Marja at her delightful blog “Dutch Corner” did a 4th of July post about being introduced to one of Shakespeare’s zanier comedies “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And I had left a comment about “Years ago (in a galaxy far away) my 6th grade drama students did an adaptation of this wonderful play.” –> her post is here <–
This week as I was moving things around, under the guise of “getting rid of somethings” .. I found the “gift” they had given me after the performance. And for a second time a flood of memories charged back demanding to be written down.
This occurred while I was teaching in India.
At that time, I was a teacher of English, Speech and Drama. The English, Speech portion involved grades 10-12 and Drama was divided up into Creative Drama grades 1-6 and Drama grades 10-12. Yes, there was a three year gap, but neither my schedule or the syllabus allowed for much more than doing a week long intensive theater performance with the 7th graders once a year.
The Shakespeare “experiment” started, as things so often do, on the way to somewhere else.
The 5th and 6th graders had done short plays before, and I was really not thrilled with what we had done, and they were a little dissatisfied with the level of plays available to be done. I was a little gun-shy about writing a couple of plays for them. I had done that twice for my High School students and while they loved them and “got” them, the administration was not terribly enthusiastic about them. ‘Twas a quandary…and a puzzlement!!
I don’t know how many of you are acquainted with “My Weekly Reader **” but when I was growing up, it’s arrival in the classroom (we each got our OWN copy) was 2nd only to the Weekly Reader book sale ~ as I remember, once or twice a year. For years in school, this little newspaper brought fun, learning and insight to all who received it. When I was teaching at Woodstock School, I knew that it was available, but didn’t realize that the students enjoyed it just as much as I had.
As I remember, it was in the staff dining room where the 5th grade teacher showed me a issue that contained a very short (10 or 12 lines) of one of the speeches from Julius Caesar and the article accompanying the adaptation (if that’s the right word for it) about Rome and current affairs. As we were talking, (cue the theme from ANY Judy Garland, Micky Rooney “Let’s put on a show” movie here.”) One thing led to another, And I had agreed to adapt the play to their level, and do a Shakespeare segment as their drama classes. The 6th grade teacher, not to be outdone, wanted a play for her class as well. Well, why not (cue violins from Psycho shower scene here) … why not a comedy – Midsummer Night’s Dream wasn’t being done anywhere around … so, why not.
The major “why not” was the script(s) … my agreement meant that I not only had to come up with two adaptations of major theatrical works, but would now need to stage them as well. Any student of Theater or Theatrical Literature knows the Julius Caesar text to use – and I don’t think the cover has changed much in over (a certain number of years) … And Midsummer Night’s was available almost anywhere, so I set to work. Interesting enough, it was the adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream that proved to be the most difficult.
As a play that is basically one big “romp” … it is full of sexual innuendos and some not-so innuendo. And taking away completely everything that might ring slightly off would turn the play into a big nothing. Then, there is the magic, fairies and sprites wandering around … this being a school high in the Himalaya Mountains depending on mission boards for teachers, support and some income (to say nothing of a stream of students!!) was somewhat vexing.
The teacher and I worked closely and sometimes contentiously about the wording. The most amusing part was what to do with Bottom’s famous line (after being released from his donkey’s head) that “sometimes a man might still be an ass.” That line went in and out of the script more times than most people breathe in a day!! And was still a problem up to the final rehearsals …
— more to come …
** FYI ~ (My) Weekly Reader has been in continuous publication since 1928 ~ to quote Wikipedia: The first edition was produced for the fourth grade, and appeared in September 1928. Its cover story was entitled “Two Poor Boys Who Made Good Are Now Running for the Highest Office in the World,” and focused on the childhoods of Herbert Hoover and Al Smith.
— and yes, that is a picture of Woodstock School … I just wish it was mine!