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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

Where do I teach?

What are my students learning?

Teaching Practice
What's my approach?

Student Work






I have a couple of books by Viola Spolin, they’re really good, and not just for professionals, they’re for classroom teachers, community theater groups, people who’ve never acted before.  And there are a lot of books like that, theater games, anytime I see a book I peruse it to try to steal stuff. Those games are really good, you just morph them into what you need. 

I also use adaptations, anything pertaining to theater.  Scripts, adaptations, how-to-books, design books, you go to Samuel French on Sunset Blvd and they’ll help you. They’re knowledgeable, mostly actors, directors, people who love theater and it’s their day job.  If you go there, you can spend hours in the stacks. The adaptations I use are generally 45 minutes to an hour. Most of them are middle school level, which is where my transition kids are at,  although the first year we used an edition of "Comedy of Errors" called the Globe Edition, from the 30’s, and that’s actually all iambic pentameter—it’s all Shakespeare, and all they did in that was pare down speeches.  So if there’s a speech that’s 1/8th plot and the rest is figurative language, and description, then they excise the description and leave the plot lines, so they’ve been able to cut it down to 45 minutes. Actually, that’s what we mastered that first year. The adaptations we’ve been using the last two years are more middle school, they keep some of the syntax, but it’s really been simplified. They keep some of the famous lines, but they’re easier to get into 45 minutes, and then I can add dances, and a prologue and an epilogue.  I need to really keep it to about 70 minutes. Usually, at this point it takes about 2 ½ minutes  to break down the room and set up the theater, and 2 ½ minutes to set it back up. But as you get close to opening, then you’re dealing with getting your costumes on and off, so, 70 minutes is about the max. 

To introduce each play, I generally start with Charles and Mary Lamb's “Tales from Shakespeare”. We also use critical material, which you can get in the library and online.  Sometimes I look at Harbage, sometimes I look online and remember names of literary critics from when I was in college. Jan Kott or 20th century views will sometimes have a casebook of a particular play, maybe 10 scholars, so sometimes I’ll  try to find that.  I like theater reviews, too, so at the UCSB library I’ll look at the NY Times, which goes back to the 1920’s, and look at Brook Atkinson, some of those—he was great, a meat and potatoes reviewer.  He was their reviewer from the 40’s and 50’s.  Walter Kerr, another great reviewer.  But they’re all marvelous.  Some of them have a slant one way or another, but, that’s really fun, and I’ll show that to the kids, so that they know as college scholars, reviews are a nice way to get a quick hit on the play. It’s not enough, but you get ideas for how it’s been staged, and what a particular audience saw.  And you can get reviews online, too, for college productions.

Professional Organizations

Since I've been a teacher, I’ve let many of my associations with acting go– I have my SAG union and Equity card, and I'm a former member of AFTRA and the TV Academy.  My main professional affiliation is SCWriP, the South Coast Writing Project. I'm also affiliated with UCSB's Center for Teaching for Social Justice, and usually I do something every summer with them. Those are my professional associations.  I like to do some acting, but I’m so busy—maybe somewhere down the road. 



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