Classroom Exercises


In Augusto Boal’s book, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, he outlines several exercises that allow people to explore power dynamics, and the way they shift in response to the actions of others. Use the following exercise as a scaffold to studying the political power play of Mary Stuart. Eight students volunteer to take part in the exercise, while the rest of the class observes and takes very specific and detailed notes on how each person exerts their power through movement and positioning.

From Boal: “Each actor has a chair. One by one she is to place her chair and her body in such a position in the space as to obtain the maximum power for herself (power in this case meaning visual concentration of attention). In succession, everyone places their chair, with the same goal. When everyone is in, then, in the same order, they are allowed to change and try another position for their bodies and for the chair.”

Guiding Questions:

  • Which chair and body positions demonstrated the greatest power? What, specifically, about those positions denoted power?
  • What were the most surprising choices? How did the element of surprise affect a person’s perceived position of power?
  • How might an exercise like this translate into blocking choices for a play?




At a time in world history when it was unusual to have one woman on the throne of a European power, in sixteenth-century Britain there were two women at the helm of their respective countries—and indeed, on a single island. It was nonetheless a man’s world, and both Elizabeth and Mary had to try to navigate their power through a maze of male agendas—Elizabeth, as it turned out, much more successfully than Mary. As you’ve discovered if you’ve read the script (or soon will once you’ve seen the production of Schiller’s Mary Stuart), the two women had vastly different means of navigation: Mary was married and widowed three times; Elizabeth proclaimed herself the Virgin Queen who was married to her country and its people.

In talking about what she loves about the story of Schiller’s Mary Stuart, director Jenn Thompson said: “There’s so much room in this story to talk about women in power, and women being manipulated by men. I’m interested in our production exploring how can you be a woman, be feminine, and have power.”

Think about two women who wield power in our world in two very different ways. They may inhabit the world of politics, media, entertainment, sports, social services, or the arts. Take some time to choose these two prominent figures, and then do some research on each, including:

  • The basics: profession, age, “look,” skills, Achilles Heel (look it up :) ), famous quote or quotes, friends, colleagues, adversaries (and anything else that you can think of that helps describe and place this individual.)
  • What are examples of the way in which she wields power?
  • What makes her so successful—and how does she measure her success?
  • Can she hold on to her power over time or is there a “shelf life” to it—and, if so, in what way?
  • What can you discover or hypothesize about the way in which she gained her particular power?
  • Do men and women seem to perceive her in different ways?

Now, bring your research into class and, in groups of three, share what you’ve gathered about these two very different women. As you listen to your two partners’ descriptions, take notes on what distinguishes them—from each other AND from the two women whom you researched. With your group, come up with a single statement about women in power—based on what you and your group have discussed—and you may not all agree! Now, as a class, “Vote with Your Feet.” As your classmates take turns, one by one, reading aloud a statement, the rest of the class lines up along an axis: from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Discuss what you’ve heard and discovered along the way.

After seeing Mary Stuart, talk about your exploration and bring it back to these two iconic, but very human women, who lived 400 years ago. What analogies do you see between their world and their struggles and those of the contemporary figures that you and your classmates chose to represent women with power today?  




Much of the verse in Schiller’s Mary Stuart is written in iambic pentameter–ten-syllable lines with alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. The ten unstressed/stressed beats mirror the cadence of the English language, and many say, the rhythm of the human heart beating. Say these everyday sentences out loud and listen for the iambic pentameter rhythm:

  • I’m hungry and I want my dinner now.
  • The weather’s gorgeous and I have to go outside.
  • I really want to see my friends tonight.

Now take a look at a passage from the play. In Act 1, page 12, Mary says to Paulet:

Again you leave me in uncertainty,
Tourtured by doubt. I am so closely watched
By your sharp guards, that nothing from the world
Reaches me here, no news gets through these walls.

Read these lines aloud, trying to overemphasize the meter. If you’re having trouble, look at the example below, in which the meter is stressed:


aGAIN you LEAVE me IN unCERtainTY,
By YOUR sharp GUARDS, that NOThing FROM the WORLD
ReaCHES me HERE, no NEWS gets THROUGH these WALLS.

