Eighth graders participate in Shakespearean theatre workshop

Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class is currently doing a unit on Macbeth. As part of this unit, five members of Shakespeare & Company, a theatre troupe based in the Berkshire town of Lenox, visited MERMS to host a theatre workshop for her students.

Luke Reed of Shakespeare & Company leads eighth grade English teacher Vidula Plante’s class in a warm-up, involving various forms of exercise. In the days leading up to the theatre workshop, Shakespeare & Company performed Hamlet for the middle school, in which Reed played the title role. “I contacted them to see if we could attend a play that they were staging,” Plante said, “and that play was Hamlet. And then in speaking to them I learned that they could also come to our school and do workshops, and rather than spending the money getting the kids out to the Berkshires, we thought we would invite the troupe, have them stage the play here, and conduct workshops at each grade level. So I had to write a grant for that, and that took a lot of time and energy, but it was totally worth it!” She has submitted another grant for Shakespeare & Company to come again next year. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Luke Reed of Shakespeare & Company leads eighth grade English teacher Vidula Plante’s class in a warm-up, involving various forms of exercise. In the days leading up to the theatre workshop, Shakespeare & Company performed Hamlet for the middle school, in which Reed played the title role. “I contacted them to see if we could attend a play that they were staging,” Plante said, “and that play was Hamlet. And then in speaking to them I learned that they could also come to our school and do workshops, and rather than spending the money getting the kids out to the Berkshires, we thought we would invite the troupe, have them stage the play here, and conduct workshops at each grade level. So I had to write a grant for that, and that took a lot of time and energy, but it was totally worth it!” She has submitted another grant for Shakespeare & Company to come again next year. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
In another part of the warm-up, Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class is divided into two rival tribes, who are locked in heated battle as they discover that they are each other’s long-lost siblings. Plante discovered the company over the summer while searching for resources to help her teach Macbeth in class. She believes they are a rare combination in theatre education  – “they know Shakespeare and can perform him well,” and “they know students and can work with them well.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
In another part of the warm-up, Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class is divided into two rival tribes, who are locked in heated battle as they discover that they are each other’s long-lost siblings. Plante discovered the company over the summer while searching for resources to help her teach Macbeth in class. She believes they are a rare combination in theatre education – “they know Shakespeare and can perform him well,” and “they know students and can work with them well.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Later on in the warm-up, Luke Reed of Shakespeare & Company, who played the title role in their production of Hamlet, orders the classmates into a circle and calls on students to recite a famous Shakespeare soliloquy. When the students are called on, they must repeat a motion Reed assigns them, such as doing jumping jacks or running in place. When asked why she chose Macbeth out of Shakespeare’s thirty-five plays, Plante said, “Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s four best known tragedies. It’s also his shortest play, and it’s set during feudal times, so it ties in with what Mr. Thomas is teaching in his history class. We wanted something that we could integrate into the current setting but would be accessible for students.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Later on in the warm-up, Luke Reed of Shakespeare & Company orders the classmates into a circle and calls on students to recite a famous Shakespeare soliloquy. When the students are called on, they must repeat a motion Reed assigns them, such as doing jumping jacks or running in place. When asked why she chose Macbeth out of Shakespeare’s thirty-five plays, Plante said, “Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s four best known tragedies. It’s also his shortest play, and it’s set during feudal times, so it ties in with what Mr. Thomas is teaching in his history class. We wanted something that we could integrate into the current setting but would be accessible for students.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
After the five members of Shakespeare & Company divide the Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class into groups, they hand them each a different series of fragmented lines from pivotal scenes in Macbeth. Plante’s group works together to decide how they will act out this scene in front of the class, using only these lines, a few props, and the combined imagination of her students. The theater workshops were organized in groups of up to fifty students. “We took the eighth grade and divided them up into three groups at three stations,” Plante said. “A group would attend the workshop while the other two were doing an MCAS review activity and a third team choice activity, which happened at each grade level.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
After the five members of Shakespeare & Company divide the Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class into groups, they hand them each a different series of fragmented lines from pivotal scenes in Macbeth. Plante’s group works together to decide how they will act out this scene in front of the class, using only these lines, a few props, and the combined imagination of her students. The theater workshops were organized in groups of up to fifty students. “We took the eighth grade and divided them up into three groups at three stations,” Plante said. “A group would attend the workshop while the other two were doing an MCAS review activity and a third team choice activity, which happened at each grade level.