Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

How A Summer at the Folger Turned Me Into a Bass

Alicia Edwards (R) with fellow TSI participants. (Image: Folger)
Alicia Edwards (R) with fellow TSI participants. (Image: Folger)

This past summer, I found my voice. More specifically, my vocal register actually changed. In stature, I am fairly petite, the little sister, the youngest of three, the daughter of a naval captain, and from a strict, British-obsessed Caribbean family. Speaking demurely and with a high pitched voice was my birthright. It, literally and figuratively, kept me in my place.  My voice assured that I was never to contest authority or voice anger. It was a signal of good breeding for other Caribbean families and something that I’m complimented on often.

You may be wondering what this has to do with the Folger Shakespeare Library. For four weeks during the summer of 2016, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the Teaching Shakespeare Institute (TSI) alongside 24 other amazing teachers from across the country. On the first day, after our very engaging first Fifteen-Minute Play, we understood that TSI was about pedagogy and performance and scholarship—and TSI was going to shed light on what they had to do with one another. Had I known about all this, I might have been too shy to apply, but I am now so grateful that I took the chance.

Our performance teachers were the indomitable and classically trained actor, Michael Tolaydo; and the dynamic and incredibly insightful playwright, Caleen Jennings.  Towards the end of our time together, we were doing breathing exercises with Caleen. From the depths of my diaphragm, I exhaled and out came a sonorous bass that I’d never heard before.  My group exploded in applause. Immediately, I ducked behind my neighbor and really from myself. Was I capable of that powerful roar that had bellowed from deep within me? And if I was capable of that, could I be capable of even more? For the first time, it dawned on me that I could shape others’ perceptions of me.

Yes, I learned more about Shakespeare—and teaching Shakespeare—than I’d ever imagined.  My research on the connection between Early Modern vagrancy and modern “Stop and Frisk” policies was eye-opening for me and timely in a larger sense.  But I believe deeply that I’ve become a better teacher by becoming a vulnerable human being. It reminded me of what it is to be a student facing a text that they (think they) cannot decode. The Teaching Shakespeare Institute took me back to being the shy student with the right answer who won’t raise their hand. I have found my voice and I’m never letting go.

*If you would like to participate in a summer program for teachers at the Folger, please check out the Teaching Shakespeare Institute: Summer Academy 2017. Applications are now online! Questions? Contact Corinne Viglietta (cviglietta@folger.edu).