Tag Archives: shakespeare

Shakespeare! (Plus Free Scripts)

Three of the fabulous actors from our Much Ado show hanging out backstage (via Highwood Theater)
Three of the fabulous actors from our Much Ado show hanging out backstage (via Highwood Theater)

I haven’t been posting much in the last few weeks because two events have taken over our lives – Destination Imagination (more on that in a post soon) and Shakespeare.

We’re definitely reaching the stage of homeschooling where I can look back through this blog and find exactly the thing I’d like to write again about what we’re up to. And here it is:

Advice for Any Foolhardy Shakespeare Directors Out There

It’s from as we were gearing up to perform Macbeth a couple of years ago. We just wrapped up Much Ado About Nothing, which was by far our most elaborate production. We’ve now done this four different ways and I through all that, I stand by all that advice. To sum it up:

  • The most important thing you need to direct a Shakespeare show with kids is the will to do it. The kids, the scripts, and even the spaces can all fall into place. Most homeschoolers are practically begging to have their kids have an opportunity to do some meaty Shakespeare.
  • Don’t underestimate the need to play theater games and have fun, even right up to the wire. Kids learn things like blocking and projecting their voices that way, plus thinking of rehearsal as a fun time can be important.
  • If you’ve got kids under age 10, have them learn their lines before beginning rehearsals in earnest.  Before about that age, the majority of kids can’t really act and hold a script and read lines all at the same time. Give them some time to learn the lines after handing out roles and then get started, with everyone off book all at once.
  • Don’t underestimate how hard it is for kids to learn blocking. Kids are sponges. Saying a long Shakespeare line – no problem! But remembering not to do it with your back to the audience and standing behind your best friend – that’s hard.
  • Don’t be afraid to be creative with sets and costumes. Or to just be minimal. I’ve had four productions, all with massively different types and amounts of set pieces and costuming. It can work with a ton of cool set things or nothing but a few simple props.
  • The biggest challenge for me has consistently been finding rehearsal and performance spaces. We’ve used someone’s home, a church gym, a local historic building, and a theater space to rehearse. And we’ve performed in two local professional theaters, a church stage, and a big meeting room. This year, I decided to approach the theater where Mushroom has done a couple of shows and see if they’d like to work with me to try and expand their homeschool program. It was nice not to have to scramble for spaces and afforded us some amazing set and costume help. However, there was something nice about keeping costs low and having other parents pitch in to help bring everything to fruition. Both ways can work.

For elementary schoolers, I found Shakespeare with Children by Elizabeth Weinstein to be the best source of scripts. They’re short, with lots of roles for a large group, and with Shakespeare’s original language throughout, except for a narrator. From that, I edited the scripts by taking some of the text away (for The Tempest) or adding some back in (for A Midsummer Night’s Dream). However, I’ve also cut two plays for us to use ourselves and thought I’d provide those scripts here for anyone to use.

MACBETH SCRIPT

This script was cut extremely short specifically for performance in the twenty minute time limit set by the Folger Library’s Children’s Shakespeare Festival. It could be a good script for a classroom or co-op performance since it’s of a much more limited scope. It includes many roles, but some can be condensed for a smaller cast.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING SCRIPT

This script is about an hour long. This play is often not performed by children because of it has more innuendo than some of the other comedies. Innuendo likely to be understood by children has been removed from this version. Also, Leonato’s condemnation of Hero is greatly softened, as is Hero’s alleged betrayal. We staged our version in the 1920’s with music, but you could stage it in any era. We also had Beatrice sing Shakespeare’s “Sigh No More, Ladies/Hey, Nonny Nonny” at the start of the show. Note: There are a few typos in this script. I went back to fix them and the original version that wasn’t pdf was missing and editing from the pdf was difficult. Oops. So you get the script with the dozen typos though most are very minor. However, there’s an error on page 12 where Don Pedro enters and speaks to Claudio, except he’s not quite on stage yet.

Advice for Any Foolhardy Novice Shakespeare Directors Out There

I’ve got Shakespeare in the works again.  This go around, things will be a little different because we’ll be preparing for the Folger Children’s Festival, where kids at the elementary level perform a twenty-minute Shakespeare something, be it an except, a collection of monologues or a shortened play.  We’re going for a short version of MacBeth and this time around I’m looking forward to blood and sword-fighting.

Anyway, I have said here several times that I’d do a more detailed post about all the elements of putting together a Shakespeare production and I told someone recently I’d really do it.  So here it is, to remind myself as much as anything.  I admit that it got longer than I expected.  There are a lot of little tasks in putting together a big production – things like programs that are easy to forget.

IMG_3657-M
BalletBoy as Prince Ferdinand in our production of The Tempest.

