|Teaching A Midsummer Night's Dream
||Connecting the Mind and Body
to Educate the Whole Person
Submitted by: Amy Ulen
Date: August 1994
The 1994 National
Institute on Teaching Shakespeare helped me name that which I have suspected for the
past four years of my teaching career. As the lead teacher of the Moscow Alternative
School Center (MASC), I strive to create a family atmosphere in my classroom. MASC
students know that they play a valuable role in the daily operations of the school, from
helping develop policies to cleaning the classroom every night. In her lecture at the
Institute, Jane Roland Martin called this the "moral equivalent of home." At
MASC, we are taking the best qualities of "home" and applying them to school.
During Martin's lecture on "Schoolhome,"
I realized that what had come instinctively to me deserved more of my attention through
research. As a jumping off point, I will begin with that which was named for me at the
Institute--the connection between mind and body to educate the whole person.
The state of Idaho requires students to complete 42 credits
to earn a high school diploma. These 42 credits are broken down into the core requirements
of English, math, speech, and reading. Additional requirements include science, social
studies, humanities, health, and physical education. The majority of required classes ask
students to use only their minds as their bodies sit quietly at their desks (with the
exception of P.E. and speech). As an English teacher, I have always found a way to
incorporate movement into my classes. Many of my colleagues attribute this to my theatre training and my youth.
Regardless, my students were learning and having fun at the same time. Then, at the
Institute, I was handed the following definition:
Applying Movement to Learning: the movement work
promotes the brain wave patterns and states of awareness that are more conducive to
learning. One's mind is clear, quieter and less judgmental of one's self and of others.
Finally, a concise definition to substantiate what I had
been doing in my classes for years. Yet, the members of Shakespeare & Company took it far
beyond a simple definition. At the Institute, they provided me with the tools I needed to
teach my students how to make that mind/body connection for themselves.
With these tools in hand, I returned to school and began
implementing the voice and movement training I had received at the Institute. I've been
surprised at how receptive the students have been to the different activities. From their
journals, I discovered that students appreciate doing something different even though it
made them feel strange at first. The following journal entries were written after our
introduction to Milling and Seething.
I think the exercise was valuable because people were
making eye contact. That is something that doesn't happen very much today. I also made
some observations. I noticed that when my jaw was tense my breathing was more shallow.
When I relaxed my jaw my breathing was more deep and I felt more relaxed.
Starting off I felt really stupid and I thought the
whole thing was pointless, but it got to be kind of entertaining. I noticed that when we
picked up the pace, I started breathing through my mouth and breathing deeper. I also
started feeling more comfortable and the expressions on other people's faces made it seem
like they were becoming more comfortable too.
When we began I heard a couple of people giggle and I
figured it was probably from embarrassment, but when we started walking funny, it sounded
more like giggles of enjoyment. It was almost like a bonding session for the entire class.
I'd imagine that when people do this sort of thing in a
group, that group of people would be able to open up to each other or at least feel closer
to each other and help them to feel more relaxed and apt to be a part of the group.
These two students made keen observations of themselves and
their classmates. In one short lesson, they began to put the pieces together and see
themselves as whole people (mind, body, and emotion). For the majority of my students, it
will take longer to make that connection.
To help the students make that connection, we will continue
with the voice and movement work through
the study of Shakespeare's A
Midsummer Night's Dream. The following list of activities will be used to help
students see how voice and movement can
be integral to the learning process.
- Introducing A Midsummer Night's
Dream by Holly Singleton and Katie McKnight -- Four groups of students will
present four scenes from Midsummer that illustrate the relationships between the
four lovers (Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia). Students will deliver lines from
the play at four different points and mini-sculpt the
relationship between the four lovers. Once the students have read their lines, another
student will have the opportunity to sculpt the tableau of the lover's relationship. After
all groups have gone, the class will begin to tell the story of the lovers' plight in
their own words.
- Relationship role-play adapted
from a lesson by Erik Johnke and Amy Ulen -- In pairs, choose an A and B. The couple
creates a brief history of their relationship. They will then be given three scenarios
dealing with teens in love. The first couple is in love, but her father wants her to marry
another man. The next situation finds A in love with B, but he loves her best friend. The
final situation has B in love with A, but she is in love with someone else. The students
then role-play the situation. Discuss what came up for the different couples. In groups of
six, enact Act I, scene 1, lines 128-251 (three people will feed-in
the scene). Discuss how the characters handle the situation. How would you handle it?
Journal Writing -- choose a character and write an entry in his or her journal about this
- Sound Ball activity adapted from
a lesson by Brendan Desilets and Susan Weingarten -- using the scene between Demetrius and
Helena (2.1.188-244), the students will experiment with line interpretations. Begin by
placing 20 key words from the scene on the board. As the students throw the ball, they
will say one of the words. After the ball has made several rotations, the teacher will
tell the story of the lovers up to this point in the play. The teacher will then
distribute key lines from the scene to the students. The student will memorize his or her
line. The student will say his or her line at least three different times before throwing
the ball. The teacher will ask questions that may change the interpretation of the line.
