Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

One Week in Haiti: Day 2

~ by Emily Marquet
(if you missed the beginning of Emily’s adventure, click HERE)

Day 2: En Kreyol… S’il Vous Plait

It was discussed and decided as a cast on the second day of rehearsal that most of the play would be told in Kreyol. We determined that it was more important to tell the story as clearly as possible than keep Shakespeare’s language intact. Due to the wide age range of our audience, Kreyol would be by far the most widely understood language. Also, it was important to the cast to re-tell the story in a Haitian sense, using Haitian idioms and turns-of-speech. In other words, markedly making it an original take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream while maintaining Shakespeare’s story.

Coming into the experience as a Shakespeare purist, I have to admit I struggled a lot with “giving up” so much of the original text. Were we still telling Shakespeare’s story? That transition over the course of four days was my biggest learning curve and one I eventually embraced when I saw the final production.

I should also add that Kreyol was not the only language spoken. I would say about 30% of our one hour cut remained in English and about 60% was translated into Kreyol. The other 10% was spoken in French and Spanish. All four languages are taught at LCS and all four languages are spoken by Haitians. Patrick Moynihan commented on that choice saying, “If Shakespeare wrote a play in Haiti, he would definitely have characters speak in Kreyol and other characters not speak in Kreyol- both to their benefit and to their disadvantage. In other words, he would buffoon the language. That’s part of the whole Shakespearean commentary, characters putting on airs with language and getting it wrong…”

One example of this took place with our actor playing Bottom. English happened to be his first language and Kreyol his second. The actor chose specific moments when the character Bottom was talking a big game or not being truthful and decided to speak those lines in Kreyol. The end result was hilarious: here was an actor botching a language attempting to impress native Kreyol speakers. The universality of his character shone through that choice.

Day 2’s objective was to block the first half of the play. A lofty goal indeed! Elle and I had carefully divided the scenes into entrances and exits or “bite-sized chunks” as we called it, and split up the cast accordingly so that everyone was always working on something.

We opened rehearsal with a number of theatre games like, “Build a Machine,” and “Zip, Zip.” The love machine we made was pretty steamy!

Naturally, as with any theatre process, some hurdles came up during rehearsal. Halfway through rehearsal a number of the older boys (our Oberon, Puck, Lysander, and Francis Flute) disappeared. It was revealed a minute later they had gone to soccer practice. Apparently, we were going to have a talk about commitment to the play rehearsal!

Rehearsal came to a close after successfully (or semi-successfully, considering we had lost most of our leading men to sports) running the first half of the play. Hurray!

That night we worked with the lovers. In our cut, they ended up being the set of characters with the most lines so we worked on projection and did a lengthy vocal warm-up.

Then we began wading through the huge lover’s fight in Act III. First, the actors did the whole scene with just movement and telling the story with their bodies. Elle and I gave verbal hints as to what action happened next, but we tried to let the four actors direct and block themselves. Huge success! Giving the actors clear instructions yet keeping the structure free enough for them to play wildly and make big discoveries on their own was certainly the most effective directing tool Elle and I discovered. Additionally, we wanted the actors to feel like the play was undoubtably theirs; that this rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream could only have taken place at LCS in Haiti.

Emily Marquet is currently an intern with Folger’s Education and Public Programs divisions. She has worked with the American Shakespeare Center as a Camp Counselor and Assistant Director, and is a recent graduate of NYU with a Fine Arts major in Drama and minor in Social and Cultural Analysis. For the next part of her experiences in Haiti, check back to this blog on March 22 and 29!


  • Emily, I am totally engaged in this story. What an undertaking you and Elle have got going here! The issue of the guys taking off to play soccer and the need for commitment seems pretty important, and I’m looking forward to reading how it all turns out. This is a fascinating project. I hadn’t thought about a play being done in four languages. Thanks for sharing your experiences with this work.

  • I just found your posts, and I’m hooked. Going to get a snack before I move on to the next installment (just like when I’ve got a bunch of episodes of my favorite show On-Demand and a few hours to chug through them).

    I think it’s really smart of you to use the Kreol. I’m a Shakespeare language purist in most situations, but you’re making it accessible to them. Also, I think there’s a stigma of associating Shakespeare and cultural imperialism, which you are flipping on its head but using Shakespeare to celebrate Haitian culture. Great work.

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