blaire – Shakespeare Youth Festival

Shakespeare In Africa #5: Why I Won’t Correct Your Speech. Just Your Breath.

Shakespeare In Africa #5: Why I Won’t Correct Your Speech. Just Your Breath.

Or: How to put up a Shakespeare recital with 340 kids in Rural Botswana

This may sound like “shop talk” to outsiders, but there are things that are universal. Example: if you breathe…you might want to read on.

I tend to forget that how you breathe is how you live.

It’s been a few days of having “Miss Blaire” in class and now we are all working on our pieces: KK’s 5th Grade has Puck’s finals speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Gertrude’s fourth grade class has 6 Iambic Pentameter Lines which they dramatically act out…First, Second and Third Graders have the Mirror Games, group theatre games, yoga…

Mr. Joel’s tweens are my concern — they’re immersed in a potential exam and getting to the next level — the neighborhing school. I sit in and watch Mr. Joel’s kids quietly mumble when sharing their superlative sentences. This room needed oxygen. Mr. Joel decides to call on me to make up a sentence. I throw back a curve ball:

“Can you all stand up? I would like to see how you breathe.”

I don’t know if he likes me now. But I don’t care because no one was breathing in there.

Eyes dart around. Whaaat?! I guide them in a group inhale and I watch where the air goes in their bodies. As I expected…they suck in their stomachs, raise their shoulders and puff out their chests! I suppose this is a a global thing. Especially with females. But it’s wrong.

I ask them to cross their arms over their chest and then breathe. It has no choice but to go into their bellies. I walk by each student as they breathe into their bellies and exhale. Definitely new for them.

With the new breath, I ask them to now…repeat the sentences they constructed. A noticable difference. Immediate improvement. Still no one was loud enough to be heard by the entire classroom. So I send them outside. One by one. Go outside and yell to us.

Twenty feet away, they call out their sentences after breathing into their bellies. Their voices suddenly boom. But that is only part of it. They are smiling — laughing — experiencing the power. This is how you do it!

I threaten Mr. Joel’s class: they will next speak Shakespeare — loud and clear — for a presentation at the end of the week. I give them Prospero’s speech from the Tempest to learn as a choral speech. I break it down, slowly and animated — what Prospero is saying and doing here- passing on his power, laying down his staff, as Shakespeare soon put down his pen after this play. This is about — goodbyes.

What happened inside this class in the course of my time here, really did fulfill my wildest dreams. That’s for the next installment.

                                                                        Behind me are lions you will never see.

I am now in Mma Wilson’s lively 4th grade class — this group of 30 nine year olds seem down for Tongue Twisters. We divide into Call/Response teams — and as easy as tongue twisters are to our kids, I realize the value in slowing everything down and breaking it into the most singulary components possible.

R/e/d lea/th/er!

That alone was hard. It was very hard. the “d” to “l” — it wasn’t happening. We spent a good 15 minutes just on: Red Leather. I thought how speedy we are in America. How surface-level things have gotten. How busy doing…what exactly? Here we are just deconstructing a tongue twister — spending a quarter of an hour on how to say “Red Leather” …..how were we going to get to the results:

RedLeatherYellowLeatherGreenLeatherPurpleLeather…!?

But we couldn’t get past Red Leather. The Hard Rs stopped everyone in their tracks. Try saying “purple leather” as a second language. After about 40 minutes of trial and error — suddenly —they get the hang of it — once I let go of the Hard R idea — they just flow and I figured as long as they breathe into the belly — then they can say it three times in one breath. Then four. Then five. They do!

                                                         Rrrrrr-ed. LLLLLeath….errrrrr….Wrong. 

I pointed to colors in the classroom that corresponded. What a fun way to learn what the color purple was in second language — inside a tongue twister. They want another one.

I-rish Wrist-watch. (Six times in one breath) What is an Irish Wristwatch?!

