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Director for a Day: A Middle Schooler's View from the Balcony

I love middle schoolers. One moment I am talking them through friendship issues and the next I am uncovering their wise and insightful understandings of the secrets of love as demonstrated in "Romeo and Juliet." In spite of the inevitable ups and downs in the life of a middle schooler, one thing remains constant - drama. What a perfect match-Shakespeare's teenage love as captured in both the play itself and in various film versions of it, and the real questions about love happening in their own lives.

After having examined the language of the balcony scene we watched two different versions of it on video - the 1968 Zeffirelli version and the now famous 1996 Baz Luhrmann one with Leonardo DiCaprio. As a class we discussed the settings: a balcony (one overlooking a garden and one overlooking a swimming pool), the costumes, the lighting, and the staging 9 (see handout). We discussed their ideas about why the directors of these films made the decisions they did. This ignited a spirited conversation about water and kissing and eye contact. My students were definitely engaged! We then solidified the discussion by writing up all our thoughts about the two films on a comparison chart. (See attached handout.)

We then moved on to a conversation about choice. Where would you set the scene? At what time? At what place? What would the costumes look like? What about the lighting-harsh or romantic? How would Romeo and Juliet interact with one another? What messages would this give the audience? What changes would you make?

I then divided the class into smaller groups. Each group consisted of three students-one director, one Juliet, and one Romeo. (Because I teach at a single sex school, I had girls play the part of Romeo, which of course sparked a whole different conversation about Shakespeare's all male thespians.) My students completed a Director's Sheet in which they had to decide upon an introduction, a setting, costumes, props, and lighting. The groups had to reach consensus before they could begin the staging of their piece. I then gave each group a copy of the actual text, and they wrote in the stage directions according to their Director's Sheet. Then it was all drama!

Each group acted out their scene with an introduction from the director. Finding simple props and costumes were all a part of the previous evening's homework assignment. Each group had to explain their choices and compare these to those made in the Zeffirelli and Luhrmann versions of the film. Then they acted out their scenes, and we videotaped them.

The next day we had an opening where we invited parents in to view our masterpieces. Before the "screening" each group had to explain their directorial decisions and compare these to the decisions made in the two "professional" versions of the scene.

By the end of the week, all of my students not only had an understanding of the language in the balcony scene, but they had seen two film versions of it and had created their own. When they evaluated this project, the students all said that using film and having to create their own version of it really helped them to appreciate the task that faces a director. They commented that directing is not as glamorous as they might have thought. But I could tell by their engagement and enthusiasm that it was fun!

About the Author

Rebecca Field of the Julia Morgan School for Girls in Oakland, California teaches 6th and 8th graders and acts as the school's Academic Dean.


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