Archives For Yale Rep

 “for we are the only love-gods...”( Much Ado about Nothing: 2.1.386)

Every generation has them, the “love gods”, the cultural icons who capture our minds and our hearts.  They are musicians, actors, playwrights, authors, or poets.  They are artists with a stamp so firm on a culture that the mere mention of their names can call forth an image; artists, for example, like Shakespeare or maybe The Beatles. They are artists whose images need no text to explain who they are, like Shakespeare or maybe The Beatles.

These paperAnd because these artists have messages that transcend time there are educators who are committed to teaching their students how best to discover an artist’s message through a study of an artist’s craft. There are even educators so committed that they would spend an entire Saturday, (January 24, 2014) learning new strategies to help their students understand and respond to the messages of cultural icons. These are educators who spent the day at the Yale Repertory Willpower!Workshop centered on the upcoming production of These! Paper! Bullets!.

These! Paper! Bullets! is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy play Much Ado about Nothing, with the setting transported to London in the turbulent 1960s. The play’s adaptation is by Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award nominated writer Rolin Jones, and the promotional synopsis states:

Meet the Quartos. Ben, Claude, Balth, and Pedro. Their fans worship them. Scotland Yard fears them. And their former drummer will stop at nothing to destroy them. Can these fab four from Liverpool find true love in London and cut an album in seven nights? These Paper Bullets! is a rocking and rolling version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing with a serious backbeat.

Many of the teachers attending this Saturday’s workshop will be bringing their classes in early April to the daytime productions of These! Paper! Bullets!, a series of performances offered through the WILLPOWER! program. This program is the brainchild of James Bundy, dean of the School of Drama and  artistic director of the Yale Rep. According to a 2013 Yale News article “‘WILL POWER!’ gives city students a ‘visceral’ introduction to theater,” Bundy’s concerns about having students see live theatre was the motivation for beginning the program 10 years ago since, “studies show that people who attend the theater before the age of 18 are much more likely to attend later in life.”  

The WILLPOWER! Workshop for educators is coordinated by Ruth M. Feldman, the Yale School of Drama’s director of education and accessibility services, and is usually offered several weeks before a production in order to improve classroom instruction and prepare student audiences for the play they will see.

Feldman’s jam-packed line up this particular Saturday included a preview of sets and costumes with the production’s director Jackson Gay. The costumes brought “aahs” from the audience who obviously appreciated the retro-look of white go-go boots on Twiggy-eque models. There were also musical snippets from the production’s musical collaborator, Green Day lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong.  Listening to clips of these original songs that echoed the sounds of the 60s, composed in tribute to the Fab Four, had all the heads in the room bopping up and down.
“Is there going to be a CD soundtrack?” one enthused teacher asked.

After the question/answer session with the director, Feldman packed off the teachers for a visit to the Yale University Art Gallery, a short brisk walk across the street, to participate in a thematically linked presentation on “adaptations” organized by Museum Educator Elizabeth Manekin and Elizabeth Williams, the John Walsh Fellow at the Yale University Art Gallery.  Teachers were briefed on the Pop Art movement as they studied a series of nine panels of Andy Warhol’s Mao (a screenprint of one similar is available on Amazon). The discussion asked teachers to consider how a cultural icon is adapted for new audiences. Next, teachers gathered around Manet’s Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume and continued the discussion on adaptations before heading to the workroom to make collages that were adaptations on Manet’s other reclining female, Olympia.

Andy Warhol Mao 93, 1972 Screenprint sold by RUDOLF BUDJA GALERIE. $200,000.00 + Free Shipping

Andy Warhol
Mao 93, 1972
Screenprint on AMAZON through RUDOLF BUDJA GALERIE.
$200,000.00 + Free Shipping!

Édouard Manet, French, 1832–1883 Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume

Édouard Manet, 
Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume -Yale University Art Gallery

Returning to Yale Rep, teachers also had the opportunity to try reading and writing strategies aligned with the Common Core using informational texts, short commentaries about social media and cultural icons. Rachel Sexton, an educational specialist at ACES, engaged teachers by having them participate in a reading strategy that asks students to organize an article that had been cut-up. “Don’t look for matching cuts like a puzzle,” she warned, knowing how some students might look for a short-cut. The next strategy involved reading that text and other short commentaries in order to write a personal response incorporating three ideas they found significant. Dutifully, teachers took pencils in hand. The sounds of scribbling were slow at first but became steadier, and Sexton had to interrupt teachers as her session time was drawing to a close,  I overheard teachers:

  • “This is a great way to introduce a topic”
  • “I cannot believe how much I am getting out of this exercise…”
  • “I know how my students have trouble getting started with writing; this [strategy] solves that problem!”

The last session was dedicated to the lyricism in Shakespeare’s play offered by Dr. Matthew Suttor, Director of the Laurie Beechman Center for Theatrical Sound Design and Music at the Yale School of Drama. His session was  titled, “Let Music Sound…”, a presentation designed to have teachers “examine and experience the creative process for drawing both lyrics and music from a play’s text. (full disclosure: Sadly, I could not attend this last session because of impending snow.) 