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Once they had decided how they would act out their scene, each group took some time to rehearse it. Luke Reed of Shakespeare & Company watches as his group practices for the group performance. According to eighth grade English teacher Vidula Plante, the student feedback regarding the workshops was very positive. “My students said that they thought that the actors interacted well with them, and that they made it fun for everyone,” she said, sharing results from a class survey. “They thought the opening warm-up was a great way to break the ice and move people outside their comfort zone. They felt the actors were outgoing and helped them take risks while they were acting, and they thought that moving from a large group to a small group was a great way to manage things. They also loved the presentation of Hamlet. They thought that it was cool that they added so much humor to it, they found it interesting, and they thought each actor did a great job building a specific personality for each character.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Once they had decided how they would act out their scene, each group took some time to rehearse it. Luke Reed of Shakespeare & Company watches as his group practices for the group performance. According to eighth grade English teacher Vidula Plante, the student feedback regarding the workshops was very positive. “My students said that they thought that the actors interacted well with them, and that they made it fun for everyone,” she said, sharing results from a class survey. “They thought the opening warm-up was a great way to break the ice and move people outside their comfort zone. They felt the actors were outgoing and helped them take risks while they were acting, and they thought that moving from a large group to a small group was a great way to manage things. They also loved the presentation of Hamlet. They thought that it was cool that they added so much humor to it, they found it interesting, and they thought each actor did a great job building a specific personality for each character.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
The class performance has begun. Before each group presents their scene from Macbeth, Ally Allen of Shakespeare & Company (who played Ophelia in their production of Hamlet) provides some context regarding the plot, setting, and characters so it is less confusing to the class, which has not yet finished the cursed “Scottish Play.” The Shakespeare unit, of course, is not confined to the auditorium, and in the classroom, Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class does some interpretation of the characters through acting, some prop analysis by looking at which characters could be connected to certain props, and reading the play and engaging in Socratic circles. “They’re very much like a typical small group question-and-answer, except we do it as a larger group,” she said. “Sometimes it’s half the class, sometimes it’s the whole class. The students start by posing a question, and other students answer. Then, they move on to additional questions, often generating their own meaning of the text in a discussion that’s not teacher-led or directed.” Shakespeare also uses a lot of dramatic irony in setting up the story, and according to Plante, “there are places where the play becomes more engaging because we can see how it’s going to unfold.” Her class often talks about the rhetorical devices of pathos, logos, and ethos, and applies them to several scenes in the play. Plante is also interested in “the theme of fate versus free will” and “how the characters distinctly represent their ideas, what their motivations are, and how they change.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
The class performance has begun. Before each group presents their scene from Macbeth, Ally Allen of Shakespeare & Company (who played Ophelia in their production of Hamlet) provides some context regarding the plot, setting, and characters so it is less confusing to the class, which has not yet finished the cursed “Scottish Play.” The Shakespeare unit, of course, is not confined to the auditorium, and in the classroom, Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class does some interpretation of the characters through acting, some prop analysis by looking at which characters could be connected to certain props, and reading the play and engaging in Socratic circles. “They’re very much like a typical small group question-and-answer, except we do it as a larger group,” she said. “Sometimes it’s half the class, sometimes it’s the whole class. The students start by posing a question, and other students answer. Then, they move on to additional questions, often generating their own meaning of the text in a discussion that’s not teacher-led or directed.” Shakespeare also uses a lot of dramatic irony in setting up the story, and according to Plante, “there are places where the play becomes more engaging because we can see how it’s going to unfold.” Her class often talks about the rhetorical devices of pathos, logos, and ethos, and applies them to several scenes in the play. Plante is also interested in “the theme of fate versus free will” and “how the characters distinctly represent their ideas, what their motivations are, and how they change.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online

A group of students from Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class recite to the auditorium their rendition of Macbeth’s final soliloquy, one of the most famous speeches in the English language. When asked what she enjoyed the most about having Shakespeare & Company host theatre workshops at MERMS, Plante said, “Their rapport with students was strong, but I think they had a strong rapport with each other. And so after the workshops, I said to my students, ‘Did you enjoy how much they enjoyed what they were doing?’ I wish for my students that whatever they choose in their futures, they can be as appreciative and engaged in what they do,  because the sheer joy that they brought to Shakespeare and to working with kids was contagious.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
A group of students from Vidula Plante’s eighth grade English class recite to the auditorium their rendition of Macbeth’s final soliloquy, one of the most famous speeches in the English language. When asked what she enjoyed the most about having Shakespeare & Company host theatre workshops at MERMS, Plante said, “Their rapport with students was strong, but I think they had a strong rapport with each other. And so after the workshops, I said to my students, ‘Did you enjoy how much they enjoyed what they were doing?’ I wish for my students that whatever they choose in their futures, they can be as appreciative and engaged in what they do, because the sheer joy that they brought to Shakespeare and to working with kids was contagious.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online

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