Say the passage above aloud and exaggerate the stress. Try tapping the rhythm out on your knee at the same time to feel the rhythm. Once you have the hang of the meter, experiment with writing a few of your own lines in iambic pentameter. Write your favorite children’s story or nursery rhyme in ten lines, all in iambic pentameter. Use your new tools—exaggerating when speaking and tapping—to make sure you keep the meter. Share your verse-tale with the class. “It may be harder than it seems to be…”




In Act 1, we discover that Mary has written a letter to Queen Elizabeth. As Shakespeare so often does, Schiller never shares the contents of the letter, and instead we learn of it by report. What do you think Mary must say to Elizabeth in the letter?

  • On your own, write out the contents of a short letter that we never hear in the play.
  • Swap papers with your elbow partner. Read and highlight or circle whichever word, phrase, or line you find most powerful.
  • With your own paper back in hand, do the same, highlighting the word, phrase, or line that you find most powerful in your own writing—which may be the same or different from what your partner selected in your writing.
  • As a class, 8 students volunteer to donate a line and come up to the front with their lines.
  • Standing in a line, read your lines aloud for the entire class so that your lines to that everyone hears them before the class starts to compose.
  • Start out the “first draft” with anyone from those seated (the writers/editors) suggesting which word/phrase/sentence could begin your group poem. The person who “owns” that line moves with his/her text moves to the far left of the line.
  • Next, someone else from the class proposes the word/phrase/sentence that could serve to end the piece. This may change (more than once!) as you create—and revise—your poem. Edit as much as you need in order to create the most powerful, resonant piece.
  • Now that the first and last lines are in place, continue to place the other 6 lines until all 8 are utilized.
  • As the class revises, group members reposition themselves in the line, reciting the new draft until the general consensus from the class agrees that the poem is in its final form.
  • You can also choose to:
    1. repeat any words, phrases, sentences
    2. choose to speak specific elements in unison
  • Get ready for your class presentation. Standing in a line, recite your poem, and if your word/phrase/line is repeated, move down the line as needed.

Guiding questions:

  • What words or phrases struck you most? Why?
  • What new discoveries did you make about the characters while performing in or listening to the choral poem montages?
  • What did you learn from editing the poems as a class?




As a class, read through Elizabeth’s speech that begins with “What are kings and queens?” on page 34 of your script.  Explore Elizabeth’s monologue with “jump-in reading,” an interactive way to read closely and make text connections. Synthesize your thoughts with a free write. Follow with “pointing,” (which leads to the creation of a “found poem” and a new interpretation of the passage.

Part One: Jump-in Reading

  • Read Elizabeth’s monologue aloud as a class, switching readers at each punctuation mark. While listening, mark at least one line or phrase that stands out for you.
  • As a class, reread the speech—this time switching readers randomly without assignment or seating order. You can choose to jump in for any length of text you wish to read. Anyone can volunteer to jump in when the previous reader stops. If two readers begin at one time, one simply “yields” to the other. Proceed until the passage has been read a second time.
  • Return again to the text. Take a few minutes to mark any lines, phrases, or individual words that stand out after this second reading.
  • Choose one word, phrase or line and free-write about why it stands out to you.

Part Two: Pointing (from Sheridan Blau, 2003)

  • Pick a line or phrase from the same passage to read out loud—a line that is compelling, interesting, fun, etc. No one “owns” a word, phrase or line, and there is no prescribed order in which lines are to be spoken. Begin reading chosen lines and phrases, listening closely to one another to avoid speaking on top of one another. The same line can be read again and again, creating a choral effect in a type of “found poem.”

Guiding Questions:

  • Why do particular lines stand out for you? Is it the sounds, imagery, word play?
  • During which reading did you need to listen most closely?
  • How did your understanding of the Elizabeth’s point of view change with each successive reading?




