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Lights, Camera, Action!

The borrowed video camera stood on the tripod at the back of the classroom, the intimidating red record light dark for the moment, waiting for the stage manager to start the scene. Meanwhile, "backstage," really just the front corner of my room, two students prepped in full view of their audience, their 8th grade classmates.

We were in the final days of six weeks of reading "Henry IV Part 1." We'd read, rehearsed and performed scenes from the play each week, spent a few class periods learning the rudiments of stage combat, and viewed video clips from different performances of the same scenes--all leading up to this, a memorized performance of a monologue or scene. Sarah and Doug had chosen to play Hotspur and his wife, Lady Percy, in Act II, Scene 3, in which the couple argues on the eve of the rebellion. (See handout 1 for step-by-step classroom instructions and handout 2 for project assessment.)

I had previously told my students that in Shakespeare's time, the characters were all played by male actors. Several of my students had seen Shakespeare in Love, or Monty Python movies, and were familiar with this type of humor. Sarah and Doug were throwing a new twist into their scene, however. In a dual gender reversal, Sarah was playing Hotspur, and Doug was playing his wife. In preparation for their scene, Sarah donned her costume, and Doug pulled a dress on over his head. He had already applied lipstick, which elicited some humorous comments from his friends.

On vacation earlier that year, I had bought a souvenir scene marker at Universal Studios in Hollywood. It was the hit of class as the stage manager got to clap the boards together and call out, "Action!"

It's not supposed to be a funny scene, but it was hard not to chuckle as Doug played a wife distraught at her husband's midnight distress, signs of the anxiety he felt over rebelling against the king.

A prompter sat nearby with script in hand, ready to coax the actors should they drop a line. I had told them to treat this as a dress rehearsal, which took some of the worry away from performing in front of a camera for the first time. Sarah and Doug took a couple of takes that day and the next until they were happy with the result.

We imported the digital video into an iMac computer, and added a brief title at the start of the scene and a fade-out at the end. Next, the students used Hyperstudio, a multimedia program common to many schools, to link together their video with the text of their scene. These could both be viewed simultaneously on the computer screen. Finally, they recorded a self-evaluation of their performance on audio. When the entire class had finished, I linked the various projects together and burned them to CD-ROM. An in-class performance, which in the past would have been transitory, was now documented for posterity, and could be viewed by family members and friends, or included as part of a larger portfolio documenting their growth as students. Shakespeare, care of an excited group of 8th graders, had hit the 21st century!

About the Author

Kurt Broderson teaches 7th and 8th grade Language Arts at Mt. Abraham Union High School in Bristol, Vermont.


Henry IV Final Project: Monologue Performances
Drama Project Assessment
Teaching Shakespeare with Technology

Professional Development

Quick Tips

Performance and Digital Video
A case study by Christopher Shamburg

Lights, Camera, Action!
A case study by Kurt Broderson

Technology in the Shakespeare Classroom
An in-depth article by Jeremy Ehrlich

Lesson Plans

Images of Othello: A Shakespearean WebQuest
A lesson plan by Michael LoMonico
Standing on the Bookshelves of Giants
A lesson plan by Sean Cavazos-Kottke

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