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Why Teach and Perform Shakespeare?
Learning from the Bard

Philip Levien , San Marcos High School
Santa Barbara, CA

Building Community Learning and Performing Gatekeeper Texts Serving Diverse Learners

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Student Work





Learning and Performing Gatekeeper Texts

In the Sheltered Theater Production class we do a different play every year. In the past four years, we've performed The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, and this coming year we'll be doing A Midsummer's Night Dream. I do Shakespeare in part because with my linguistically diverse class, you don’t want to privilege one language over another. It’s a little daunting, like if you have one or two kids from China and you have a play about Latino culture-- like Calderón and Lope de Vega work from the Spanish Golden Age, there’s a lot of good stuff and I’ve thought about doing that,  but I thought, “You know? It might be better to be on neutral ground, they are learning English anyway.” 

Shakespeare is a gatekeeper author, but then he’s more adapted, probably, than any other writer.  I don’t know if I could find adaptations for Aristophanes.  It did occur to me down the road, I might have time to do my own adaptations.  But that’s a tremendous amount of work before you’ve even started working on production things.  So, I try to simplify it by going to something that someone’s already done.  And there are a lot more comedies. After Twelfth Night I could very easily want to do Two Gentlemen, Merry Wife. Some of these I’ve worked on as an actor, so I’m somewhat familiar with them.

It’s really fun, for me, because these are the plays I’ve wanted to get to know better.  And the other thing about comedy is—it’s such a seductive thing, having kids laugh in a room. It makes them feel that it’s fun to go to class.  With the tragedies, it’s not that kids won’t get serious, but I wonder, they’re skeptical about acting anyway, and then it’s Shakespeare, and it’s not their language, and then you’re going to ask them to get heavy every day? It demands more of them, but I might try it in the years to come.



The work on this website includes ethnographic video documentation recorded by Richard Nardi and ChunXia Wang, and was supported in part by the Center for Teaching for Social Justice at U.C. Santa Barbara.

Site last updated February 21, 2006