Shakespeare from a different perspective

Professional actors taught QCHS students a variety of ways to look at the great dramatist.
Posted on 10/31/2019
Two students stand back-to-back as they read lines from Macbeth during a workshop in the cafeteria.By Gary Weckselblatt

One hundred fifteen Quakertown Community High School students learned about Shakespeare in a unique way Thursday as professional actors led several workshops and later performed Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

“It’s eye-opening,” Nolan Hibsman, a Theater student, said after a morning workshop. “It showed us what acting at the professional level really looks like. I’m just so thankful that the school gives us access to engage in this type of learning activity.”

That access comes from the efforts of English teacher Nick Burch, who helps bring The Linny Fowler WillPower Tour, the centerpiece of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's educational programming, to the high school.

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Named for Marlene “Linny” Fowler, a supporter of theater and education, the program honors her endowment. Several of her grandchildren have graduated from QCHS.

Mr. Burch, who has taught in the district for 19 years, said the workshops, led by professional actors, help students “breakdown the stigma associated with Shakespeare. Every year our students choose to make it a great 45 minutes, where they have this great memory, and that’s what matters to me. They’re not in a classroom at a desk taking a quiz. They’re recharged now.”

The students in Advanced Placement Literature, Theater and Journalism participated in the sessions and got to see Macbeth.

The following is a description for each of the workshops, which took place in the Performing Arts Center, dance studio and cafeteria:

Toil and Trouble: Cursed Shakespeare: Students will speak the speech as they unpack the Weird Sisters spells from Macbeth. Teaching artists will bring to life Shakespeare’s rich imagery. Text exploration will demystify the Bard and give students a sense of ownership of his language.

Carriage, Character, and Class: Non-Verbal Storytelling: Under the guidance of teaching artists, students will explore the possibilities of a characters’ most important tool: the body! Students will enter the world of Macbeth through physical and imaginative exploration. Students will experience the play firsthand by crafting their own characters, analyzing body language, and creating their own vignettes of wordless scenes.

Action to the Word: Objectives, Tactics and Language: Students will delve into just how the characters in Macbeth achieve what they want through the power of speech! This workshop gives students direct experiential access to Shakespeare’s vibrant language through games, physical activities, and brief performances.

Stage Combat: The Illusion of Violence: “Have at you!” But safety first. Students learn basic safety principles and actual techniques for creating the illusion of violence for the stage. This workshop underscores the challenges of skilled control vs. wildness and passion.

The workshops “make the classics come alive for them,” said Erin Oleksa Carter, the district’s Supervisor of Literacy and Arts. “It engages students in ways a classroom setting can not.”

Jolly Ekpe, a senior, agreed. He said reading Shakespeare is impactful, adding, “It’s very important and I commend that. But the acting aspect adds another element to the words. Having the opportunity to read it and to perform it adds to the perspective.”

One of the actors, Dane McMichael, a graduate of Pennridge High School, said that working with the students is “very energizing. They are eager and kind participants, which is rejuvenating. Stage Combat is a specialty of mine, and when everybody is having fun that’s super exciting to me. The process helps people realize that Shakespeare is cool.”

Gary Weckselblatt, director of communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at [email protected] and 215-529-2028.
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