Shakespeare’s Globe has an annual project, Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank, which stages a production designed especially for teenagers and provides free tickets for state schools across London.
In advance of going to see Romeo and Juliet, year 9 pupils at Hampstead School have been using the dedicated website which accompanies the project. It has made the text more accessible and really helped to get pupils excited about the trip. It would also work well as a standalone resource for those too far away to go and see the play.
A lot of pupils question the relevance of Shakespeare’s plays to their lives at the start of a Shakespeare teaching unit, I often hear “Well of course you like Shakespeare, Miss; you’re an English teacher!”
The “Character” pages on the website directly address this. In Juliet’s rehearsal clip, the actress talks about the teenage problems that Juliet faces. They are the same kinds of problems teenage girls might come up against today. It is further endorsement when people outside of school talk with such passion about how timeless the play is.
Pupils also enjoy the “Agony Aunt” feature on the problem pages. Pupils interviewed their parents and guardians about whether they agreed that children should always follow their wishes and in class we linked this back to the tension between Juliet and Lord Capulet.
Pupils were then able to provide Juliet with some objective advice in response to her letter on the website, and it demonstrated how teenage problems during Shakespeare’s time were not so far removed from their own teenage problems in the 21st century!
Pupils were set one of the Creative Brief Tasks, inviting them to design a poster for Romeo and Juliet. It prompted discussion about all the backstage work that goes into a theatre performance and pupils were interested to hear about some of the other key roles that are needed besides the actors and the directors.
The brief was for the poster to be based on “conflict” in the play. Pupils had all sorts of ideas about who this involved in the play and why, encouraging lots of meaningful debates.
A section on characters’ tweets and walls is particularly relevant because this is the language in which young people communicate now. It is fantastic to be able to show students how some of the Shakespearean language they struggle with can be translated into language that they are much more comfortable with.
Of course we do this through discussion and role-play in the classroom, but it was exciting for them to be able to see such realistic character profile pages that were so visually appealing, and also so interactive. It would work especially well if pupils were able to access a class set of computers or laptops for a lesson so that they could have a play with all the different spaces on the website. It is that discovery aspect of learning that is so effective.
I find it useful to play the clips where the actors talk about the play and their rehearsals while pupils complete Romeo and Juliet-related tasks. The clips have a “radio interview” feel to them and pupils feel like they are getting to know the actors as they listen to them speak.
When we now see the play, pupils will enjoy impressing one another with snippets of information that they have learned about the actors from the clips!
As a faculty, we continually update our schemes of work and incorporate communication methods that pupils actually use in their daily lives into the tasks that we ask them to complete.
The blogs, tweets and the other online features that the website offers helped us to modernise some of our teaching strategies for this play.
By giving a face, a profile and a very real personality to each of the characters from the play, pupils can relate to them much more easily; they can imagine what it might have been like to be friends with them had they been their peers at school.
Further informationRomeo and Juliet is running at Shakepeare’s Globe on London’s South Bank until Monday (March 25). To access resources mentioned in the article, which can also be used independently of the production, visit www.playingshakespeare.org and for more on Globe Education, go to www.shakespearesglobe.com/education
Becky Tapper is key stage 3 English co-ordinator at Hampstead School in London.
CAPTION: Going Global: Members of the Romeo and Juliet cast rehearse in the studio (above, photo Ellie Kurttz), and also at Shakepeare’s Globe (top, photo: Hannah Yates)