This past weekend I had the privilege of assisting on our 3rd installment of Shakespeare in Action – a family workshop in which parents and their young children (ages 6-12) approach a scene from Shakespeare’s canon in a physical way. In the past we’ve looked at the opening scene from Romeo and Juliet and the climactic finale of Macbeth. This time we focused on parts of Julius Caesar Act 5, Scene 1. The focus is to approach the text seeking what we call “action clues.” What is the text telling us to do when we perform it? How can we best tell the story?
We started by warming everyone up with a couple of theater games to shake our bodies out and get comfortable with the group (we had about 30 guests!), then we settled down together to read the scene aloud. If there was a word someone didn’t understand or a phrase that seemed confusing, anyone could raise their hand and say “BING!” and we would talk it out together to see if we could use the context clues to figure out what it meant.
Once that was done, we split the group into two teams, and alternated rehearsing the scene and learning safe stage combat from our swordsman, Paul Hope. I appreciated especially when Paul asked our group if they’d ever done “Fake-Fighting” on the playground. Many hands were raised. “What’s the difference between Fake-Fighting and Stage Combat? Does anyone know?” The difference is that with Stage Combat we’re using choreography, a pre-determined series of actions that are well-rehearsed and completely safe in order to tell a story. People can get hurt when they Fake-Fight, but in Stage Combat everyone is safe.
With a full 40-minute rehearsal and the Stage Combat choreography under our belts, our two teams performed the scene for each other. Everyone seemed to have had a great time! One of our younger students filled out his comment card with “Funnest time in my life love it so so so MUCH” while one of the parents emphasized that we “kept it fun and entertaining the entire time!”
Getting students on their feet to experience Shakespeare’s language is entirely do-able! All you need is one engaging, active scene and a little time.
If you’re planning to visit DC this summer with your family, please keep in mind that we offer free hour-long family workshops every First Saturday of the month! Join us to experience Shakespeare’s words in action (sans wooden swords). Or simply visit us any day of the week with your family to see this summer’s three mini-exhibits while we renovate our Great Hall. We’re open every day and there’s always something to see!