While May 8 is recognized as National Teacher Appreciation Day ⎯ here at the ASC, every day is! I am getting so excited about our next teacher seminar and hope you will join us for what is bound to be an incredibly fulfilling weekend. When I first became the ASC’s Director of Education, I determined that the first play we would tackle as a department was the one I had heard the most teachers (and students) bemoan: Julius Caesar. As a student in high school and college and as a young teacher, I was absolutely on board with the negative reputation of this play, but as a grad student, my opinion shifted and I wanted to give teachers the joy I had found when I finally discovered a way into it.
10 years and many workshops, productions, study guide editions later, I continue to find new and exciting ways to introduce this classic to students and to help them walk away from studying it with enthusiasm about the next Shakespeare play they will tackle. I am truly looking forward to sharing some of our ideas, new and old, with you in the August teacher seminar. Below, find a preview of what you can look forward to in Staunton ⎯ or what we will happily bring to your school wherever you are. The ideas here are not limited to the English classroom, as this play offers a great opportunity for you to interact with your Latin and World History colleagues in playful explorations that will enhance your students’ experience and give them an opportunity to deepen their understanding of global connections between the arts and sciences.
I am even more jazzed about sharing this program with you than when I started writing, and can hardly wait to hear your thoughts about how you will use these ideas in your teaching of the play.
ShakesFear and Julius Caesar
The monolith that is a Shakespeare text is heightened even more when classical figures of antiquity are added to the bargain. In this session, we will look at four ways your students can break that monolith to pieces and put it back together to build their own sense of the play.
The Politics of Julius Caesar
(bonus session with new material not in the Study Guide!)
Recent productions of Julius Caesar have stirred discussions of the political place of theatre in our society. In this discussion, participants will consider where the politics live in the play and suggest ways to bring the consideration into the classroom. We will consider the recent staging in New York which featured a Caesar arrayed in a way similar to the current president and a 2012 Guthrie Theatre production which chose the same trope to a different response. Topics of discussion will include color conscious casting, perspectives from the historical moment in which the play is set, Shakespeare’s own life, and the current influences on our understanding of the characters, and an examination of rhetorical flourishes in political speak that enhance our ability to connect Caesar’s world to our own.
Speech-Off: Antony and Brutus
What are Shakespeare’s characters outside of their words? While the historical figures of Brutus and Antony lend some insights, the careful structuring of rhetoric in the text of Shakespeare’s play provides enormous insights into the manipulation of moment and crowd. In this session, we will study the speeches and think about implications for interpretation–arming you (and your students) with tools for evaluating rhetorical impact across your curriculum, in media, and in personal communication.
Cross-Curriculum Considerations: The Sources and Dramaturgy of JC
Plutarch, Appian, and Suetonius figured heavily in Shakespeare’s school room, and their presence in his adaptation of the tale of the civil war that ensued following the assassination of the titular character at the heart of our seminar is undeniable. The availability of the primary sources Shakespeare had in mind while writing offers, students and teachers the unique opportunity to see the throughline of an artist at work and the research he had in mind while writing. This session will connect the world history your students study to the practices of writing for the stage and the challenges inherent in modifying accepted historical understanding for a new use. We will challenge you to try finding your own primary sources available in contemporary and current historical documents and put on your playwright hat to bring the stories to life yourselves.
The Second Half
(bonus session with material not available in the Study Guide!)
The bulk of materials available to help teachers teach Julius Caesar focus on acts 1-3, with very little guidance or help to examine the weird staging and human moments between the heroes and villains as they go to war and wrestle with victory and death. Teachers know that it is no simple task to discuss suicide, male friendship, slavery, war–or, heck, even ghosts–with students. Through the lens of staging challenges, we will wrestle with the topics–how realistic we can be, how to portray this world honestly, and how to wrestle with the big questions each area raises for students–and ourselves.
Playing with Cue Scripts
The first step to tearing down the monolith that 400 years of scholarship has built around Shakespeare is one that he used himself. Shakespeare and his actors did not read the full text of the plays he wrote, but instead, each worked with their own part–and the tools Shakespeare provided in that document. This culmination of our time together will give you the chance to apply the topics we have discussed and add in the last ingredient–careful listening and attention to detail. We will stage the assassination of Caesar and the subsequent reading of the will as Shakespeare’s actors would have and see what playing with the text in the way Shakespeare’s actors did can do for your students’ joy in discovery.
Bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
Using new scholarship just produced by our masters program in Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin, we will dive in (up to the elbows) and show you innovative and safe (and fun) ways to help your students close-read for clues. One of our most popular workshops, this particular exploration expands to work with Macbeth, Titus Andronicus and a number of other titles and enlivens schools across the country as our ASC teacher alums introduce the possibility it offers to their students. Prepare to get messy!