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This section will help you begin to imagine what it might be like to see the play, especially if you’ve never seen a play at Chicago Shakespeare Theater before, and to reflect on your experience after seeing the play. Many activities will also ask you to watch the performance with a particular element of the production in mind—director’s vision, concept, design, casting, acting style—with guidance on how to reflect meaningfully back in the classroom post-performance.
The Story in Short
If you have not had a chance to read Cyrano de Bergerac in class, use these resources tobecome acquainted with the story and follow the performance more easily:
- Joellan Bland adapted the play for middle and high school students abbreviated to only fourteen pages, which is available for purchase through Plays: Scripts for Young Actors.
- Watch the trailer from the 1990 French film version starring Gerard Depardieu in the title role to introduce setting, time period and a glimpse into the story.
- Refer to the dramatis personae and the synopsis in the beginning of the handbook.
- Use the “Before You Read the Play” activities to become more familiar with the story, setting, characters, themes and language.
Imagine you are on the bus heading to CST’s production and have one minute to fill someone in on the storyline. Based on what you know about the story, write what you would say to clue the listener in on key character names, setting, and plot points without spoiling the ending.
- What images come to mind when you hear “Cyrano de Bergerac?”
- What do you already know about plays as an art form?
- What are you looking forward to seeing on stage in CST’s production?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS RL2, RL3, RL7
Casting a Production
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s casting director is responsible for finding the right person for every character you see on our stage—no small task! Think about the main characters. How do you think they look, sound, move and behave? Think of television and film celebrities who fit your image of the character and, in groups, discuss who your “dream team” would be for your version of the play. Print images to create “headshots” for your perfect cast. Then present your cast to your classmates, explaining why you made each decision, and compare your ideas with those of your classmates. After you see the play, contrast your vision to that of CST’s director.
- What clues in the text should you consider when casting a character?
- Why might one director choose different actors from another?
- How is your “dream team” different than or similar to Chicago Shakespeare’s cast of actors? How did the production’s interpretation of the main characters compare to yours?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS RL7, SL5
Even though we often study Cyrano de Bergerac as literature today, it was originally written to be performed. Every director has a vision to suit their own interpretation of the play and the audience’s tastes. Before you come to see CST’s production, think about how you would bring Cyrano de Bergerac to life in performance. How would you choose to combine the following design elements to bring the play to lifeon your stage? Design and produce a poster or diorama of your production that addresses the following areas to demonstrate your overall vision:
✷Setting: What will the setting of your play look like? What do you want your audience to see when they first enter the theater? Create a visual representation of your set. Consider furniture, buildings and interiors included in the play. What will the theater look like in the opening act? The pastry shop? The battlefield?
✷Sound and Music: The script to Cyrano de Bergerac calls for music including the Gascon march, the nuns’ choral hymn, and soft music during Cyrano’s final speech. There are also scenes that require sound effects, particularly the battle scene. Additionally, the director can evoke mood, location, and historical period of the play through music. Can you think of types of songs you would use to enhance the audience experience? How would the music choices differ from one act to the next? Add a playlist of the music you would include on your poster.
Teacher Tip: Visit Sound Junction, a web resource where you can explore music by historical period, location in the world, genre, and even listen to the sounds of individual instruments. A good place to start specifically for Cyrano de Bergerac may be http://www.soundjunction.org/europe.aspa.
✷Costumes: Directors work closely with costume designers to convey the historical time period of a play like Cyrano de Bergerac. Professional costume designers present their early ideas to the director on a “costume board,” containing clippings from books and magazines, fabric swatches, and images from art or history. Hair and makeup will also help convey 1640s France. How might you incorporate wigs and any other special makeup into your overall costume design? Include images that are historically accurate and dramatically appropriate as costume ideas for a few of the characters.
✷Lighting: Lighting is an important element of live theater that works hand-in-hand with scenic design. It evokes mood through color, brightness, texture, and shadows. Lighting often sets the time of day. It can enhance a location with special pattern and design effects like stars, water, leaves in trees, or clouds. Spotlights and “specials” can isolate actors on stage to stand out to an audience. Think about how you would want lighting to evoke mood in your production of Cyrano de Bergerac. How could you bring the world of the play to life through lighting? Select an important moment you would want the lighting to highlight. Explain how you would wish to highlight the location, time of day, and mood of the scene.
- Who is your target audience?
- What can you use to evoke a mood in your design?
