13. PITCHING YOUR PLAY
When Henslowe is being threatened for the money he owes, he tries to convince his debtors that Shakespeare’s new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, will be a hit. He boasts, “The play’s a crowd tickler—mistaken identities, a shipwreck, a pirate king, a bit with a dog, and love triumphant!” Just as in Shakespeare’s time, artists today have to convince people their project is worthy of financial support.
Now imagine YOU are producing your own version of Shakespeare in Love, and your goal is to convince the rest of your class to support your show! In small groups, create a 2-5 minute presentation including all of the most exciting, juiciest parts of Shakespeare in Love. Decide which plot points to focus on that will get your classmates most interested in your show. Use visuals to give a sense of what the production will look like: either drawn or found images could work well. Will you cast famous actors? Try to convince the other class that your production is worthy of their support!
After all the presentations, each student is given 10 units of “currency” (paperclips, post-its, pencils, etc) to “spend” on one or more productions. Each group is given a bucket/hat/fishbowl, etc. to collect their donations. Each student drops any amount of “currency” into as many groups’ buckets as they wish to support. The group who gets the most funding gets to move forward with its play!
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS SL2, SL3, SL4, R2
14. VIOLA ON THE HOTSEAT
Viola has an impossible decision to face in Shakespeare in Love. Either marry Wessex, thus ending her romance with Will but upholding her duty to her family, OR run away with Will, taking him away from his work in the theater and being resigned to a life of poverty.
After you have read the play, respond to the following questions to prepare you to take on the role of Viola.
- How does Viola feel about Wessex?
- What are her feelings for Will?
- What dreams/passions/goals does she have for her own future?
- What are her biggest obstacles or problems?
- How does her loyalty to her family affect her decision-making?
- What are Viola’s strengths?
- What are Viola’s weaknesses?
- List one or two words that describe Viola. Use the text!
- What’s the one question you hope the reporters don’t ask you? What answer would you give?
Come back together as a class. One student volunteers to take on the role of Viola (sitting at the front of the room) while the rest of the class acts as journalists, asking the tough questions about Viola’s choices about her future. The student playing Viola responds to the questions in the first person, citing evidence from the text whenever possible.
[To the teacher: take on the role of moderator to keep the questions on-course, probe more deeply when necessary or take the questions in a different direction. Allow each student to answer several questions before switching to a new Viola.]
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R3, SL3
15. WHO IS MARLOWE?
Christopher (Kit) Marlowe (1564-1593), was an English playwright and poet—a contemporary of Shakespeare, but was writing for the stage some years earlier. He was known for his use of blank verse, and scholars trace the influence he had upon Shakespeare’s own writing. It wasn’t until after Marlowe’s mysterious death—the subject of television and film as well as countless scholarly studies—that Shakespeare’s popularity blossomed.
In the stage version of Shakespeare in Love, Marlowe’s character is more “fleshed out” than in the film. His role, in fact, could remind you of Mercutio—another imagined inspiration in Will’s life that shaped his Romeo and Juliet? If you have access to the script of Shakespeare in Love, devise a scene between Marlowe and Mercutio, using quotes from both characters to form part of your new plot. Where does your scene take place? What’s the relationship between them? What’s the conflict? When does it take place? Is it before, during, or after the events of the play? What has just happened before your scene begins? Are these two peas-in-a-pod friends or do they react like oil and water? Write on your own, but then working in groups of three, determine which script you want to stage. Which helps us understand these two characters (and their relationship) in a new way? Which most draws us in? With two taking on the lines of Mercutio and Marlowe, and the other serving as a third set of eyes, work at staging your scene. Then, share your work with the class.
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R3, SL1, W3
16. WRITING A PROLOGUE
Shakespeare sometimes used narration in his plays to give the audience important information. Below is the opening narration of Romeo and Juliet, called the Prologue. This is delivered by an actor at the beginning of the performance to help set the scene for the audience.
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
What do you learn about Romeo and Juliet from the Prologue? Characters? Location? Events? The ending?
Now write your own Prologue for the play Shakespeare in Love. Make sure to include information on the important characters, plot points and maybe even the ending. What would be helpful to tell the audience before they see a production of Shakespeare in Love? And if you feel particularly inspired, use the same sonnet structure that Shakespeare does in his Prologue!
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R3, R5, W3, W4
17. CREATING A FILM STORYBOARD
In groups of three to four, choose a key scene from Shakespeare in Love that would adapt well to a silent film. Consider how, without the presence of words, the setting, movement, costume and props can convey the necessary information and emotion developed in the scene. A good place to start is by storyboarding the scene. A storyboard involves a series of thumbnail sketches of individual shots of the action with captions below, describing aspects of the shot that the sketches are unable to convey.
