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De File - Learning To Like Shakespeare
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Learning To Like Shakespeare
Two summers ago Skylar, who has often been in classes more advanced than her age, took the week-long camp session for ninth through twelfth graders at Live Theater Workshop here in Tucson. That experience was very beneficial for her from my perspective as a parent, but she struggled at the time with the more intense instruction -- she wasn't used to harsh criticism, even when it was directed at others -- and dealing with a passel of teenagers whose interests and mode of interacting were new to her and a little shocking. Her mom and I loved the resulting performance, which was very well done, but Skylar decided that she didn't want to take the same class last summer. This time around, though, she was eager to partake. After all, she now looks and acts like a teenager these days!

I was worried, given the extreme "night owl" ways she has adopted during her break from school, that the 8-5 format, which requires her to get up before 7 each morning, might annoy her too much to enjoy the camp. But she managed pretty well overall, even if she was a bit late some days. And she had a great time, despite the fact that this particular camp's co-directors didn't seem quite as savvy at dealing with her age group as other instructors she has had over the years. Theatrical games are a big part of these camp sessions, for example, and she missed some of her favorites from previous occasions. Still, they did a good job with the play itself, which is the main thing, and obviously helped to sustain a positive vibe that made the social aspects of the camp shine.

This was all the more impressive because they had decided to do a substantially abbreviated but still challenging version of The Taming of the Shrew. While Skylar had taken part in a humorous melange of Shakespeare plays a few years back, this was the first time she had to confront Elizabethan language at length in a context where making it comprehensible was crucial. Predictably, being the quick-to-pass-judgment teen that she is, she took issue with its antiquated qualities, railing at the "'thous' and 'thees'" and the unrealistic aspect to iambic pentameter. Both her mother and I tried to get her to see the positives, though, in working with a difficult text. As I pointed out to her, it's also the case that the very things that make Shakespeare's use of language alienating for contemporary readers are what make it easier to memorize.

Skylar eventually came around. And it was clear, watching yesterday's performance, that she really enjoyed herself. Her voice rang out strong and impressively clear as she declaimed the lines of her character Hortensio. She made the audience laugh and cut a fine figure in the process. Here she is delivering her short monologue, in which she forswears Kate's sister Bianca for the rich widow:

Skylar as Hortensio in the Live Theater Workshop summer camp performance of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew on Friday, July 13th 2012

Afterwards, she changed into her tight-fitting new lace dress from H&M backstage -- no doubt because she wanted to show off the fruits of all her hard work at the gym -- and joined her mother and me for a delightful dinner at the Cup Café at the Hotel Congress to celebrate, followed by a family outing to Bookmans on Speedway and then the requisite trip to the "hood gym" after that with her mom.

During dinner, we all talked about the play, among other things. Skylar revealed that she had been unsure whether the risqué puns she had detected in Shakespeare's language would have meant the same things in 1600 as they do today and, further, whether one could be justified in presuming them to have been put there intentionally. Her mother and I assured her that, yes, they surely meant the same things then that they do now and that Shakespeare was notorious for putting that kind of salty content into his plays and not just in his comedies, either. This response clearly made Skylar think back on The Taming of the Shrew in a new, more favorable light and, I hope, inspired her to find the fun in the next plays of his that she will encounter.

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alsoname From: alsoname Date: July 14th, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
being the quick-to-pass-judgment teen that she is, she took issue with its antiquated qualities, railing at the "'thous' and 'thees'" and the unrealistic aspect to iambic pentameter.

Hah! That sentence did not end up where I thought it would. When I read, "she took issue with," I thought of myself when I was in the 10th grade, reading Taming of the Shrew and arguing with my English teacher that is was sexist and anti-feminist. If I dig around I can probably even find the papers I wrote about my thoughts, replete with my teacher's dissenting rebuttals written in the margin.

I never learned to like Shakespeare! It's true that his language was alienating to me, and I'm sure that didn't help me to cultivate an appreciation.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 17th, 2012 03:06 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Shakespeare certainly isn't for everyone. But I hope, given Skylar's proclivity for all things literary, that she finds plenty to enjoy in his work.

I suppose Taming of the Shrew is sexist through and through. I had a funny thought, though, watching a nearly all-girl troupe perform a play that was first performed by men in and out of drag: it's about the pleasure of role-playing, to a degree. That's not to say that it can't be taken and used perniciously. It certainly has. That said, there's a glee to acting out the roles, if they aren't taken as reflections of identity in an essentialist sense.
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Charlie Bertsch
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You're looking at content from my Live Journal, which I have been keeping since 2003. I consider it a personal blog, though it lacks stream-of-consciousness revelations that typify that genre.

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