As she has in the past, Feldman organized seven hours of first-rate (FREE) professional development through the WILLPOWER! program that was both practical for classroom application and powerful enough to encourage educators to explore new possibilities for bringing the messages of adaptation in culture. Exploring the elements of These! Paper! Bullets! before the opening of the show helps educators prepare students for the experience of Shakespeare performed live.

In addition, knowing adaptations can be made from works created by a cultural icon some 400 years ago is an concept that students today, with their ability to create mash-ups and Internet memes coupled with their  fascination with today’s cultural icons, should appreciate or even (hopefully) try themselves.

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60 of my students met their first Hamlet on stage at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, this past week. Their Hamlet was the actor Paul Giamatti, who after speaking 40% of the play’s 4,042 lines (roughly 1,440), came out onto the stage for an audience talkback to speak a few more words to them.paul giamatti

“He looks tired,” on student remarked to me. The play had begun at 10:15 AM, and we were still sitting three and a half hours later as the actors and crew began to respond to questions.

If we thought they looked tired, the actors seemed surprised to see us still sitting there.
“Wow!” Polonius (Gerry Bamman) said as he sat, “You stayed!”

Students were curious about how the sets moved (“The stage has a large fly space.“). Students wondered how long the cast had rehearsed (“Eight weeks, a real luxury…”). Students wondered who was most like his or her character (“I understand Gertrude much more since I have a son”). Students asked about the creation of set pieces including a large portrait (“That’s an oil painting from a  photograph”).

Of course, there was no stopping the students from calling attention to Giamatti’s role in Big Fat Liar, a film from their youthOne student stood to ask, “Did Hamlet remind you of Marty Wolf?” Giamatti laughed in response, “Well, maybe,…a little… except for the blue crap!”

Hamlet is a 12th grade text, and I asked students to take a survey after they returned to the school to see what they thought of this production. While the survey indicated that the teachers in our English department had done their job, the students indicated that seeing the play performed was very different that studying the play in class:

Shakespeare was meant to be live. Although the “perfection” of a movie is enhancing to the performance, it is unrealistic. I believe that watching a play live is important to seeing the different styles and methods possible.

It was fun and a lot better than just reading it in class, it made it come alive.

I did not think it was going to be as entertaining as it was. I also did not think I would find parts humorous, but I did.

This Hamlet was part of the WILLPOWER! series (funded by the National Endowment of the Arts). The website states:

WILL POWER! is Yale Repertory Theatre’s annual educational initiative in conjunction with one of its productions and features specially-priced tickets and early school-time matinees for middle and high school student groups. The program also includes free professional development for educators, study guides and post-performance discussions with members of the company.

One of the objectives of the WILLPOWER! series is to create new audiences, specifically younger audiences, for Shakespeare. Students who have attended a Shakespeare play may be more willing to attend another play when they are older; in other words, a favorable dramatic experience will yield future audiences for Yale Drama School graduates!

Seniors at intermission watching Hamlet at Yale Rep

Seniors at intermission watching Hamlet at Yale Rep

The survey indicated that this goal is being met with the WILLPOWER! series; my students are certainly willing to try another play:

The performance was a wonderful experience, especially since it was my first time to see Shakespeare.

I wouldnt mind going to another because it was so enjoyable that I didn’t even realize the 4 hours passing by.

I like the way that a play has a certain kind of vibe. It’s like a live concert, where there’s a certain kind of energy. It was like seeing a live performance of a film. I would especially like to see another Shakespeare because it is the way that he intended his works to be portrayed.

After seeing Hamlet so well done, it would definitely be worth going to see another one whether it be Shakespeare or a different kind of performance.

Perhaps the most satisfying moments of the actor’s talkback for teachers is hearing the actors say things that we wish our students would pay attention to in class. When Giammati was asked about how he felt about memorizing all those lines, he explained that he enjoyed learning the lines and playing on the open space of the stage.

When one student asked, “What part of the play did you like best?” Giamatti responded, “I enjoy the end, when Hamlet returns to the graveyard, until the end.” Then, thoughtfully, he added, “Shakespeare’s words begin to come through you if you let them.” (Honestly…you could hear the teachers in the audience swoon!)

But nothing was better than hearing the young Remsen Welsh (Player Prologue) explain how the director, James Bundy, had prepared her for her role. “It’s simple,” the actress gestured enthusiastically from the front of the stage. Facing the crowd of students twice her age, she cheerfully acknowledged, “He told me, ‘Suit the action to the word, the word to the action..’ and I did!”


A first Hamlet they will remember.

Nothing beats a top-notch live performance for selling Shakespeare to students. While there are plenty of quality performances on DVD, streaming from  Netflix or the PBS website, or available piecemeal on Youtube, there is nothing quite like the collective heartbeat one experiences sitting in an audience. In live theatre, there is the moment of an audience-wide hypnosis; the palpable moment when the audience loses self-consciousness and synchronizes its breathing to watch and hear the play. The dramatist Shakespeare provided many opportunities for those moments.