An actor can change the entire meaning of a line by changing the words that he or she chooses to accentuate—just as we’re all very accustomed to doing in everyday conversation! Read the following sentence written on the board—“I’m glad you’re here this evening.” What does it mean? Discuss it with your classmates, and don’t be afraid to state the obvious. Now, with five students volunteering to read the sentence, each person will stress a different word. Listen to how the meaning changes. Now try the same exercise with Elizabeth’s line in Act 2, page 36: “I will fulfill the duties of a queen”:

I will fulfill the duties of a queen
I WILL fulfill the duties of a queen
I will FULFILL the duties of a queen
I will fulfill the DUTIES of a queen
I will fulfill the duties of a QUEEN

Below are some other lines to consider:

My heart bleeds freely for these gentlemen (Elizabeth, Act 2, page 33)
He is not prepared to do anything- (Mary, Act 3, page 68)

Guiding Questions:

  • How does emphasis on different words change your understanding of the line’s meaning?
  • How does the mood of the line change with different readings?
  • Are there multiple “right” ways to say this line? If so, what does that mean for the actor?
  • How would you direct the actor playing Elizabeth to deliver the line?




In Act 2, Elizabeth weighs out the actions she may, or may not, choose to take against Mary—with all kinds of advice from Burleigh, Talbot, and Leicester. As a class, read Elizabeth’s exchange with her advisors aloud, pages 37–43.  Then, divide up into three large groups, each adopting a character: Burleigh, Talbot, or Leicester. Read the passage again, but this time, take notes on your character’s perspective on the situation. What actions (or inactions) does your character advise Elizabeth to take? What is his reasoning? Based on the evidence you’ve collected in the text, devise a two-minute (or less) persuasion to present to Elizabeth.

Select one person in the class to take on the role of Elizabeth, while a representative from each of the three groups presents their advice. “Elizabeth” then weighs in on which character was the most persuasive.




Like Shakespeare’s plays, Schiller’s Mary Stuart is written largely in verse. And, also like Shakespeare, the structure of the verse sometimes helps actors to understand the rhythm or tone of a scene. For instance, you’ll notice that some capitalized verse lines in Mary Stuart are indented from the left margin, starting well to the right of other lines. This is one-half of what is called a “shared line”—a full verse line of ten beats that two speakers share between them. Shared lines like this alert the actors to deliver their two lines as one, with no pause between the end of one character’s line and the beginning of the next.

In pairs, read through the exchange between Elizabeth and Mortimer beginning at the bottom of page 43 with Elizabeth’s line, “A word with you, Sir Mortimer,” through the bottom of page 45. After your first read-through, recap with your partner what you understand about the relationship between Elizabeth and Mortimer at this moment in the story. Also, identify and underline all of the shared lines you can find in this excerpt.

Read through your scene a second time. This time, when you reach a shared line, practice jumping in as soon as your scene partner has finished their line. For a challenge, you can also use a ball (like a hot potato!) for this activity to throw back and forth as you “toss” the lines to each other. Discuss what the shared lines suggest about these characters’ emotions and state of mind, and the stakes of this scene.

Guiding Questions:

  • How do shared lines influence the pace of dialogue between characters?
  • Where else can you find shared lines in this play, and what does that reveal about those moments in the story?
  • What might the presence of shared lines tell you about the emotional state or dynamics between the two characters at these moments?




There can be great variation in the ways that different actors portray a scene, and one element that creates varied interpretations is the choices that are made about character motivation and the “subtext” of a scene—that is, what’s felt by the characters underneath their spoken lines. Take a close look at Mortimer and Leicester’s interaction in Act 2 on page 50, starting at this line: “We will break open her prison gates,” and ending with, “She suffers if we do nothing!”

Working in teams of three (two actors and a director), read the passage out loud once. Then, try it again with each of the following directions:

  • Mortimer is excited and Leicester is exhausted.
  • Mortimer is relaxed and Leicester is impatient.
  • Mortimer is courageous and Leicester is timid.

How does our understanding of the scene alter with the changes in subtext? Director, take note of the change in the movement and vocal intonation your actors make from one interpretation to the next. Jot down which version seems to work best. As a group, reflect on the scene work and decide which version is most strongly supported by the text. Then, as a group, write in the marginsthe thoughts that might be going through Mortimer’s and Leicester’s heads when you think an underlying subtext is informing the reading.