Once you’ve planned and rehearsed your scene, film it with your phone or tablet. Add music and sound for special effects. (A special thanks to Mary Christel for this post-reading suggestion!) Directions for creating a storyboard and downloadable storyboard templates can be found at:
- Print Resource – Lessons for a Media-Rich Classroom. Ed. Mary T. Christel and Scott Sullivan. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2007 (available in Chicago Shakespeare Teacher Resource Center)
- Online resource – http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/what-are-storyboards
- Online resource – http://www.the-flying-animator.com/storyboard-template.html
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, SL1, SL5
18. JOURNEY TO THE NEW WORLD
As a class discuss the perils of the long journey from London to Virginia in 1592.
- The crossing took between 138 to 647 days.
- There was very little light onboard the ship.
- There were no toilets.
- Meals consisted primarily of salted meat (lamb, pork or fish) and hard biscuits.
- Though barrels of water were loaded on the ship, it eventually became rancid.
- Beer and rum were safer to drink than water.
- Illnesses spread quickly.
- Many passengers died during the voyage.
[To the teacher: provide a suitcase, box or trunk with a variety of artifacts that could be imagined as something used during the Elizabethan era, such as fabric, portrait, handkerchief, goblet, quill, diary, candle, jewelry, quilt, household items, dried fruit or jerky.]
In small groups, choose an object from the suitcase that you imagine Viola might pack for her journey. Discuss the object with your classmates, and its significance, both real and abstract. For example, a quilt may be used for physical warmth, or it may remind Viola of the warmth of her relationship with the Nurse. A piece of dried fruit could represent a meal; sweet memories of Will; or a prosperous future. Once your group settles on an object, write a brief description detailing the artifact’s symbolism. One group at a time, pack your suitcase, describing as Viola your artifact to your classmates in the first person.
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R3, SL2
19. TWITTER-LENGTH SUMMARIES
[To the teacher: Divide this nine-scene play into the number of students in your class, assigning each scene to two or three students.]
As an omniscient observer of the action in Shakespeare in Love, you must “tweet” an assigned scene from the play, working to distill the action of the scene down to its bare essentials.
- First, review your scene, and write a short summary that includes the main idea, supporting details and two to three significant quotes.
- Exchange summaries with a classmate. Read his/her summary, and circle the lines/words/phrases that are really getting at the essence of the scene. Cross out the parts that seem unnecessary. Return the summaries to one another.
- With your own summary back, create a tweet-length summary of 140 or fewer characters. In your tweet, you must include one three-or-more consecutive word quote (and yes, quotation marks count as characters!). And, for this assignment, “textspeak” is completely acceptable!
- In order of the play, read your tweets aloud with your classmates, hearing a concise summary of the entire play’s events.
- Create a hashtag that helps distil the action or mood of the play, as well!
Here are a couple of tweeted examples from Shakespeare plays:
The Tempest’s opening scene: Sailors during a storm tried to keep it afloat, but passengers in the way, sailor yelled, “You do assist the storm”!
Romeo and Juliet’s Act 3, scene 1: Tybalt has beef with Romeo. Mercutio fights Tybalt. Mercutio: “A plague on both your houses”; dies. Romeo kills Tybalt; Prince exiles Romeo.
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R2, W3, W4
20. PEARLS ON A STRING
[To the teacher: consider playing this exercise with a very well-known story—like The Three Little Pigs—so that the students can get familiar with the structure and then can apply it to Shakespeare in Love once they’ve mastered the game. You may also want to watch this video of the exercise on your own or with your students: http://tinyurl.com/pearlsonastring.]
This improvisation exercise offers a dynamic, kinesthetic way to review the events of the play. Eight to twelve students form a line (with space in front to be able to step forward), while the rest of the class observes. One at a time, in no particular order, step forward to share one major event from the play. (The first student who volunteers to step forward must give the first line of the story, and the second student to step forward must give the last line of the story. Everyone else must describe the events in the middle, taking the appropriate place in the line so that the story is told in the correct order. Each time a student takes her place in the line, the story is retold from the very beginning. Once all eight to twelve students have contributed a line, the remaining class gives feedback. Is everything in the right order? Are there any major plot-points missing? If so, additional students can jump in to fill in the missing points.
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R2, SL2
21. THE TOOLS OF THEATER
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
- Special effects
In each of these areas, there are countless choices made by the director, designers and actors, contributing to their unique interpretation of the story. Before you see Chicago Shakespeare’s production, choose one of the above tools of theater to focus on. Then, 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 Chicago Shakespeare’s production, write an analysis of how your chosen tool was utilized to create a unique interpretation of Shakespeare in Love. Outline the choices made using that tool, and how those choices either supported or didn’t effectively support the storytelling.
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R6, W1
22. WRITING A THEATER REVIEW
Before you write your critical review of Shakespeare in Love, read three different theater reviews of current plays at Theatre in Chicago’s Critics Review Round-Up: http://www.theatreinchicago.com/reviewlistings.php. 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 Chicago Shakespeare’s production of Shakespeare in Love. Briefly recount the plot. Discuss the parts of the production— including the casting, acting, setting, music, dance, costumes, cuts—you thought worked particularly well, or did not work well and explain why you thought so. 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?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS W1, W4