Once they learn what Ireland was, and the word wristwatch in English, they laugh so hard. “Madame, Where is an Irish wristwatch? Do you have one?” Now we jump back and forth between:

Redleatheryellowleathergreenleatherpurpleleather

to

IrishWristWatch

to

YouKnowYouNeedUniqueNewYork

to

ArticulatoryAgilityIsADesirableAbility

Mma Wilson’s class become Masters at the Tongue Twister. They learn them all and demand to perform them for the show —

                                                                           Backpacker’s Lodge View

On weekends, I was taken to a Backpackers Camp and Lodge where there is a central gathering place (the bar) and I found myself writing there when not raising eyebrows at European and South African tourists. My biggest eyebrow arch of all came when I heard an Irish man (drinking at the bar) correcting an African bartender on his pronounciation of the word “Cider” — I almost spit out my…cider? Here is the account, as it was happening:

“I am listening to an Irishman correct a local Botswani on how to say “Cider”. He is saying, it’s “Soy-Drr! Soy-Drr.” (Really, Irishman? Is it? Soy-Drr…) The bartender, whov was raised speaking English as a second language calls it “Sy-dah” in his dialect which by the way, is quite pleasing to the ear. Open vowels…open face…soft voice…I have a pretty extreme sensitivity to sound and sound currents. I could listen to Swana in my ear 24/7 and it would lilt me to a peaceful sleep. The hard R’s of this man’s Irish dialect are akin to American’s hard Rs — times ten. Never mind my preference of Sy-dah to Soy-drr….setting that aside…WHY ARE YOU CORRECTING PRONOUNCIATION AT ALL!? And would you correct a Bronx bartender for calling it Sway-duh or a Paris bartender for calling it Tschhhdeucchh? Would you? Think about it. I want to smack ye, ye little drunken goblin! Take yr Irish wristwatch and beat it…

(All right, it was my personal diary, there’s some strong opinions.) But right there I did have a revelation. I’m doing the same thing as that Irishman! In Mma Wilson’s class with the tongue twisters, I was forcing that hard R so they could be “understood” when they “go out in the global market.” Where did that come from!?

Chances are, they will not all move to America so why would I impose my understanding of how a consonant or vowel is pronounced AT ALL?! I don’t even LIKE hard R’s. This idea got in me somewhere — and was so deeply ingrained I wasn’t even aware I was allowed to question it!

                                                           My first Live Free-roaming Elephant Sighting

I return Monday to Mma Wilson’s class and we start the tongue twisters again. This time, I attempt to hear and speak in their English/Swana dialect — sounding something like this:

Reyd Lethah Yaylow Lethah Grrreeeen Lethah Puhpel Lethah

Much Bettah! Now I am mirroring what I am hearing from them — rather than “correcting” or altering the beauty of this dialect — Going foreward — message to Self —

Hear other English Language dialects and adjust accordingly — not make them adjust to yours. In another country, you’re the one with the “accent.”

The lesson goes further. Applying it to food, dress, customs, beliefs…. Are we not more enriched when we let a culture, a language…happen to us, versus imposing our “culture” — whatever that is — on our host country? Though I still am fuming over “Soy-drr” — I am concerned for the bigger picture. The flattening out of so many of our ancient cultures by globalization and homogenization and Instagramization and everything becoming Trader Joe’s….Stop!

                                                                Godfrey and I stop to help a man in distress

At lunch I am told the village will come out for the show. The PTA and maybe the Tribal Chief will come and I am scared now — will he think this is silly? They are academic here, the children must excel to be allowed in the next school. Now I have them doing yoga and speaking Shakespeare and saying Red-Lethah….

I have five more classes to tackle — totallying 350 kids — then I hear the scary news — Spring Break is coming: next week is a short week. I have three more school days to work with the entire school — then they will perform and take a long spring vacation.

I walk home passing cows and donkeys and goats and dogs before turning on antoher dirt road where the building sits that houses the Tribal Chief.

I needed his permission for this endeavor. It was time.

Next: Shakespeare in Africa #6. The Show Goes On

Shakespeare in Africa #4. Students, Snakes and Sticky Hands.

Shakespeare in Africa #4. Students, Snakes and Sticky Hands.