Now try Davison and Elizabeth’s meeting in Act 4 on page 90, starting with: “Sir William” and ending on Davison’s exit. Once you’ve read through the scene once for comprehension, add on one of the following subtexts:

  • Davison is timid and Elizabeth demanding.
  • Davison is defiant and Elizabeth is defeated.
  • Neither Elizabeth nor Davison want to do this.
  • Davison and Elizabeth are both furious.

Directors, be creative with your subtext direction, and feel free to make a suggestion other than those above. Actors, don’t be afraid to take risks and make big choices!

Guiding Questions:

  • What words or phrases become more or less important with each interpretation?
  • For the actors: What did you have to do with your body and voice to make your subtext clear?
  • For the directors: When the subtext wasn’t clear, what suggestions did you give to the actors to help them communicate more clearly?




You, as Leicester from Mary Stuart, are on Dateline, a TV newsmagazine, to talk to the people of England about the recent developments in the trial and conviction of Mary, Queen of Scots. Your public wants to know the “real” side of your character. On your own, answer the following questions to get a real feel for who you, Leicester, are, citing evidence from the text whenever possible.

  • What is your opinion of both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary?
  • What are your own hopes, dreams, and goals for himself?
  • What are your biggest obstacles, problems?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Where do your loyalties lie?
  • List one or two words that could describe you.
  • What is one question that you hope that reporters won’t ask you?

One brave volunteer steps into the “hot seat” at Leicester, answering the tough questions that the audience throws at him, while the teacher moderates. After several questions, substitute in a new Leicester on the “hot seat” to hear another perspective on the character.




In Act 5, Mary prepares for her execution. In small groups, read through Mary’s final moments of the play, starting on page 95 (“Who are you morning for?”) through page 104 (“Goodbye! Now there is nothing here for me.”)

While the text of the play doesn’t include the actual moment of execution, there exist historical accounts of the event, including a famous account written by Robert Wynkfielde. On your own, read through Wynkfielde’s account, notating:

  • Moments and/or details that both the play and the account include
  • Moments or details included in the account but not in the play

Back in your small groups, put on your directors’ hats, and determine what pieces of the account you would choose to include in a staged production. Are there details of Mary’s behavior that you would wish the actor portraying Mary to take on? Would you wish to include an “extra-textual moments”—onstage actions that visually tell a story without any words from the text? Share your ideas with the class.




Divide the class into small groups, and recount the story of Mary Stuart through RAFT-ing. In your group, decide on the following:

  • Role: Elizabeth, Mary, Mortimer, Leicester, Kennedy, or Davison.
  • Audience: an appropriate group based on format and role. Examples include Elizabeth’s royal court, the common people of London, Mary’s son (James VI), the people of England and Scotland in the modern day, a coffee house open-mic audience.
  • Format: a song, spoken word, slam poem, formal speech to the public, news report, rap, sock puppet theater, children’s story, or eulogy.
  • Topic: the trial and conviction of Queen Mary

As your character, create a three to five minute composition that retells the story of Mary Stuart from the point of view of your chosen character. Try to determine if Mary was truly guilty, or was she framed?

Guiding Questions:

  • How would you describe Queen Mary’s influence on your character? How does that influence impact the action of the character you are portraying?
  • What do you understand differently about the play now that you have retold (or reheard) the story from your character’s point of view?




An actor must be as detailed as possible about the life of the character he or she will be playing. What does the character’s voice sound like, how does he move? What’s the character afraid of, what does he want more than anything else in the world? Actors must make choices about a character’s “back story” based on what is said about them as well as by them in the text of the play.

Choose a character from Mary Stuart, and answer the questions above to begin getting inside your chosen character’s head. Collect materials that you think your character would carry around in his/her backpack— and explain why you chose each item. Your classmates will be asking you questions, like: “Was that item a gift?” “Who gave it to you?” etc. An actor must be as specific as possible in creating his/her character!

