This project examines the process of creating a middle school production of William Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors". This project takes the participants on a journey from initial discussions about the play, through auditions, and into rehearsals. It examines the dos and don’ts surrounding working with a cast of 25 eleven to fifteen year olds. Time is a consideration, with regard to limitations, student hours of rehearsal, student technical hours, teacher hours of rehearsal, and teacher technical hours. The presentation will touch on the importance of tackling important works of literature with Middle School students, as well the benefit of such a production to the students, the school and the greater community.
Students are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in an important piece of Shakespeare’s literature. Students are learning about the history of literature and gaining an insight into the brilliance of Shakespeare’s words. Acting skills easily translate into life skills such as gaining confidence, accountability, and teamwork skills. Students are encouraged to challenge themselves to feel confident speaking in front of a crowd. Acting on stage allows the students to feel a sense of accomplishment. Memorizing lines increases vocabulary and accountability, as they are solely responsible for their own lines.
Being in a production teaches the students about commitment and reliability. Students are required to dedicate time outside of school to learn lines and blocking. Students will also learn organizational and prioritizing skills in order to ensure they are succeeding in all of their classes. Working with a cast helps students work as a team, and to garner an understanding of how their actions can positively or adversely affect others. As a cast, students will create and maintain friendships that sustain after the production. Being part of a production creates a community and culture where the students can feel they belong. As student schedules need to be coordinated around a range of other extracurricular activities, the teachers in involved in those activities must work together. Teachers are given the opportunity to participate in an area they may not have before. Productions can also impact a school by positive coverage in the media related to the play. It is also a means of advertising to the parents of prospective students.
Students have provided concrete feedback about the experience:
#1 – Entertainment: “I love having fun with the crew”; “loving every second and it’s something I think has let people learn to make friends”; “…memorization, voice projection, acting and having fun!”; “ IT’S SO FUN”; “… fun to be on the stage and let the audience see their inner actress or actor”; “It lets you be you!”; “I love it, again I say I love it! “; “You also learn to speak crisp and clear with Shakespeare”; “This play is hilarious, giving laughter to every single one. So I think school plays are such a good idea?”; “Thanks for letting me have fun”.
#2 – Adds to the School: “Plays in school improve the school in many ways. Some examples are how it encourages kids to do theatre in the future. Some people may object putting plays on because we’re too young or may be too disappointed if they don’t get in but my argument is plays can help kids with confidence, overcoming stage fright and much more. Shakespeare is a real challenge for kids. But even though it may have its challenges it is a great comedy. My conclusion is Shakespeare plays for middle school are great”.
#3 – Shakespeare rehearsals have provided a new opportunity: “There is a greater variety of extra-curricular activities at school as long as we have the play productions. These rehearsal improve the students’ acting abilities and entertain them after a long day of school. Rehearsing Shakespeare has taught me how to comprehend old-English literature”.
#4 – Growth: ”I’ve learned and started to understand old English. It is a very unique opportunity that I have never experienced before. I think the school will think somewhat the same thing”.
#5 – Community: “I find that Shakespeare makes me go out of my comfort zone and really get into my character. And I think that when the play comes together people get involved and it makes a sense of community”.
Keith completed his Professional Semester III at Gilbert Paterson Middle School, teaching Drama and Health. He previously taught Grade 2 at Mike Mountain Horse, and 7/8 at Alexandra Middle School. For the last two years Keith has worked as a Program Leader at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, running programs for schools as well as summer camps and teaching children about the local environment and its inhabitants.