My first night in Motopi, I fled my room to wait it out while the lone misquito had it out with Doom. (See last article — “Dooming the room.”) It was worth it. Standing under the night sky like that I saw things I’d never seen. Which brought up thoughts I never had, hatched here under the night sky.

Botswana Thought #1:

Why do we go to the moon when in all truth, we’re already on the greatest spaceship ever. We can breathe, eat, move around rotate the sun and we don’t have to put on a space suit, drink Tang or eat space sticks!

Pinky cleans the entire school.

I don’t remember having that thought before. I direct Shakespeare for a modest living currently — there was so much star gazing going on back then— hence the references in all the plays to the sky, the heavens, the sun, the stars. I never got it until now. Hard to pull myself away, but a hear a rustle in the bushes so I run inside. The misquito is no more. It’s hot in Chicken’s house. I want to jump in the river, but I am warned there are hippos in there at night.

Donkeys and birds wake me on my first full day. But that is a wonderful sound. What isn’t so wonderful is the ongoing fluttering in a corner of the bedroom roof— like a massive bird’s nest inside the ceiling.

My neighbor “Pinky” is a young, very hard working single mother who lives in a two room house next door. She wears a pink dress to work but that is not why she’s called Pinky. Her job is cleaner of the school floors and toilets — Pinky came over last night and showed me how to “work” the house. The shower water is heated by an electric tea kettle — that water is poured into a plastic tub to be mixed with the cold shower water. Somehow. Then there are the breakers, which Pinky demonstrates. If there are too many things going at once, everything turns off everywhere. Including at Pinky’s house. Electricity is paid in advance. When it’s used up — that’s the end. Go pay it forward.

I am getting in a mindset to meet the school teachers and the students today. No lounging, no jet lag recovery time. Brooks arrives and we sip our instant coffee, jump in his truck and head along the dirt road, sometimes blocked by donkeys, goats and cows. In the light of day I can now see the huts of Motopi.

I get my second Botswana Thought:

What about Unlearning? What about UnTeaching? What if we call it UnTeacher. I am a lifelong Unlearner. How else to make room for new ideas? We should unlearn everything. Even this thought.

Sticky Fingers all Day Long

There’s no ownership in “being taught” — less discovery, no real joy in it for that matter. Our players prefer when learning their lines is an accident — like while they’re on their feet engaging with each other. We try and untry things in rehearsal all the time. Fixed ideas are a danger. More of a danger than the nest in the ceiling of my bedroom — which I have been told could be a bat’s nest.

I nearly stepped on this.

The school is a collection of buildings on dirt, overlooking a field. There are classrooms, offices, a kitchen and toilets way off in the field. I hear a rumor that the kids recently killed a python in the schoolyard. I find out later, this is not an uncommon thing. Spiders? The least of our worries.

I meet the school headmistress, Mma Bharata, sitting behind a desk in a tiny dark room. Brooks translates – speaking in Tswana. She does speak English, but this gives us a flow. It’s obvious on Day One, they aren’t sure what I actually do or what to do…with me. I show Mma Bharata what we do at Los Angeles Drama Club by playing videos of our kids on my phone. I know that if I could just have some time with the students, it would become clear. Then all the teachers come in and we meet each other. They’re young and not what I expected. There’s an urban vibe to a lot of them.

Classes start and Mma Bharata brings me around to each classroom. When we enter, the children immediately rise and greet us in English:

“Good mohhning, teachah!”

From pre-school to seventh grade, they’re in uniform and impeccably groomed.

“Good morning, class. How are you?”

“We are fiiiine, Madame.”

In this first 20 seconds, I realize this is very academic English. There was a warning that the English is not fluent and I would have to go slow. But when I audit the classrooms and hear the teachers talk to them, it’s in Tswana. When I proceed to talk to them in English, their faces look blank. Now what? Shakespeare of course.

