Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October overview

week of October 15, 2018

While it was a short week, in theory, we made up for it by filling these four days with all sorts of activities.

In English, students started their first major essay of the year, inspired by a series of events at the University of Pennsylvania several years ago. In short, faculty at UPenn voted to replace a portrait of Shakespeare in order to demonstrate their commitment to a diversity of voices and the inclusion of multiple perspectives. However, time passed, and the portrait remained. In order to get the proverbial ball rolling, a group of students took down Shakespeare’s portrait and replaced it with one of Audre Lorde. After significant discussion, students were assigned the task of writing an essay about whose portrait they would choose to replace Shakespeare’s. If you see one of the 7-8s around, ask them about whose portrait should be hung instead. They’ll be working on these essays for the next two weeks.

On Thursday morning, we played a rousing game of “rhetorical devices in Julius Caesar” Jeopardy (linked here so you, too, can play along at home). The primarily eighth grade English class created the game for the primarily seventh grade English class to play. It was an adventure for all and now, the seventh graders want to make their own game for the eighth graders.  

On Tuesday, we had another visit from former SK teacher and Head of School (and veteran actor/director), Joanna Hastings. Joanna worked with students on their lines and helped them block scenes. On Wednesday, we welcomed Tyrone and Ash, professional actors from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, who joined us for acting lessons and games. On Thursday, we welcomed local actor/theater consultant Kelsea Kerkes, for additional work on blocking and rehearsing. We were also lucky enough to have both Clara Ashwood and Krista Dragun come in to help us with choreography and stage combat.

On Friday, the eighth graders spent the afternoon at Early College Alliance (ECA) at Eastern Michigan University, one of the local early college programs. This was the third school on our tour of high schools so far this year.

week of October 9, 2018

How is it already Friday? It’s been a wonderful week here in 7-8. We’re so deep into our Shakespeare studies that you’re likely to hear the 7-8s throwing the occasional “thou” or “whence” into their everyday speech. In English, we started the week with close readings of both funeral speeches (Antony and Brutus) and analysis of the different persuasive techniques employed by both. As the week progressed, we studied a variety of rhetorical devices and worked to both identify them in the text of the play and in other famous speeches, movies, or slogans throughout history. The English class of mostly eighth graders (early morning group) is busy preparing a Jeopardy-inspired game for the class of mostly seventh graders (later morning group) to play as a way to assess our understanding of the different rhetorical devices.

Our afternoons have been consumed by rehearsals. We welcomed Joanna Hastings to our class this week to help students with strategies to memorize their lines. We also welcomed Kelsea Kerkes back for scene blocking and acting lessons. How lucky we all are to be supported by such generous and skilled actors. Next week, we’ll welcome a group of actors in residence from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, an opportunity about which we are super excited.

The eighth graders ended the week with our second high school visit of the year: Washtenaw Technical Middle College (WTMC). We were led around the campus by SK alumni and got to visit an English class. Meanwhile, while the 8s were on their visit, Sam took the 7s to the Scrap Box, Goodwill, and Salvation Army on a hunt for costumes and props. Students came back with a few items and a better vision of what we have and what we want. Stay tuned for prop/costume item requests in the next few weeks.

week of October 1, 2018

This week, we continued our work with Julius Caesar and are moving increasingly from the text to the proverbial stage. After learning the definition of iambic pentameter and practicing scanning text in order to identify the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line, students practiced writing their own ten syllable lines (with a bit of flexibility on the stress patterns). Once everyone had writing a few lines, we combined each person’s individual lines into two collective blank verse poem. As you can imagine, this was quite entertaining (although we’re not sure that Shakespeare would have found it has funny, although I’d like to think he would have appreciated it).

We returned to the characterization work that we started during the first week of school in order to reevaluate characteristics of the major characters in the play. In pairs or small groups, students came up with symbols to represent their characters (for example, Brutus as a kitchen knife, Caesar as a lion, and Cassius as a viper). It’s interesting to see how the students’ understanding of the characters has changed (and deepened) since we started reading the play.

We also focused on the concept of a motif in literature and set about to find and analyze different motifs from Julius Caesar. Examples included sickness, gender roles, blood, and the supernatural. After mapping out our own associations with the words, students then did some independent research to learn about the associations that Shakespeare’s original audience, in Elizabethan England, might have had with each of the motifs.

In rehearsal news, we welcomed three guest consultants to work with us this week. On Wednesday, Kelsea Kerkes (SK camp staff alum, EMU theater arts alum, all around awesome teacher/actor) joined us to work on how to express a character’s motivation and how to think about that which one’s character is bringing to the stage. Kelsea will join us weekly to work on the play. We were also delighted to welcome Clara Ashwood (of SK preschool fame) to work with two of our students on battle choreography. On Friday, SK alum and current WTMC ninth grader, Maddy Pritts, came back to help block scenes with our students. We are tremendously grateful for all of this community support and we’re getting excited to share our show with everyone.

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