- How will you convey the most important themes of the story through design?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS W8, SL5, RL10
Characterization: An Actor’s Interpretation
Each actor brings his or her own unique quality to a character. They make specific choices based on the director’s vision, chemistry with the ensemble of other actors and their own interpretation of what motivates their character to action. Build upon the “Character Diary” within the Cyrano Site activity. When you attend CST’s performance, follow the actor playing the character you examined closely. Note the acting choices he or she makes through voice, movement, and “subtext”—the inner feelings beneath the text. Compose a free-write of your thoughts on the actor’s interpretation of the character.
- How does the actor in CST’s production differ from what you had imagined?
- What choices did the actor make that enhanced your understanding of the character?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R6, SL3, W3, W10
After you see the performance of Cyrano de Bergerac, brainstorm the honorable (and dishonorable) qualities of the main characters from what you saw on stage. Make a two-column list. On one side, sort the characters from most honorable to least honorable. On the other side, provide rationale on your choices, citing moments in the play. In small groups, compare your lists and discuss your differing choices.
- How do you define honor?
- What are examples of honorable and dishonorable actions we saw on stage?
- Are there characters that change from dishonorable to honorable throughout the play? At what specific moments?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS SL4, W2, W9
The Audience Experience
Theater played an important role in French society at the historical time period during which Cyrano de Bergerac is set. It is no coincidence that the opening scene takes place at the Beaujolais—it was an opportunity to see and be seen. A wide variety of Parisians—regardless of status, profession, or social group—attended regularly. Theater was the most popular form of entertainment—think of the way the Blackhawks, Cubs and Bulls attract loyal spectators today. (Reference The Role of Theater for a more in-depth understanding). Discuss what role you see theater playing in our modern day and how it compares to theater at other times.
The audience in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s courtyard-style theater is always in view of each other. The experience of theater is one of community. We are all present together, watching a story that has been acted countless times for hundreds of years and in hundreds of cities around the world. The thrust stage is much like the stages of Elizabethan theaters and situates the action of the play in the midst of the audience, allowing audience members to watch both the actors and each other! After you see you Cyrano de Bergerac, share when you became aware of other audience members. How did this affect your own experience?
- What is the role of theater today? Is the current state of theater in America positive or negative?
- How does the audience experience at a play compare to a sporting event? A movie?
- How did the actors interact with the audience?
- What other art forms can you see live as an audience member? How are they similar to theater?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS SL1, W6
A Letter to the Director
Write a letter to Chicago Shakespeare Theater expressing your opinions about the play. What was your favorite part? What part, if any, didn’t you like? Share your experience, especially regarding the following aspects:
- Did seeing the play performed affect your understanding of any of the characters or scenes?
- How did you feel about the choices the director and designers made about the costumes, set, and music in the play?
- Were there any interpretations of characters or scenes with which you especially agreed or disagreed? Why?
- What surprised you about the performance?
- How does seeing the play performed live compare to reading a play in class?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS W2, W4
You are a drama critic for your school newspaper. Write a review of the performance for your paper. Briefly recount the plot, without giving away the ending! Discuss the parts of the production—including the casting, acting, setting, music, costumes —you thought worked particularly well, or did not work well at all and explain why you thought so. Consider “publishing” your piece in a classroom newspaper or your classroom Cyrano site.
- How easy (or difficult) was it to understand Rostand’s language?
- How much did you “believe” what was happening?
- Did the comedic moments make you laugh out loud?
- Did the tragic moments move you?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS W1, W6, W9
After you see Cyrano de Bergerac at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, discuss what you saw on stage, including the costumes, wigs, props and scenery. Reflect on how they represented the historical time period of the 1640s in France, just as Rostand intended the play to be set.
CST often reimagines plays and sets them in different time periods. For example, this season includes A Merry Wives of Windsor, which Artistic DirectorBarbara Gaines will be setting in 1940s England after staging her previous production of the same play in 1770s Maine in the Theater’s 2004-05 Season. Though the setting changed, the language stayed true to the original text. Could you do the same with Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac? Discuss what historical time period and location would make the most sense to reimagine Cyrano. Explain how you can connect the play’s characters, events or themes to a different setting.
- How could you connect the play’s themes to a different time period?
- What would be some of the potential challenges in setting the play in a different period?
- What would it be like to set Cyrano de Bergerac today?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS L3, RL2, SL2, SL6
—Julie Strassel, a student at DePaul University, edited and developed these activities as an intern with CST’s Education Department.