I have now audited the classes and it’s Nutrition break. Mma Bharata tells me some of the kids come to school hungry and this is their first meal. It’s not a complaint, just a piece of information. Everyone dips their hands into pails, scooping out what looks like hominy. Sticky fingers everywhere. One grabs my hand – the goo spreads. Great. I assume that this gluey substance just…stays on our hands…until it’s forgotten. I’m right.

I go look for a towel to wipe it off, but I’m physically trapped inside a mob of First Graders huddling for a photo. (the kids crowd in; they have gobs of space, but they love to clump together like one flailing octopus). In the middle of this clump of bodies under the Acacia tree, Botswana Idea #3 comes to me.

Teach them Hamlet. They will get it.

First graders stare up at me. I speak, they repeat. Now they do it on their own. In five minutes, the first words of Shakespeare are officially spoken in Motopi — by a group of six year olds.

This group uttered the first words of Shakespeare today

To be or not to be. My favorite teacher, Miss Hayes, was an archaeologist, and she was always coming back from a dig or some kind of adventure. I remember her because of her storytelling. It was about what she had JUST DISCOVERED. It felt so alive. Everything felt like it was happening now. The teachers in Motopi are required to teach out of books. But when they break the pattern of that and speak from their passion or experience, everyone wakes up. I feel so lucky – this is ALL I get to do – tell stories, speak from my passion and wake everyone up. The women teachers in Motopi are nurturers but they also have fire. The first one that catches my attention is Teacher Gertrude. And she knows about Hamlet’s Gertrude. Could Shakespeare have known that 400 years down the road, a woman in Botswana will be talking about her given name being a one of his characters? She invites me to her classroom after Nutrition. A bell is rung and the children run into the buildings. The yard is quiet.

Iamic Pentameter strikes in Gertrude’s Class!

Note the eyes. We are quite present.

I walk into Miss Gertrude’s 4th Grade class. They all stand and greet me. Then they sing a song. I try to learn some Tswana from them. This group is up for anything. I decide to start with zero words. Everyone understands a heartbeat. I tap out: dee DUMB/dee DUMB/dee DUMB/dee DUMB/dee DUMB… on my chest. I invite them to join.

This is the language of the heart and the iambic feet matches a heartbeat. Could Shakespeare have been walking through hills while he thought up the speeches — was his heart pounding louder than usual? This is really a theory.Once they got the 5 Feet (dee-dumbs), Gertrude’s class receives their first Iambic Pentameter line: the one we like to start with at L.A. Drama Club:

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Playing the Mirror Game, Day One

No writing! We are up on our feet. Every word conveyed through tone and gesture. UNEASY is not the opposite of “easy,” so we look for a synonym. Uncomfortable…not quite….unsafe. They know this word. They get UNSAFE.

We stand together, acting out what “unsafe” looks like in our bodies and faces. I ask, “Who is a person who wears a crown?” No blank stares. A tiny voice calls out: The Queen. I thought it interesting Queen was thought of before King. Now we talk about POWER.

Why should a queen feel unsafe? Castles, mansions, fame and money…why unsafe? Can a Queen ever rest? What if somebody wants to take her crown? Maybe she worries all the time! Invaders, Heretics, Cousins….

Botswana president, Ian Khama*, is a conservationist. Brooks tells me how he has re-purposed the Botswana army to shoot only poachers. Also, in this country, no cammoflauge allowed! It’s no“fashion statement” over here. So in this case, this Botswana “head that wears a crown” might feel uneasy over concern about the elephants being shot for tusks in the Kalahari. They understand that analogy. They get it. Miss Gertrude translates just in case. Hands go up. Every single one of them now wants the opportunity to to chant it alone, in front of their peers.

It’s been twenty minutes and Gertrude’s Fourth Grade class shows a visceral, personal understanding of this one Shakespeare line from Henry IV. They also get to ponder how getting to the top of the Power Food Chain has a price.Then my favorite thing happened:

They ask for another line of iambic pentameter.

This is when I say to Gertrude, “I think we can put on a show.” Gertrude is ahead of me. “You’ll have your show.” I am heartened that there are curious teachers here — teaching curious children. And I have hope that Motopi School — in the middle of nowhere — will soon be the “Youngest Shakespeare Troupe in Africa.”