 

Get a Group

First, I have started with my inestimable group of friends and their kids.  The first year we did this, we had five and six year-olds, as well as some seven and eight year-olds, doing real Shakespeare.  I am still a bit amazed at my own moxie and the trust of my friends and random homeschool acquaintances in letting me try it.  As well, at their willingness to help by pitching in with extra money, making programs, putting together sets, making costumes and designing great fairy wings.

Both times, and we’ll do it this way again, we’ve met before we started the play in order to goof off and play some theater games together as well as introduce the play and some Shakespearean language.  At the end of those meetings, I cast the play and hand out scripts.

From the first time to the second, I learned something.  Kids need to learn their lines before we start rehearsals.  Even eight year-olds can’t read lines aloud well enough to properly rehearse and six year-olds are pretty much hopeless at it.  Therefore, I highly recommend giving kids a month or more to have a role, let it sink in, and memorize their lines.  Make it extremely clear to parents and kids that they are committing to learn those lines and that the whole group is counting on them.

Make Up a Script

There are several places to find shortened Shakespeare.  If you do a search, you’ll turn up a number of books.  So far, I’ve taken my scripts from Shakespeare with Children by Elizabeth Weinstein.  The book shortens six Shakespeare plays.  One of the things I like about this version is that they include some of the smaller parts in order to allow for a larger cast where every kid feels important.  For example, in The Tempest, the masque scene with the spirits is included and it was a small matter to insert a short line for each of the spirits from the play.  I’ve typed up the scripts and removed a few lines here and there to shorten parts, added back language from the original play to beef up others in order to customize it for our particular group.

There are other sources.  You can, of course, start with the original yourself and edit away. Do it when you’re feeling especially gutsy.  Editing the bard is not for the faint of heart.  Alternately, you can search for a free abridged version.  This site has a few and I’ve seen others as well.

Play Games

Obviously, once you’ve got a cast and a script and you’re probably tempted to just get to work.  However, I’d like to advocate for playing more games.  Games warm everyone up and get everyone excited to be there.  This may surprise you, but sitting there watching other kids run the same line over and over in a scene you’re not even in isn’t that much fun to kids.  That’s part of why games are important.  Games can also help young actors learn to project their voices, use their bodies, pay attention to their fellow castmates on stage, and good skills.

The book I have used the most for theater games is On Stage by Lisa Bany-Winters.  There are many others though.  101 Drama Games and Activities is a good resource as well.  The same series has an improv title with good suggestions.  Theater Games for the Classroom is another.  I’ve tried to build up a repertoire of quick games for getting started and running around games for blowing off steam and learning to work together.

Rehearse

As I said before, I think it’s essential for kids to know their lines before rehearsals begin.  For the director, I think it’s essential that you’ve decided on basic entrances and exits before you begin and have some idea of blocking.  In fact, blocking is the theater piece that I’ve seen kids find the most difficult on stage.  Basically, going into things, just be aware from rehearsal one that there’s a good chance you’ll be fighting to get most kids to face the audience and not stand in a flat line.  The one thing I’ve found useful in helping kids with this is running a dumb show in rehearsals.  When we spent a morning doing a dumb show before Midsummer’s Night Dream, some of the scenes came to life that had been the most difficult parts of the play to get through.

Get the Stage and Set It

Both times we’ve performed, we’ve rented a theater with lighting.  The first time, it was a black box and the second, it was a church theater space.  Many theaters are very small.  Don’t underestimate (as I did our first year!) how many family members each cast member may want to bring to the show.  Fifty seats or even a hundred sounds like plenty until you realize that each cast member may have half a dozen relatives who want to see them perform.  Depending on your group, fifty seats might be fine, but check in first.

If you use a space that isn’t set up as a theater, theater supply stores may rent lighting at a reasonable cost.  That’s an alternate option.  You can also, of course, simply perform in an open space without lighting.  I’ve just found that kids feel a great sense of pride at being in front of an audience on a more traditional stage.

We’ve used various things to create our staging.  In The Tempest, potted plants, fake vines and old ottomans disguised as rocks made a simple set.  The backdrops were just abstract paintings on old sheets.  In Midsummer’s, the kids constructed fake trees and decorated old chairs to become thrones.  Because of the festival we’re participating in, we’ll have minimal set pieces this time.  You can get elaborate and build flats or keep things as simple as possible.  In the first go around, the kids contributed, but didn’t do the bulk of the work.  Most things came from thrift stores.  The second time around, I made the design and conception, then asked the kids to carry it out in their own way by painting the tops of the thrones and so forth.  Most things came from creative reuse centers.

Costumes

Both costumes and sets can be assigned to different people.  Directors don’t have to do it all, of course.  The first time around, kids got guidelines for their costumes, but parents were mostly expected to get them themselves.  The second time around, I had volunteers putting together costumes and we only asked parents to send kids with certain things, such as leggings for the fairies.  We kept it pretty simple.  Also consider how face painting can help, even if it’s just by giving a couple of kids beards.