Guiding Questions:

  • What are the most meaningful items in your own backpack? What items do you imagine your character would find valuable and want to keep with them at all times?
  • How does imagining the life of your character outside of the play help you to understand the character’s actions in the play?




Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s casting director is responsible for finding the right person for every character you see on our stage—no small task! After you’ve read the play, think about each character—how do 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 or post on your class blog 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—and using specific textual evidence whenever possible. After you see the play, contrast your vision to that of Director Jenn Thompson and the actors whom she and CST’s casting director have assembled.

Guiding Questions:

  • What clues in the text should you consider when casting a character?
  • Why might one director choose different actors from another?
  • After seeing CST’s production of Mary Stuart, 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?




A scaffold for this activity: Before you write your review, read three different theater reviews of current plays at Theatre in Chicago’s Critics Review Round-Up. Analyze the structure of a review, identifying key elements. Based on these key elements, describe the style you found most helpful (or least helpful) in communicating a play’s appeal for potential theater-goers.

Now, write your own critical review of CST’s Mary Stuart. Briefly recount the plot. Discuss the parts of the production—including the casting, acting, setting, music, costumes, cuts—you thought worked particularly well, or did not work well and explain how you thought each worked to tell the story. Consider publishing your piece in a school newspaper or the Bard Blog. Use some of the questions below to generate ideas for your review:

  • What aspect of the play captivated your attention?
  • How did the production’s interpretation compare with your own interpretation of the play? Do you believe it stayed true to Shakespeare’s intention?
  • Were there particular performances that you believed were powerful? Why?
  • Would you recommend this play to others? Who would most enjoy it?
  • Based on your answers to the above questions, how many stars (out of a possible five) would you give this production?




Director Jenn Thompson asked Scenic Designer Andromache Chalfant to work with her to create the physical world of Mary Stuart. You might expect to see a realistic set—perhaps of a castle, complete with towers and drawbridges. Instead, Jenn and Andromache chose to create an abstraction of the world of sixteenth-century royal politics. Here’s how Jenn described it to her cast on the first day of rehearsals:

I imagined these two women against a massive, masculine landscape in its size and scope, but also wanted to explore how both women use their femininity set against this backdrop. Influenced by the style of Brutalist Architecture, Andromache describes the set as ‘monumental and unforgiving, but with a beauty in its surfaces; a simplicity of form, and an awesomeness in its strength and scale.’ We looked for ways to emphasize what was similar about Mary’s and Elizabeth’s circumstances. Obviously, one is in prison and one is sitting on the throne, but in many ways they were both imprisoned by their world.

Take some time to research the style of Brutalist Architecture. How is it described in what you find? Find photos of images of buildings that evoke this architecture and put them up somewhere in the classroom. What do these buildings have in common? How might they feel to walk inside them? What might the relative scale of humans against these buildings suggest about the intent of those who designed and built them?

As you watch Schiller’s Mary Stuart at CST, think about the scale of the set and how it functions in the storytelling. What are the unique and specific spaces that are represented by the positioning of the two great walls? How would you imagine a traditional set with its more literal palace might in some way alter your experience versus the Brutalist Architecture created by Scenic Designer Andromache Chalfant? If you are interested in imagining your own set for this story, do your own research—the same process that begins any designer’s work—and gather a number of images that might influence your own design.




Consider all the different tools of theater that can help bring a story to life, including:

  • Acting (vocal, physical and character choices made by the actors)
  • Blocking (the actors’ movement and positioning on stage)
  • Set design
  • Costume design
  • Lighting Design
  • Music and sound design
  • Props
  • Special effects

In each of these arenas, there are countless choices made by the director, designers and actors, contributing to their unique interpretation of the story. Before you see CST’s production, choose one of the above tools of theater to focus on. As you watch the performance, note the specific ways that tool is used throughout and how those choices help to support the storytelling.

After you see CST’s production, write an analysis of how your chosen tool was utilized to create a unique interpretation of Mary Stuart. Outline the choices made using that tool, and how those choices either supported or didn’t effectively support the storytelling.




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