Charles Wright Academy English teacher Lydia Roberts, who teaches ninth grade in the Upper School and seventh grade in the Middle School, shares her perspective on how the annual field trip to Ashland, Ore., for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the perfect experiential education field trip to reinforce lessons learned in the classroom.
We talk a lot about interpretation when we are studying any play. What would their interpretation be of a scene if they were the director and/or actor of a particular show? What exactly is being conveyed? Are the words being said and the subtext or underlying meaning of what is being said the same things? Who has the most power? Who thinks they have the most power? What choices would they make to demonstrate these things?
For our students to then be able to see the play and consider the choices and the interpretation that this particular director and cast had is priceless! The Oregon Shakespeare Festival really demonstrates that the themes and conflicts are universal, even though these words are hundreds of years old and from a time that is so different from ours in so many ways. It also allows them to see that there is no real right or wrong way to “do” Shakespeare (or, at least, to develop an opinion about that—and some of them feel very strongly that there is a right or wrong way)!
Many of our kids think of “drama” and theater only in terms of being an actor. The trip to Ashland lets them experience so much more than that. Do they get to see world-class thespians? Of course! They get to work one-on-one with them and discuss their craft, too. However, they also get to meet and talk with stage managers; work on make-up, costuming, lights, and props; and consider the elements that go into many of the various aspects that are required for building a show and being involved in repertory theater. It provides a remarkable amount of exposure that they may never have had an opportunity to experience otherwise.
In seventh grade English, we talk a lot about life—real life and the diverse experiences that we all have. While some may see Shakespeare’s texts as one of the “sacred cows” that perpetuates the notion that knowledge and happenings of white, male, cisgendered heterosexuals are the only ones that matter, the work done at OSF turns that idea on its head. This is one of the aspects of taking classes to OSF that I appreciate immensely because it supports my curriculum and honestly opens people up to having more of an accurate and healthy view of the world. We have seen Julius Caesar—one of the most powerful leaders and most brilliant of military strategists—played by a female. The ghost of Hamlet’s father was deaf and communicated with his son through ASL, which truly gave the audience a sense of the uncertainty Hamlet surely faced! (Was his father really there? What did he really say, and was Hamlet interpreting his words correctly? Could Hamlet’s purported knowledge of what was going on be trusted?) “Romeo and Juliet” demonstrated the strain between families of Spanish and Mexican aristocracy in 1840s California on the verge of the Mexican-American War.
After seeing the wonderfully multicultural cast of ”Much Ado about Nothing,” one of my students (a student of color) said, “I didn’t know theater could be so diverse,” in such a tone of wonder. His eyes were opened to the fact that the theater and the classics also belong to him and other people who look like him. That alone says it all for me!