How to Stage a Shakespearean Play for High School Students in 10 Easy Steps
In many circles, Shakespeare has gotten bad press as boring, pointless, and completely unrelated to modern teenagers and the issues that are important to them. That, however, could not be further from the truth. Shakespeare does not have to be more difficult than any other author or playwright, and the issues he wrote about 400 years ago are still relevant to today’s children, teens, and adults. But to fully appreciate Shakespeare, it’s best to get him off the page and onto the stage! Here are 10 easy steps to staging a Shakespearean play for high school students. With preparation and a great deal of enthusiasm on your part, this can be one of the most rewarding projects you or your students will ever be a part of.
1) Decide which play you are going to perform. Makes sense, right? You need to choose a play. But not just any play. It is crucially important that you consider a number of factors. First, you are going to be working with this script...a lot. You will read the play, over and over again, in order to be able to teach it to your students. You will possibly be cutting down some of the longer speeches, depending on how many lines your students can memorize. You may even want to compare the punctuation in various editions in order to get the right effect for the lines. Because of this in-depth scrutiny, be sure to pick a play that you like. There’s nothing worse than plowing through a work that bores you to tears, then having to show enthusiasm for the material to your students. That requires greater acting skills than most professional actors possess! So choose a play that you are excited about and share that excitement with your students.
Consider, too, what will appeal to your students. Just because you think Henry VI, Part 2 is the greatest play ever written doesn’t necessarily mean that your students will, especially if they’re not familiar with English history. Remember that most teenagers do better with comedy than with tragedy. Their life experiences, for the most part, do not reflect many of the tragic themes that Shakespeare explores in plays like Titus Andronicus, King Lear, and Othello. That doesn’t mean they can’t do tragedy, but they may have more fun with one of his light-hearted comedies, such as Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, or The Comedy of Errors.
2) Figure out a budget. Despite the fact that we would like to simply be artists and make stage magic with our students, we do have to consider the financial realities that accompany any stage production. If you are not the best at finances, it’s a good idea to recruit someone to help you create a realistic budget that you can stick to. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amateur Theatricals by John Kenrick is a wonderful resource for all aspects of play producing and directing, and gives great insight into creating a workable budget. Be sure to check with your school administrators to see what they can contribute to your production. Staging a Shakespearean play is not only good for you and your students: it’s great press for your school and school district, so be sure to let the powers-that-be know that funding for a project like this will pay off in the long run.
3) Hold auditions and create your cast. It is helpful to write out a list of the characters you will need, including extras, as well as a description of each character. Be aware of any physical traits that are mentioned in the text. For example, when I held auditions for Much Ado About Nothing , I had to be sure that my “Hero” was on the short side because of Benedick’s line referring to “Leonato’s short daughter” (yes, the line could be edited if you really have your heart set on a tall girl for that role, but remember that the text of Shakespeare is there for a reason. Hero is a meek, modest young girl, and having her played by a towering, strong, athletic girl might not work, with or without the reference to her height). Give your students copies of the...
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