The hominy stuck on my hand has dried. And for the rest of the day … it goes unnoticed and forgotten.

The walk to school. I am closer to Shakespeare’s era here.
Not kidding about the sticky hands.

Shakespeare Youth Festival LA – December 2016

MacMWW_banner900x425

Los Angeles Drama Club is proud to present Shakespeare Youth Festival LA – December 2016!

December 3 & 4
December 10 & 11

Featuring
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
at 1:30 PM
and
MACBETH
at 5 PM

Performances will be held at Fais Do Do – 5253 W. Adams Blvd.

All performances are Pay-What-You-Can at the door. If you would like to bypass Box Office lines, and secure a reserved seat, we invite you to purchase your tickets in advance ($10/ticket).

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MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

quickly-and-falstaffSir John Falstaff decides that he wants to have a little fun, so he writes two letters to a pair of Windsor wives: Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. When they discover that they’ve both received letters, they plan a practical joke or two to teach the knight a lesson. But when Mistress Ford’s husband finds out, chaos ensues. Meanwhile, three suitors seek the hand of Anne Page, Mistress Page’s daughter, and the one she loves – surprise!! – is not the one that has Father’s Stamp of Approval!

Themes explored:

LIES AND DECEIT
This play is chock-full of people who are trying to “pull one over” on someone … and most of them get punished in some very funny ways! Are these punishments just? And what about when the punisher is also a deceiver?

SOCIETY AND GENDER
The characters in this play run the gamut from servants to nobility – we’ll explore how the different classes treat others and are treated themselves, and how different life is for women and men!

LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION
Merry Wives of Windsor is loaded with the kind of clever word-play and snazzy banter that makes us love Shakespeare … and with people who don’t communicate very well … which leads to a lot of hilarious misunderstandings!

Saturdays from 1 pm to 3 pm
Fais Do Do –
5253 W. Adams Blvd

2nd through 9th grade

Starting Saturday, September 17th

Tuition – $500.00

We believe that every child who is drawn to this work should be able to participate, so we offer a variety of scholarships – click here for the application form and guidelines. Please do not hesitate to apply!

Performances
December 3 & 4
December 10 & 11
Curtain Time TBD

Please note: There will be additional rehearsals scheduled in November.

 

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HAMLET – This class is full

HAMLET – This class is full

hamletFamed theater director Charles Marowitz says, “Our job is to re-trace, re-discover, reconsider, and re-angle the classics – not simply regurgitate them.” This best describes our coming adventure with THE HAMLET PROJECT.

This eight-month commitment is designed for the L.A. Drama Club Extremists and Shakespeare “Geeks,” who are as passionate about the process as they are about the performance.

Hamlet’s text, themes, characters, plots, subplots are for those who seek a challenge, a creative outlet – the initiators who want a stab at Creative Control, yet thrive on working as a ensemble. Now it is our turn to tell this story as this unique group of passionate Players experiences it.

Discussion, writing, experimental games and adventurous acting…The Hamlet Project will be “living” with this work for eight months, and performing it in the Spring SYFLA.

Tuesdays from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm
September 13th through October 11th
Lyric Theatre
520 N. La Brea
October 18th through December 13th
Fais Do Do –
5253 W. Adams Blvd
January through May
Location TBD

7th through 12th grade
Starting Tuesday, September 13th

Performances
April 29 & 30
May 6 & 7

This class is full – if you’d like to be placed on the Waiting List, please email us.

We also invite you to consider Macbeth – we have a few spaces left!

HAMLET

HAMLET

hamletFamed theater director Charles Marowitz says, “Our job is to re-trace, re-discover, reconsider, and re-angle the classics – not simply regurgitate them.” This best describes our coming adventure with THE HAMLET PROJECT.

This eight-month commitment is designed for the L.A. Drama Club Extremists and Shakespeare “Geeks,” who are as passionate about the process as they are about the performance.

