K – 5th grade student.   These teachers magical lesson plans explored the themes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Kailie Larkin, Teaching Artist

I so enjoyed working today at PS166, and being able to explore Midsummer Night’s Dream with Kindergarteners!  After a year of working mostly in middle and high school classrooms (which I love as well for their own joys and challenges), what a treat to enter a classroom whose participants are falling over with excitement to visit the magical forest and turn into fairies.  What was incredibly moving for me was not just their amazing capacity for imagining details for characters, plot, and setting, but their ability to explore the feelings of power and powerlessness with genuine commitment and emotion.  In reflecting at the end of our lesson, the feedback from these little thespians astounded me and reminded me of how important it is to bring my own wonder to the classroom.

Student feedback from our reflection, debriefing how it felt to be a powerful fairy and then have your power taken away:

  • “I felt sad because I was the flower fairy and it was my job to plant all the flowers and after my power was taken away I couldn’t plant any more flowers.”
  • “I didn’t know earlier the real name of my fairy, but now I do: it’s tornado fairy.  He has the power to control the weather.”
  • “My fairy can’t really lose all of his power. He keeps a little bit hidden in his hand, so he can protect everyone.”
  • “I felt like it was…goodbye.”
  • “I felt like this: (opens his mouth wide).  I felt really amazed.”
  • “Can’t we just share the power with everybody?!”

Amazing how our smallest students can be our wisest teachers. I left the classroom thinking differently about the world of the fairies in MSND and the relationships of power, how lucky am I?

Sarah Abrams, Teaching Artist

Maybe we could use our fairy powers to fix other problems in the world,” she said.  One of our first grade students could barely contain her excitement after we sat down to reflect on our magical journey through the forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  In another 1st grade class, a student reflected on how it felt to be on Titania’s team of fairies and to say the text as if they were losing the argument or without power, “it was like (sigh)… goodbye.”  “I felt strong” and “I could do anything” were other popular responses to being in character.  We met all kinds of fantastical fairies and created incredible worlds in our 40-minute lesson. We chanted text and had fiery conversations!  We related the text to our own lives and explored how emotions impacted our bodies and voices.  Best of all, we had a lot of fun playing with the words and worlds of Shakespeare.  What I think is so fantastic about PS 166’s commitment to Shakespeare education with young learners is the culture they have fostered; one that isn’t afraid of his language, but instead prides itself on the students’ knowledge and mastery of his life and work.  It was a joy to be back at PS 166 for another celebration and to collaborate with the incredible talent of the future!

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Outsiders seem to think New Yorkers are rude, but we know better.
Kick it up a notch by creating your own Shakespearean compliment using the Folger Theatre’s wonderful menu. For example, next time you want to thank your favorite street vendor for creating your lunch, a subway conductor for their door-opening, or a police officer on their direction-giving, try this little gem:
Thank you, thou rare, best-tempered cuckoo bud!
We’d love to hear the reactions you get. Drop us a note at NYCShakespeareEducators @ gmail.com

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