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Fox Lane Middle Schoolers Connect with Shakespeare in a New Way

Originally published on November 25, 2019 by Jen Garry in the Patch.

Acting out lines is a whole new “Shakespeareance”

Eighth graders moved quickly around a circle, never staying in the same spot for too long as they listened intently for instructions. When a voice yelled “Go!” the group stopped almost in unison. “Clap!” the voice called out. The students immediately jumped. “Slide!” she commanded. Students obediently spun around in a circle.

The seemingly strange scene was all part of a Shakespeareance exercise led by two actors from Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

“The actors led students through exercises relating to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which we just finished reading,” said English teacher John Nemsick. “This is the 6th year that Fox Lane Middle School Association has sponsored the visit. It’s always a fun day for the students.”

The workshop started by getting students loosened up, which is what they were doing in the circle. The students moved constantly because they were pretending to keep a very flimsy raft afloat — a job that was complicated by a set of instructions with convoluted rules.

“Relax,” said Heidi, one of the actors leading the workshop. “Don’t be afraid to let go and be abnormal. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.”

The exercise was all part of a warm up designed to get students’ minds, bodies and voices ready to act. It also encouraged them to work as a group. They helped each other fix their spacing within the circle and called out cues to assist in figuring out tricky instructions. It was not required of them or even suggested. They slowly started working as a team on their own.

“That was hard,” one student noted. “We really had to think.”

Once warmed up, the students were ready to tackle Shakespeare in a way they had not experienced before.

“We’re here to show you Shakespeare from an actor’s perspective,” Heidi told the group. “It’s best experienced on your feet because that’s how it was intended to be experienced.”

Students were given lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and, after a little time for text analysis, they each had to choose a “power word” within their line to emphasize and eventually act out. Power words, the actors explained, are words that help to make a sentence clear. Students first had to say their lines with emphasis on their word. Next, they added physical movement to dramatize their point.

With belly laughs and some very intense gesticulation, the middle schoolers brought Shakespeare’s words to life.