Hamlet’s text, themes, characters, plots, subplots are for those who seek a challenge, a creative outlet – the initiators who want a stab at Creative Control, yet thrive on working as a ensemble. Now it is our turn to tell this story as this unique group of passionate Players experiences it.

Discussion, writing, experimental games and adventurous acting…The Hamlet Project will be “living” with this work for eight months, and performing it in the Spring SYFLA.

Tuesdays from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm
September 13th through October 11th
Lyric Theatre
520 N. La Brea
October 18th through December 13th
Fais Do Do –
5253 W. Adams Blvd
January through May
Location TBD

7th through 12th grade
Starting Tuesday, September 13th

Performances
April 29 & 30
May 6 & 7

Oops! We could not locate your form.

 

MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR – This class is full

MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR – This class is full

quickly-and-falstaffSir John Falstaff decides that he wants to have a little fun, so he writes two letters to a pair of Windsor wives: Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. When they discover that they’ve both received letters, they plan a practical joke or two to teach the knight a lesson. But when Mistress Ford’s husband finds out, chaos ensues. Meanwhile, three suitors seek the hand of Anne Page, Mistress Page’s daughter, and the one she loves – surprise!! – is not the one that has Father’s Stamp of Approval!

Themes explored:

LIES AND DECEIT
This play is chock-full of people who are trying to “pull one over” on someone … and most of them get punished in some very funny ways! Are these punishments just? And what about when the punisher is also a deceiver?

SOCIETY AND GENDER
The characters in this play run the gamut from servants to nobility – we’ll explore how the different classes treat others and are treated themselves, and how different life is for women and men!

LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION
Merry Wives of Windsor is loaded with the kind of clever word-play and snazzy banter that makes us love Shakespeare … and with people who don’t communicate very well … which leads to a lot of hilarious misunderstandings!

Saturdays from 1 pm to 3 pm
Fais Do Do –
5253 W. Adams Blvd

2nd through 9th grade

Starting Saturday, September 17th

Tuition – $500.00

We believe that every child who is drawn to this work should be able to participate, so we offer a variety of scholarships – click here for the application form and guidelines. Please do not hesitate to apply!

Performances
December 3 & 4
December 10 & 11
Curtain Time TBD

Please note: There will be additional rehearsals scheduled in November.

This class is full – if you’d like to be placed on the Waiting List, please email us.

We also invite you to consider Macbeth – we have a few spaces left!

 

MACBETH

MACBETH

witchesIt is an Election Year. What will politicians do and say to be in power? Take Macbeth, for example. This Fall, we are going to pare Macbeth down and reveal these Bad to the Bone characters just as they are – raw, ambitious, political, shadowy, dark.

Themes explored:

FATE/FREE WILL – Does fate or human will determines a man’s future? What causes a seemingly decent man to commit evil acts? Is the play set in motion by the weird sisters’ prophesy that Macbeth will be king, or by his actions? In the end, the play leaves the question unanswered.

POWER/AMBITION – What distinguishes a good ruler from a tyrant? What are the consequences of regicide (killing a king)? Although the play is set in 11th century Scotland (a time when kings were frequently murdered), and how are political opponents committing character assassination today?

GENDER ROLES – Macbeth turns our notions of traditional gender roles upside-down – is femininity synonymous with kindness and compassion, and masculinity with cruelty and violence, or is Macduff right when he argues that the capacity to “feel” human emotion is in fact what makes one a “man”?

MAGIC – Witchcraft features prominently in Macbeth. What message do the witches and their actions have for us?

Mondays from 4 pm to 6 pm
Fais Do Do –
5253 W. Adams Blvd

4th through 9th grade

Starting Monday, September 12th

Tuition – $500.00

We believe that every child who is drawn to this work should be able to participate, so we offer a variety of scholarships – click here for the application form and guidelines. Please do not hesitate to apply!

Performances
December 3 & 4
December 9 & 10
Curtain Time TBD

Please note: There will be additional rehearsals scheduled in November.

Oops! We could not locate your form.

 

“Lost in Translation” – LADC Speaks out on “Play On!

