Going Down In Flames! Help!

My teaching debut gets more bowdlerized by the minute! I tried pitching a simplified version of the Mechanicals, and even still I was told “words like ‘lover’ and ‘killed’ are not acceptable, unless we had permission slips from all the parents.” If you can’t have Bottom kill himself, what’s the point?

At this rate, there’s pretty much no performance that we can do from Midsummer.  I’m losing faith in this project rapidly.
With just a week to go before showtime, I don’t even want to attempt getting a different play cleared, I just have to pitch the whole idea of doing any acting out of the text.

I really and truly don’t want to just lecture on the subject, that will be so boring.  I have some puzzles that I can give the kids as takeaways to do on their own, but I desperately need some interactive material or games that we can play. Help!

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15 thoughts on “Going Down In Flames! Help!

  1. We do library programs with kids that are Shakespeare-specific – a big hit is "Shakespeare Pictionary" – we have a hat full of words and phrases that were coined by Shakespeare. The kids have fun. "Elbow" "Bedroom" . . the list has lots of words that are easy. I have a google doc of words I could copy to you (and also a very sorely neglected FB game of Shakes PIctionary we were doing on our FB . .)

  2. also, please email me at nikki at north fulton drama club dot org if you want that list, I am TOTALLY SWAMPED at work these days but I can get my email. We swiped it from somewhere or other 100 years ago.

  3. They need permission slips for words? Dear God, I am so sorry for that whole situation. One suggestion I could point out is some acting exercises, for demonstrating that Shakespeare is meant to be acted, instead of read. In addition, it could show the performative aspects of Midsummer. Aside from that, I suppose bowlderization is better than no Shakespeare?

  4. Duane,
    You have the King and Queen of
    the fairies and Puck to work with,
    along with magic potions…surely
    this is more suited to enact
    some dialogue/scene elements
    from than the, frankly, too sophisticated (for a
    first or one-off class)mechanicals
    Good Luck Regardless!

  5. I don't mind editing a bit here and there, Andrew. It's not hard to swap out "people in love" for "lovers" if that's what it takes. But if we can't even have the concept of killing oneself, how can we do Pyramus and Thisbe at all? I'm trying to argue that it's entirely for comedy, and ironically enough a big part of the scene is that the actors are worried about scaring their audience and keep pausing to say "Oh, I'm not really dead, don't worry".

  6. At the age of 8 I took part in a cutting of the forest scene where Helena stumbles over a sleeping Lysander. I don't recall any controversial words or actions. Have you looked at this scene? I know that it only has 4 characters, but perhaps you could split it up?

    It was a lot of fun and we did this in Utah…. conservative central!

    Let me know if you want me to send you the cutting. It worked for us and we were (as I said) only 8.

  7. I say get the permission slips from the parents. I run a program that has Shakespeare as one of it's core curriculum and have never had a problem from parents about content…in fact at times I have had issues because Shakespeare can get away with things that Mamet can't. Parents do not see to care about sex or death as long as it's in verse.

  8. That is incredibly frustrating! Really?!? PERMISSION SLIPS FOR WORDS?!?

    So, I guess beef up the language activities and find one single inoffensive scene that the kids can play with en chorus. Like all the girls are Titania speaking in turn and all the boys are Oberon. Or something like that. With everyone up and speaking and moving with text. At least you'll get that! …hopefully

    Good luck!

  9. Something I've found that works great with younger kids is to discuss ways of delivering a line differently through vocal and physical changes — using speed, pitch, volume, pauses, gestures, etc. You get a little bit of text in their mouths, and they start seeing how many different ways one line can work, how many different stories you can tell using Shakespeare's same words. It's a nice interpretive exercise. I'll email you with the outline of what we use — it's geared for a little higher level, but it's easy to adapt down for a younger group.

  10. Permission slips in this case I think means 100 percent. If one parent out of, say 25, says no, then you can't do it. I wonder if they do these sort of things in United Kingdom classrooms.

  11. What kind of nonsense is this?

    What does the teacher want the children to get from this lesson? If it's just dealing with poetic language and dramatic literature, why use Shakespeare if they aren't ready to use his words?

    He didn't write for children. I think kids are smart enough to deal with lots of art that wasn't intended for them, but if the teacher thinks otherwise then she should just have them read some Doctor Seuss or watch Gnomeo.

    "Cleanse" Shakespeare of all love, sex, and death; and what's left is incredibly boring. No wonder children grow up thinking so.

  12. Context, for CRS: http://blog.shakespearegeek.com/2011/10/lady-you-picked-wrong-parent.html

    In short, my daughter's teacher used Shakespeare as an example of something that she'd never in a million years assign to students because it is difficult and boring. Wrong person to say that to. 🙂

    This is essentially my invitation to come in and introduce the topic. So it's not that she wants anything special out of it, it's more along the lines of what she feels that I should be allowed to do, that will not cause problems for her class.

    I just reminded myself of an event way back when I was in middle school. Some sort of motivational speaker had come, and we were all in the gymnasium listening to him. Out of the clear blue he leans into the microphone and says, "And then you ask yourself, who the fuck am I?" We're all like, Did he just say that?

    Couple minutes later he's swept off stage and the principal comes out to apologize to everyone who may have been offended.

    Something similar's going on here, from her perspective. If I ever got up and said something that she didn't know was coming, and that caused a problem with the students, she'd take the lion's share of the blame for it. I can't fault her for that. I don't like the entire situation, but I don't blame her for her individual role in what has to be done.

  13. This is why planning meetings with administration are essential. They're always part of the process whenever I visit a school. All of these things are dealt with beforehand (at least as many as I can think of). There are always surprises but they're much less extreme than permission slips for words.

    I remember having to change the ending of Pyramus and Thisbe in AMND because enactments of "suicide" were verboten, as well as swords and knives. The actors were 5th graders but they did my adaptation for the whole school. They "died", but did it another way. It still "worked".
    As I said before, adaptation is key.

  14. Makes sense, J, in far more structured and organized situations. Technically I'm just a dad coming in for my own version of "what does my dad do" day. It's not supposed to be this complicated.

    I wonder if the dentist and the fireman had as much trouble as I'm having?

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