It probably goes without saying, but doing a dress rehearsal before the show will reveal both costume issues as well as last minute staging issues, especially if it’s the case that you haven’t been able to rehearse in your theater space.

550376_10150922365427881_1102494570_n
Mushroom as Oberon in our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Perform!

At this stage, little extras are fun.  Printing up tickets and making a program lends an air of professionalism to what you’re doing.  We’ve put the kids’ artwork onto the programs both times, which is fun.  You can also include quotes from the kids about their experiences or mini-bios of the kids with headshots.

Be sure that during rehearsals, you’ve given enough time to practicing taking bows.  This is one of those things that seems like it would be easy, but both shows have required that I come on stage and drag kids into position despite plenty of practice.  I think their brains turn off when it’s time for a bow.

Celebrate

Don’t neglect to hold a cast party after the show or find another time for the kids to celebrate the hard work they’ve done.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate.  I think it’s just nice to give the kids a chance to blow off steam and receive their due compliments after the show.

Post-Production

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Midsummer Night’s Dream and Shakespeare Camp later, but for now, enjoy this picture of me, the Husband, Lysander (aka BalletBoy) and Oberon (aka Mushroom) in the immediate afterglow of the show.

Mushroom is thoroughly in the letdown stage.  He wrote this letter (addressed on the other side to “Willam Shakspear”) after the show.  No deep thoughts, I think he was just trying to say goodbye.

Making Trees

The Husband told me only God can make a tree.  Or was that Joyce Kilmer?  In any case, that’s what I’ve been up to lately, at least in part.  I know they look like tubes now, but they’re going to become trees, darn it!

The purpose of this is to get ready for our summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  BalletBoy is playing Lysander and Mushroom is playing Oberon.  They’re busy learning lines.  I’m busy getting set pieces and props in ready enough place that the kids can help finish them at our camp.  One of the things I love about homeschooling is that I’m always learning new skills and information, like how to build better with cardboard tubes and how to use magazine pictures of cookies and chocolate to make collage bark.

These tubes, by the way, come to us from The Scrap Exchange in Durham, NC, where I bought eight of them for less than ten dollars.  This is a place where you can purchase remaindered bits and pieces from all sorts of things.  It’s a huge warehouse space and a long-standing Durham institution.  Apparently a similar organization has gotten going here in DC as well and there are many such places on the west coast.  If you’re interested, here’s a list of reuse facilities all over the world.  Even if you’re not about to dress a set, I promise if you have a good one nearby that it’s worth the trip.  My kids find crazy things there for almost nothing, which they put to bizarre, but creative uses.

Till Next Year, Actors

I promised that I would give just one more little look at The Tempest with better photos.  These are stolen from friends with better cameras who actually got to sit in the audience.

Fish or Fowl?  Smells like a fish!  You can see that every moment Mushroom was on stage, he was just brilliantly into it.

Work not so hard, sir.  I’ll bear your logs awhile!  BalletBoy and the girl playing Miranda had such a cute chemistry together.

A most high miracle!  BalletBoy really does look like he’s found his long lost father.  They had a pretty hilarious hug next.

The kids are keen to do something else next year, so I’m already bracing myself, though I suspect this might be an every other year undertaking for me, especially since we have a big trip in the planning stages for spring next year.  But the pull of the bard is strong!

Our Revels Now Are Ended…

It’s the day after our amazing, excellent performance of The Tempest.  My thoughts are too muddled for a serious post and I have few images worth sharing because I was way too busy to take pictures.  But deeper thoughts about children and Shakespeare, young performers, set designs and so forth, as well as much better images I’ll steal from people who had proper cameras and time to snap pictures, can come later.  Right now, I’m just filled with satisfaction and pride that my kids and their friends performed a real, actual Shakespeare play, even abridged.  And I’m filled with thankfulness for the parents who helped make it happen as well as for the many kind things they said about all of my efforts.

Mushroom and a friend goofing off on the set (they were making "shadow angels") on Friday as the stage manager mom and I get things in place along with the director of the theater.
At home before we left for the theater once I had everyone's face painted (BalletBoy has a tiny mustache to play Ferdinand).
This blurry picture is BalletBoy as Ferdinand, wooing Miranda. He said, "Admired Miranda!" so earnestly that the audience chuckled.
After the show at the cast party at our house. Mushroom became suddenly sad when he realized it was all over. Poor kid!

In Which I Undertake Something Dumb…

We are embarking on a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  I’m directing it and am in the process of figuring out the casting as well as editing down the script we have so that no one has too many lines.  I am, no doubt, completely and utterly insane.