“Lost in Translation”  – LADC Speaks out on “Play On!

a-and-c-fdd

As the country’s Youngest Shakespeare Troupe 10 years running, we’ve been successful in creating a passion for Shakespeare in children ages 5-17. One of our primary missions has been to make Shakespeare accessible to everyone. We mean everyone. We present our young Players with the original Folio text and urge them to dig in to the words, scan the rhythms and ride the wave of the iambic – and in doing so, they have made incredible discoveries, have become empowered with a new rich vocabulary, and – most rewarding – gained a new perspective on life itself. Our children (over 100 of them) perform the plays as written, trusting that Shakespeare can and will do the rest.

Our direct experience directing Shakespeare’s Canon with young people from diverse neighborhoods and incomes, with various learning styles and educational backgrounds, incites us to voice our strong concerns with any institution of power and influence that attempts to “translate” Shakespeare.

However well-meaning, we do not believe that “translations” of the Canon will make Shakespeare “accessible” to the masses: the very presumption that Shakespeare is beyond the scope of a “regular” person  goes against a decade of direct experience with the exact opposite.

The study of Shakespeare is an extraordinary learning tool, primarily because of the way it challenges the mind to wrestle with the language – and why shouldn’t it? Achieving that “Ah, ha!” moment when we’ve decoded words and phrases is part of the joy of great literature. Why should that moment be taken from us by a modern “translation?

The Play On FAQs assure us that “these translations won’t simplify the originals.” Then what will they do? Is it the just the archaic vocabulary that makes Shakespeare challenging?

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound” – most of our 3rd graders (many from underfunded schools, who’ve had little or no arts education prior to us) would have no problem recognizing and defining every word in that line.

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” This might inspire a discussion about the fact that “breaks” has multiple meanings, or what “soft” might mean in this context, but again, nothing that a 3rd grader can’t wrap her head around. How will the “Play On” translations make these beautiful phrases more “accessible” to our students without losing their original magic? The thought that a student’s first encounter with the Balcony scene might be anything different is heartbreaking to us.

So, what about those who aren’t “studying” him – those who simply want to enjoy watching a play? Anyone who has experienced Shakespeare (on either side of the curtain) knows that the key is a cast and production team that has a deep understanding of the text, and can convey it with conviction and passion. If that’s the case, then the play becomes accessible to anyone: from a 9-year-old to a prison inmate. If it’s not the case, then we don’t care who “translates” it – it won’t be accessible.

If the OSF were commissioning 36 dynamic, creative and inspiring, study guides with modern tie-ins, we would cheer them on. But it is stated quite clearly that they mean the works to be performable. We ask why? Sure, someone might go see a production of Migdalia Cruz’s Macbeth, and be inspired to check out Shakespeare’s original, but the likelihood of that is slim. The risk is that theatre-goer now assumes, “OK, I’ve seen Macbeth. Check that one off the list.”

When we think of the inaccessibility of Shakespeare, we’re more likely to consider the price of tickets, or teachers untrained, passionlessly introducing mandated Shakespeare to middle-schoolers. Does a new “translation” solve these problems?

Apologists for “Play On” claim we’ve been editing and tweaking Shakespeare since the beginning. Indeed, we have. These are called adaptations and re-imaginings – something entirely different. In fact, how wonderful it would be to see the extraordinary resources expended in this project to commission original works inspired by each assigned play – imagine a new “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” or “Kiss me Kate” or “West Side Story.” Or they might have funded a ticket program to provide low-cost tickets to those who can’t afford $83.30 a ticket (or even $30.00 a ticket). Perhaps a teacher-training program to give teachers the tools to inspire a love of Shakespeare in their students. As noted scholar, James Shapiro said in the NY Times, “It’s likely to be a waste of money and talent.”

We’ve read the many examples cited in articles about the OSF project, and the conceit that these “translations” will make the plays any more accessible seems unlikely. What is likely is that the magic and alchemy that has made Shakespeare Shakespeare  for the last 400+ years will be skewed, even lost. Lost in Translation.