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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





Student Work

In my class, the majority of student work is the performance itself. One piece of student work that represents the kind of writing that students generate after our production has wrapped is the piece: “Lucy and Anthony.” That was based on one of the scenes in Comedy of Errors.  I had the playwright as a student several times; the first year, she was a no-show a lot of times, then when she was in my acting class, she’d come, but she’d have to leave and go with a friend into the lobby because she’d be crying so much.  It got to the point where by the last year, she was coming to school, trying hard, she was really doing an incredible job.  She memorized about 2-3 different roles in the play, so much so that when certain people were absent for a day, she could step in and do their roles, the lines and the blocking.  She became this more helpful, confident person, and was able to graduate.

Urban Sites Conference
Presenting at Urban Sites conference
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When we presented our work at the Urban Sites conference, she performed her piece.  We were rehearsing in the lobby of the hotel, and she was able to do it.  Their performance jumped quite a bit, they were able to incorporate audience response and it kind of goosed their performance, I saw some new line readings. But that was her update of the scene from Comedy of Errors.  When I think about the sense of community and what that does for kids, I think that that’s part of what kept her coming to school. Her home life was hard, but she was able to find some kind of connection and engagement in school, especially in the play. Of necessity, you have to bond, everyone has to work together so much.  If you screw up in an English class, it’s just you.  It’s easy, you fail,   You’re not a schoolboy, or schoolgirl, and it’s “cool.”  But if you screw up in a play, you’re screwing everybody up in the room, and it’s public, too.  So I think the task becomes much more legitimate. 

I also think about Maria, who played the abbess in Comedy of Errors .   I just love the piece she wrote, it’s like an Aesop’s fable. She calls it "An Advice for You," which reflects her Spanish-speaking background – Un consejo. She’s a highly evolved soul. I first met her in Types of Lit. In that long monologue at the end of the play she did so powerfully.  She wrote the piece, and she said “I tell my little sister stories to put her to sleep at night, so I thought, I’ll write one for her.  What would she like?”   So I think about how that story came to be, and then I think about how good it is. I just remember it as being really good.


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