After each student has a turn, the class will split into groups of four and put the scene
on its feet (one pair feeds-in the lines). After each pair has
a turn, the teacher will ask for a group to show the scene. After the scene, discuss the
different interpretations of the lines. Each student will then choose a favorite line and
present it to the class. In their journals, the students will write a letter to either
Demetrius or Helena about his or her behavior toward the other person.
- Status Games adapted from a lesson
by Mark Sheppard -- To introduce the students to the idea of status, four students will be
given a number from one to four (one being high status and four being low status). Without
showing their number to the other three members of the group, they will improvise a scene
in which a decision must be made. After the improvisation, the group members will try to
guess the numbers of the others. The students can also do this activity by secretly
choosing their status numbers. To apply this activity to the text, the students will be
split into two groups. The first group will look at the opening court scene and determine
the status of Theseus, Egeus, Hermia, Lysander, and Helena. The second group will look at
the first mechanicals scene and determine the status of Bottom, Quince, and the others.
The students will also be asked if the characters status changes during the scene. After
they have an opportunity to run through the scene (choose student actors and students to feed-in), they will present the scene to the rest of the class.
- "Set Your Heart at Rest"
Word Plays adapted from a lesson by Viki Oliver -- Divide the "Set your heart at
rest" speech (2.1.121-137) into single words (number the words). With students in a
circle, hand out the words in order. Students will make up a "play" using the 3
or 4 words received (putting the words in any order). When they have created their
"play," go around the circle and perform it. Then put the words in numerical
order and go around the circle several times saying the words in order (first time include
the action from the "play," then get rid of the action and say the words trying
to create one voice). Hand out the entire speech and discuss its meaning. This is the
passage that all students will memorize.
- Isolate one plot line lesson
created by Michael Cremonini -- Students will work in groups to perform the Mechanicals
scenes from the play. Each group will work on one section of the plot line. The class will
be given enough time to read the scene, decide on student actors and who will feed-in, create costumes and props, and get ready for performance.
The scenes will then be performed in order for the class. If time permits, this could be
done for all the plot lines in the play.
- Dropping-in a line
adapted from a lesson by Terry Flynn and Viki Oliver -- Drop-in
Oberon's line (4.1.64-66) "May all to Athens back again repair,/ And think no more of
this night's accidents/ But as the fierce vexation of a dream." Dictate the line as
the students write it. In groups of three, students figure out what they think it means.
Students share responses. This activity occurs before reading Act IV, so the teacher will
ask the students who they think would say this line. Why would the character say this
line? Journal Writing -- what came up for you in the dropping-in,
who do you think said the line and why? What is going to happen in Act IV?
- Telling the Story lesson by Michael
Cremonini -- At the end of each Act, the students will review by telling the story of that
Act. The group will sit in a circle, and the storyteller will stand in the center with the
storyteller's scarf. Only the person with the scarf is allowed to speak (unless giving a
quote -- see below). The speaker must say "I was there . . ." to begin this
portion of the story. The speaker, having told his or her portion of the story, passes the
scarf to anyone sitting in the circle. This person cannot refuse to speak. He or she must
enter the circle, either continue the story or say "I was not there . . ." and
then pass the scarf to another person. Those listening to the story are encouraged to have
their books in hand so that they can read or enact key quotes from the play. As the story
continues, if a person makes a mistake or tells the story out of order, anyone may enter
the circle and gently take the scarf. After the correction is made, the speaker sits down.
This continues until the story is told.
- Dream Motif adapted from a lesson by Brendan Desilets and
Lynne Konstant -- After reading the play, the students will break into small groups and
find three quotes in which the image of a dream is associated with different feelings or
concepts. They will write excerpts of the quote on the board, and as a group, eliminate
the duplicates. The teacher will assign one quote to each group. The group will create a
tableau for the quote. While the tableau is shown, class members respond to what they see
in their journals (teacher's aide will take photographs of the tableaus). Discuss how what
they have seen and created constitutes a motif in this play. When the photos are
developed, the students will create posters with the pictures and quotes from their
- Scene Performance -- The students will perform memorized
scenes from the script. They will be given ample class time to rehearse and prepare for
the final performance.
- Video Production -- Many of the class activities done in
this unit will be video taped as will the final performance. This tape will then be
edited--including voice overs--and shown on our local public access channel.
By exploring the text through voice and movement
activities, I believe my students will become more aware of themselves as whole people. By
carefully observing their personal and educational growth through these activities and by
continuing to conduct my own research, I will be able to support the thesis that
"Theatre should be the center of education." Jane Roland Martin made this
statement during her lecture, and it was supported by the entire teaching staff of Shakespeare & Company. By placing
theatre at the center of education, and by creating a "schoolhome" atmosphere,
students will have the opportunity to make the connection between mind and body. They will
be allowed to use all that they are--mind, body, emotion--to learn and grow. And that is
what school is all about--educating the whole person.