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LSU Teams With Legendary Theatre to Spark Interest in Shakespeare

“All the world’s a stage,” the famous line from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, takes on a whole new meaning with the Louisiana Shakespeare Project ­– an LSU initiative focused on advancing the teaching, performance, scholarship, and appreciation of the world’s most celebrated playwright. Teaming with the staff of the Globe Theatre in London, LSU is bringing Shakespeare’s legendary plays to the world through the spirit of interaction and international cooperation.

With the goal of improving educational quality in Louisiana’s middle and high schools, LSU’s College of Arts & Sciences and the Globe Theatre’s “Globe Education” program have partnered to give Louisiana students insight into the time and conditions under which Shakespeare wrote and produced his plays. 

“This project uses the richness of Shakespeare to spur learning in all areas,” said Sue Weinstein, LSU assistant professor of English.

For the past two years, LSU English Department faculty members have been working with the staff of the Globe to develop the Louisiana Shakespeare Project. The project has developed beyond its original focus of academic exchanges of LSU faculty and Globe personnel to include unique educational opportunities for teachers in Louisiana elementary, middle, and high schools and their students.

“It’s as much about teaching as it is about Shakespeare,” said Malcolm Richardson, J.F. Taylor Professor of English at LSU.

The project originated in 2005 when the Globe’s education director Patrick Spottiswode invited Susannah Monta, LSU associate professor of English, to be an academic consultant and guest lecturer at the Globe. LSU then hosted the Globe’s current director, Tim Carroll, for an animated and entertaining lecture in April 2006. 

During another visit that year, Spottiswode and LSU faculty members discussed involving Louisiana educators and students in the Globe’s education outreach programs, which reach nearly 100,000 people each year. This led to LSU hosting two Globe staff members, Chris Stafford and Yolanda Vasquez, this past summer to conduct a seminar for local schoolteachers at LSU’s Reilly Theatre.

According to Stafford, the seminar’s theme was taking something from the page and putting it on the stage. Four areas of Shakespeare’s work were discussed: character, themes, language, and performance.

By studying in those areas, the seminar provided the teachers with different techniques to teach the plays in the classroom. The lessons were designed to put the teachers in a student’s position and have them relearn the material as a student would.

“They really have made us feel how a student feels. As a teacher, honestly, it’s really good to feel that again,” said Emily Weathers of Istrouma High School.

The seminar provided the teachers with different ways to teach Shakespeare, such as breaking up the scenes, assigning each line to a different student rather than having one student play one character, conducting warm-up exercises that feel like playing a game, watching film clips of plays, and other techniques.

“The teachers are extremely open and ready. They are open to wanting to work with us,” Vasquez said. “They take the techniques a little bit further without us prompting them. They are taking the exercises and turning them into their own.”

According to Stafford, the seminar provides a practical approach to teaching Shakespeare. It provides samples for performance rather than simply having the students read words from a page.

“I can’t wait to use this in my class,” said Lena Burns of Istouma High School. “I’m constantly thinking about how to use this with plays we already do.”

The techniques taught by the Globe are the same techniques that actors work on in the rehearsal room. They provide ways to learn the material in a short period of time rather than studying and memorizing text for weeks at a time.

“Our aim is to play and get the students to play,” Vasquez said. “By playing, these things can capture the imagination, and the students can then take it a little bit further.”

The teachers agree that the techniques will be useful in their classrooms.

“We’re going in through the backdoor and hitting them before they know it, before they realize they are learning Shakespeare,” said Mary Ann Ledbetter of Broadmoor High School.

The participating teachers will travel to London next summer to visit the Globe Theatre and to learn more teaching methods. The entire effort will culminate with a Shakespearean performance at the Shaw Center in 2008.

Ernie Ballard | Scott Madere | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2007


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