In May 2017 we asked members of our youth theatre to reflect on tips they’d give, based on what they themselves most enjoyed and found most helpful, to any young group starting out with Shakespeare.
Things to get right if you want to do Shakespeare with young people. What would you list?
Distinguish between thoughts: Shakespeare is just as varied as modern speech - and like modern day humans, thoughts vary wildly and without notice, and this needs to be drilled into an actor's head
The iambic pentameter: Needless to say this should be thought on day one.
Research: More research is needed than your average vanilla modern day script, words need to be explained, phrases need to be understood and the concept of what is wrong and right in that period of time, teach them these things.
Be patient and forgiving: Shakespearean language brings with it an extreme learning curve and so it can take some people quite a long time to adapt and comprehend the changes.
Balance between serious rehearsing and creating a fun atmosphere:
Although it is important at the end of the day to put on an amazing performance, the factor of enjoyment during rehearsals should never be forgotten.
Deep explanations of line meanings:
Lines can be very hard to grasp when you are inexperienced in reading this type of English so the meaning of lines is not always easy to decipher. Help must always be there for this.
Ensuring that school work and other extra-curricular activities are balanced with rehearsing:
Rehearsal times should always be agreed upon by the cast and director to ensure everyone will be able to attend the vast majority of the time. It also creates a calmer attitude towards the play as there will be fewer stand-ins with this approach
Casting - unlike other plays, in Shakespeare it is difficult to know what the character is really like. Time spent looking into each character and their development would help the actor & (casting) director make a more informed choice.
Understand the text - before acting out scenes, understanding what the words mean and what they suggest really help.
Don’t freak out? - some of the time doing Shakespeare can make one think “what have I got myself into” but it all comes together in the end, ie we have our good days and our bad days.
Cherish each line - Shakespeare is packed with meaning, depending on how the actor wants their character portrayed the text’s meaning can be manipulated.
Patience. Some young people don’t get it as quickly as others, but they will. English class scares young people with Shakespeare. It should be embraced, because if it is done slowly and concisely, everyone will get a grip of it.
Emphasise the importance of cues and dovetailing. Shakespeare, as his plays are so wordy can fall flat on their faces if they aren’t snappy and energetic.
Make it fun. Of course the language and context has to be analysed. But once that’s done, play with the scenes do something totally outrageous that won’t make it to final production (or maybe it might). But through playing with it understanding comes too. You have to dirty up Shakespeare.
Iambic Pentameter – ride the rhythm don’t let it ride you. 10 syllables, even syllables are stressed, odds are unstressed.
Language is simple – its only flowered.
Imagery – this is key to understanding what the line means
1) Ease people into the world of Shakespeare (it’s not like anything else out there it’s practically it’s own genre of acting)
2) Let them get to know the characters (these are characters that have been performed for hundreds of years, see if they can discover something new about them)
3) Make sure they have a comprehension of the text (the more they understand, they more they will become interested and the better the performance)
4) Make sure to ask them for their own opinions (young people’s opinion is often overlooked, ask them about various aspects for their characters i.e costumes and props)
5) Make sure they enjoy it. (The more they enjoy it, the smoother the process, don't rush them, let them take command of who they are as long as it’s reasonable , in the end they’re the ones performing on