Monday, March 26, 2012

Shakespeare as a Second Language

Julius Scissorhands is my 11th Shakespeare adaption for high school students, and every year I feel like I’m getting a little better at it.
The plan is pretty simple, I take a bunch of nobody kids with no theater experience whatsoever...and transform them into an acting troupe in four weeks whose goal is simple:  to read, study, and perform a Shakespeare play in front of a live audience. 
The hope is that going through this process, the students actually experience the play as a director or costume and artistic designer, music and lighting producer, and of course… as actors. I have really no stage experience either and have to learn on the fly with the students. We divide the play into sections and translate it into modern language, submit to me, then I re-write it with silly jokes, making fun of a particular pop culture angle, have the kids edit it down to size… and then we agree on HOW to produce it.  It's a full acting troupe where everyone's voice is heard. 
It’s actually pretty awesome!
My list of plays include:
Hamlet and Eggs
Bada Bing Bada Boom The Taming of a Mafia Princess
Much Ado About Yo Mama
Midsummer’s Night High School Comedy
Arden MTV’s As You Like It the Real World
Shrek Lear
Three Act Romeo and Juliet
The Jedi of Venice (performed in my absence)
Mac-Backstreet A Tragic Tale of Murder, Corporate Witches, and Asian Boy Bands
Rock + Roll Romeo and Juliet: A Beatles Musical
Each year I focus on something different too... incorporating video clips or sound effects... this year we used student cartoons to tell the story in frames between scenes in Chinese subtitles so the audience would better understand the plot.  It worked.  What I have always loved the most about these performances is giving kids that would otherwise be left out...a major role on stage.  In many cases it's the first time anybody ever noticed them or told them they were worth something.  I love that.  Also, I really enjoy watching the kids rely on each other and know that they have to give their best or they will be letting their friends down.  To see that in action is really cool.

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