But, because it’s on my mind, for your use, a post on Shakespearean resources.  I’ve posted about Shakespeare a little before.  Now, a few more things you can use to learn about Shakespeare and specifically The Tempest.

First up, there’s the scripts.  Obviously, you can get the actual text of Shakespeare’s plays most anywhere.  There’s a good chance you already have them in your home.  I have the weighty tome that is The Riverside Shakespeare from my college days.  Of course, if you don’t, there’s always Shakespeare at Project Gutenberg.  Here’s a link where you can see Shakespeare’s works available there.

Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts For Young PlayersIf you’re working with kids, you might not want the full original versions.  Simply Shakespeare by Jennifer Kroll is a book that includes simple story versions of the plays done as reader’s theater.  For the most part, the language is modernized.  The plays are meant to be done in about 20 minutes.  Stepping things up a little bit, Shakespeare with Children by Elizabeth Weinstein gives slightly longer versions of six of the plays.  These are shortened versions that incorporate mostly Shakespearean language.  This is the version of the plays we’re using, though I’m cutting it down somewhat.  Finally, when I was looking for our script to base our production, I considered both this site and this one.  I thought both looked promising.

Next, picture book versions of the Shakespearean stories are a must.  I think they’re a useful way to introduce the plays all the way up to high school.  For The Tempest, these are the resources we’ve been looking at:

The Tempest retold by Ann Keay Beneduce
The Tempest adapted by Mariana Mayer
Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams
The Tempest by Bruce Coville
Shakespeare for Kids: The Tempest by Lois Burdett
Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit

The Bruce Coville Shakespeare series is especially wonderful.  I have mixed feelings about the children’s illustrations in the Lois Burdett Shakespeare versions.  Plus, the strange poetry she uses to retell the stories isn’t really my style.  However, I know others really like these versions.  Nesbit’s Shakespeare retellings are available at Project Gutenberg here and at Google Books here.

Finally, some resources on Shakespeare’s life are good to have.  We’ve only just begun to explore these, but here are some I’ve found useful.

The Usborne World of Shakespeare by Anna Claybourne
Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki
Bard of Avon: the Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley

Right now I’m feeling very foolhardy and optimistic about the ability of these kids to do this amazing production.  But ask me again in March if I still think this was a good idea!

Kids, Meet the Bard

Mushroom and BalletBoy after seeing the Free for All at the Shakespeare Theater. Photo credit to the husband, who thought to snap a picture.

The husband and I have season tickets to the Shakespeare Theater.  One of the perks of being a subscriber is guaranteed seats at the Free for All.  None of this line waiting or lottery business like the rabble.  This year, we used that perk to take the kids for the first time.  I admit I was nervous.  The show is Twelfth Night.  It was a lushly done performance that emphasized the comedic and romantic elements (over, you know, the spiteful revenge themes).  Rose petals dumped down on characters when they realized they were in love.  During the scene where the characters trick Malvolio into wearing those yellow stockings, I thought BalletBoy was going to die of a laughing fit.  So while there were some fidgety moments, I wasn’t sorry I took the risk and brought them.

Since we’re doing volume two of Story of the World this year, we should make up to studying Shakespeare properly by the end of the year.  I’m hoping to do a children’s production of The Tempest with one of our homeschool groups over the winter and spring.  We’ll see how that pans out.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few of the resources we used to prep the kids to go see a full length Shakespeare production.

We started with the Lois Burdett series Shakespeare Can Be Fun.  These books are short, picture book versions of Shakespeare’s works.  Most titles are available.  Each story is told in modern verse and illustrated by children.

Next, we used Marcia Williams’s More Tales from Shakespeare.  These are very short, somewhat silly versions of the stories told in a comic book format.  There is another volume called Bravo Mr. William Shakespeare and between the two they cover most Shakespeare titles.  I feel like these are a nice resource, but probably better for kids who can read them themselves instead of as a read aloud.

We sadly weren’t able to lay our hands on the Bruce Coville version of Twelfth Night, but his Shakespeare picture book series is one of the finest for younger children.  The illustrations are full page in most cases.  They have a beautiful, detailed look.  They help tell the story when most versions rely heavily on the words.  I lamented that our library didn’t have the one I wanted, but they do have many others, so I know we’ll use them later this year.

Finally, we own two different versions of children’s Shakespeare stories retold.  I know many people prefer the Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, but I decided to get E. Nesbit’s Stories from Shakespeare instead.  The versions seemed simpler and more fairy tale-like to me, beginning with “Once upon a time…”  I also just have an affinity for E. Nesbit.  Her versions are available under many different titles, as they’re in the public domain.  Finally, I spied the Usborne book Stories from Shakespeare at a curriculum sale not that long ago and couldn’t resist the beautiful illustrations that went along with it.  The versions are more detailed than the E. Nesbit ones and are well-written.