Every year I try to organize a field trip so that my students have an opportunity to attend a live performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays.  Since our school is fortunate to be located an hour away from New Haven, CT, our students can attend matinees at Yale Repertory Theatre. For several years, I have arranged for field trips to see Shakespeare performed at the Yale Rep with Ruth Feldman, the Director of Education and Accessibility Services at the Yale School of Drama.  These plays are funded as part of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) initiative Shakespeare in American Communities:

“Yale Rep offers young people in the community two significant youth theater programs: WILL POWER! and the Dwight/Edgewood Project. WILL POWER! Arts-and-education initiative is designed to build on existing English and Theatre curricula for middle- and high- school educators and their students. The company continues as a leader for it community outreach and accessibility programs that promote audience diversity and participation. “

This year, 40 students attended Yale Rep’s production of The Winter’s Tale, one of the more difficult plays to teach, a “problem” play. On this particular trip, there were honors 9th graders who had been prepared for the production having used a prepared study guide sent in advance of the trip.  The 12th graders, in the throes of “senioritis”, came cold to the production.

No matter. The combination of elegant set and stage movement conveyed the plot-a jealous husband, a wronged wife, a betrayed friend in the opening scenes kept all students rapt. The famous stage direction, “exit pursued by a bear” was brilliantly executed with puppetry, and suddenly the audience was transported into the land of Bohemia with its rainfalls of tiny blossoms, colorful costumes, and infectious country dancing. One student leaned into me, “I would rather live in Bohemia,” she whispered.  The final stage trick of bringing the statue of Hermione to life was met with audible gasps-“She’s real?” The packed house of students cheered predictably louder for the “clowns”from the performance, and with nothing less than genuine admiration for the lead roles as the cast took their final bows. The Winter’s Tale was a hit!

Immediately after the performance, as they have for the entire WILL-POWER series, the cast and production team at Yale Rep offered a talk-back where students can ask questions for about 20 minutes after the show. Seeing the performers in street clothes, without costumes and make-up, sitting on the edge of the stage, tousled but charged up after the 3 hours of performing, is a bit unsettling…the illusion of theatre is laid bare. Awkwardly, for the first five minutes, students stammered out questions: How long did they rehearse? (8 weeks) How old are you (to a 10 year old actress)? Have you been on TV (yes)? Actors responded amiably enough.

Then, a teacher asked, “What was your first Shakespeare experience?” There was a momentary pause and then one actress offered her first memory of Shakespeare…a memory from  high school. “Shakespeare was supposed to be only for the smart kids, which really wasn’t fair,” she recounted, “He’s really for everyone, not just the smart kids.”  Another actor agreed, explaining that members of his class had acted out Shakespeare-very badly, stumbling over the words, but loving the experience. Then another actor spoke. “My mother took me to see Shakespeare when I was seven, so I was always around them[plays]. I grew up loving to watch the plays.” Another actor recounted his initial dislike of Shakespeare’s plays in high school,”I just didn’t get it,” but that an experience in college changed his mind, “Was this the same boring play? Yes! Why was it better now? I don’t know, maybe I was ready then.” Still another spoke of his love of the plays, his love of the language, and his ability “to speak the words really well because I understand them…which means that I have been able to stay employed!” One by one, each actor spoke of an initial Shakespeare experience, good or bad, and how each of them had been changed by that experience. There was such power in their personal stories, an English teacher could not have scripted better confessions. Their passion for Shakespeare and desire to pass that passion on to my students was inspiring; they were the better teachers!

A final question, posed again by an adult audience member, served  the play’s recap: “What was your favorite moment in the play?”she called out. The actors brightened and each took a turn, speaking about a favorite moment. One recounted a scene she could see from the wings, another a moment he shared on stage with another actor. The cast recapped the events of the play -out of sequence-the statue coming to life, the clown stealing the wallet, the dance, a set of choral lines shared between two actors, the moment when the newborn babe is brought before her dismissive father, and the magical transformation of the shepherd into Father Time. But it was the actor who spoke about the stage direction “pursued by a bear” that brought new understanding to one of my students as to how to look at one of Shakespeare’s seemingly improbable plot devices. “Why would Antigonus leave a baby alone on a beach unless he was trying to protect her?” asked the actor, ” Who would do that? Who would do that unless he was convinced he could save the baby? The bear chases him to his death, but the baby lives,” he continued, “I think amid so many acts of selfishness, this is one of the most selfless acts in the play.” Later, sitting at a local pizzeria, a student repeated his explanation word for word, “Seriously, who would leave a baby on a beach? Who would do that unless he was convinced…. That’s so true!”

Live theatre can engage students. Live Shakespeare -performed well-can enrich students. Talkbacks with actors and their experiences with Shakespeare can enlighten students. Perhaps one day my students may have the opportunity to share their first experience with Shakespeare. They may choose Yale Rep’s The Winter’s Tale.