Tag Team Shakespeare
(from Mr. Harper makes Us Speak and Read Totally Good... er)
Common Core Standards:
SL.6.6. SL.7.6. SL 8.6. SL 9-10.6 SL 11-12.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
As a last resort, I offer this project up to any of you who desperately want to get some Shakespeare into your class, but you don’t have the students with the aptitude for In Love With Shakespeare or you have too many trust issues for Brush Up Your Shakespeare. I’m not saying that this is the silver bullet that will kill your classroom’s fear and loathing of the bard, but at least it will give you a fighting chance to get them hooked on the fun of it and still move them on the road towards developing a comfort level with the language. It doesn’t require a lot of research and yet the students still work on the interpretation of Shakespeare’s verbiage in a reasonably demanding fashion. In a sense, this is In Love With Shakespeare disguised as a comedy unit.
The concept calls for vocal creativity, team work, timing and an understanding of the material you supply them. What we ask for is that students will perform one to two monologues on each presentation day (The number of days and monologues depends upon how many students you have in the room and how many days you have to present.). When presenting, they will split the duties of recitation based on a twenty to twenty-five second period. As with tag team wrestling, each partner will tag the other one “in” after the time has elapsed with a resounding “high five” and the entering speaker will pick up where the exiting speaker left off. They will continue with this process until the piece is completed. In this fashion they will share the load when it comes to dealing with the acting and interpretation of Shakespeare’s material.
Not grabbing you so far? Hang in there. This doesn’t sound like much fun no matter how limited the speaking time, but the big hook for this unit is based on how the students are allowed to deliver their material and in that comes the total joy of this project. Listed below are the speaking styles that students can use when they deliver Willie’s wonderful words. Some are cute while others are bizarre, but they are all guaranteed to take the fear out the bard:
valley girl surfer dude
grumpy old man/woman pirate
opera singer domestic dialect
little kid foreign dialect
whiner drill sergeant
snotty princess nerd
horse race announcer spaz
robot creepy guy
Antony’s funeral oration for Caesar takes on a completely unique aspect when it’s performed as a cowboy followed by a whiner followed by a valley girl. Moreover, Hamlet’s consideration of suicide can be viewed quite differently when recited by a surfer dude, little kid or cheerleader. For each monologue or soliloquy the students have to choose the manner in which they, as a team, will deliver the material. Each student gets their twenty to twenty-five seconds worth of the monologue to deliver in whatever voice they desire that is on our list. After that, the next student gets theirs and the whole process keeps going until the presentation has concluded. It should be made clear to the students that there should be no sentences left over that take up a small amount of time. If they prepare well with the time period given to them, then the last speaker should be able to conclude all of the words in the monologue with the last twenty to twenty-five seconds.
What makes it all so palatable for the students is that the price of research is rewarded in their opportunity to have fun with terribly serious pieces of literature. The insidiously evil part is that they can’t really bring out the laughter without knowing what the material is saying. This means they have to research the scene and find helpful interpretations on the net for anything they don’t understand. I limit my students to thirteen pre-selected pieces that most teenagers are familiar with (to some degree) and have them all investigate the same works as audience members. Even if they choose not to perform a given selection, most of the students in the room will still have a basic idea of what the material is all about because they will have researched it as a potential performance piece themselves.
The first time I did this unit I supplied my students with the interpretations already completed because they are middle school kids, but I’m sure high school students have the research skills to find translations on their own. If it helps you, I have included the thirteen monologues / soliloquies that I use for my unit. If you’re going to go with your own choices, you’ll have to prep this some time in advance. If you’re going to have your guys do the heavy lifting, it would help them to some degree if you locate interpretation sites beforehand as it will save your students time.
Speaking of time, you will probably need some timing devices. The students need to make the most of their twenty to twenty-five seconds with their speaking turns and this requires a certain amount of exact timing on their part. Some sort of bell – perhaps the desk bell you used in Impromptu Speaking – will help when it comes to alerting students that they have hit the twenty-three second mark and time will soon be up. If they finish their portion of the piece between twenty and twenty-five seconds, they’re fine. If the speaker goes over or under, they are penalized by four points. Note that this penalty is only assessed against the speaker who committed the penalty, not both students. This ten second period gives them a little flexibility to work with in terms of divvying out the amount of lines they will speak and ensures that there won’t be some small portion of the monologue left over at the end. This should not occur.
There is no modeling for this one unless you feel the need to get a duet together and have them practice in advance. The concept itself is a relatively simple one. The hardest part will be the creativity the students will have to bring to the method to get the right voices for the right sections. I think a simple demonstration would be to take the first portion of Hamlet’s consideration of suicide and complete it using at least three different voices.
Based on the usual conditions, I would suggest the following schedule:
Day 1 – introduction of the unit; distribution of the packets, selection of partners (20-30 minutes)
Day 2 – library research day for material interpretations and plot/scene summaries (all period)
Day 3 – the same (all period)
Day 4 – practice day 1 (all period)
Day 5 – practice day 2 (30 minutes)
Day 6 – practice day 3 (30 minutes)
Day 7 – lambs, remainder time given to practice (30 minutes)
Day 8 – lambs, remainder time given to practice (30 minutes)
Day 9 – lambs, remainder time given to practice (30 minutes)
Day 10 – presentations (dependent upon class size and demands)
Day 11 – presentations (dependent upon class size and demands)
Day 12 – presentations (dependent upon class size and demands)