Teaching Shakespeare

Back in 2006, I had the opportunity to complete my Honours Specialist qualifications in Drama at the Stratford Summer Intensive offered by OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – University of Toronto).

For those of you not familiar with the qualification process in Ontario, the Honours Specialist designation is meant to indicate that a teacher has become an instructional and curricular expert in her or his Subject area. This is generally achieved by taking an additional series of courses (in my case, one, because I already hold an Honours degree in Drama in Education; but for some, it means taking a 3-part series of courses in subjects such as Drama where the Ministry has deemed that a degree in the Subject area is not necessary to teach it). I have questions about whether or not this designation has any value seeing as a) anyone can get it as long as they’ve taken the course and have taught in the Subject area for 2 years, and b) many of the people I know who hold their Specialist or Honours Specialist designations are neither. Ultimately, in Ontario, it’s just a hoop to jump through to in order to get to the top of the pay grid. But I digress…

The Summer Intensive was just that – intense, and I loved every minute of it. I learned so much about myself as a teacher and as I person, I truly treasure and value the experience.

That summer, I learned about a program the Education Department at the Stratford Festival offered to classroom teachers – the Teaching Shakespeare School. This program, offered to elementary and secondary teachers, does three things:

  • It connects classroom teachers with experts (actors, directors, fellow teachers) who know how to work with the text;
  • It connects students with these same professionals;
  • It provides students with the opportunity to see Shakespeare live, and then to perform scenes from Shakespeare on the same stages they have seen the professionals use

I finally went to participate in the program in 2009, where, under the direction of Ed Daranyi, we had a fantastic time working on ways to bring the text alive. I knew it was going to be a great workshop when Ed began with “We know you’re all Drama Teachers and you know what you’re doing, so we’re just going to forego the Drama stuff and get right into the analysis.” I do so love being treated like I know what I’m doing (and sadly, it happens rarely).

After the three days were done, I was partnered with Lee Wilson, an alumni of the Birmingham Conservatory at the Festival and a director. He did great things with my students, and really helped us with our scene from Romeo and Juliet.

I am still proud of the work they did.

The unfortunate thing about the program is that more people don’t participate. Both years I have participated, I was the only Secondary teacher from my Board to participate, even though it is (almost) free. I say almost because there are still costs – accommodation / food while in Stratford, the cost of the bus and tickets to see the show in the fall, and the bus to bring the kids to their own performance. Which ain’t cheap. I am lucky in that, both years, my Admin teams have been supportive, both morally and financially, and helped with the cost of the program.

I can say, though, that all the feedback I got from the first project was completely positive, and the students really pulled it out when it came to the performance. I’m in the early days of this year’s project, but so far, the reaction from the students has been good.

This year, we’re working with Andre Sills, a local boy (he went to the high school next door) who has been working on stage for some time. I hope that meeting a man who came from their area who is now an actor will encourage my kids to actually consider that a career in the arts is viable.

I’ll continue to post about our progress as time goes on.

Gratuitous selfie of me at the Festival Theatre this summer. Pics or it didn't happen, right?
Gratuitous selfie of me at the Festival Theatre this summer. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?

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