Acting Directing Production

Drama Teachers Directing Shakespeare for the First Time

directing shakespeare for the first time
Written by Lindsay Price

If you’re a drama teacher, Shakespeare should make it onto your stage at some point. But what if you’ve hated him since high school yourself? Shakespeare is a great challenge—one that is easier to embrace than skydiving.

On the Drama Teacher Podcast, we heard from two teachers–Heidi Frederic (Romeo & Juliet) and Hilary Martin (Much Ado About Nothing)–about their experiences directing Shakespeare for the first time. They have some great tips to share!

1. Ask for help

Heidi says: ‘I was calling all the troops to help me out. “I cannot do this alone!”’

In this day and age, you don’t have to go it alone. Where it’s a workshop in your area, an experienced teacher at a neighbouring school, or even just online—there are many place to access help. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Hilary notes: ‘Your English teacher is your friend…don’t be afraid to collaborate with the English teacher.’ Call on those who’ve taught Shakespeare in a different context, especially when the students are decoding the script.

2. Consider a variety of script options

There are so many ways to skin the Shakespeare “cat” and make it manageable, especially the first time. Consider:

  • Adaptations
  • Abridged versions
  • One acts vs. full lengths

Here are some Theatrefolk resources and plays to get you started:

3. Find something to connect to and pull it into your comfort zone

When you’re doing something far out of your comfort zone, there are ways to find a little comfort. Find something that you connect to and that you relate to, to make your experience smoother.

For example, Heidi adapted Romeo and Juliet and set it in 1994 Seattle with a grunge theme. She says: ‘It helped the students understand the story and the language a lot better.’

Hilary’s students identified Much Ado as a soap opera, which helped them latch on to how they could act extremes in the play. She notes: ‘The over the top acting will also help the audience, who may not have had a lot of exposure to Shakespeare.’

4. Consider the unique rehearsal process with Shakespeare

Consider pre-rehearsal activities to get students more familiar with the material. In Hilary’s case, her group watched film versions of Much Ado About Nothing, browsed lesson plans, and looked at small parts of the language.

Expect that you (as a director) and the actors will have to look at the language and analyze the script a lot more closely.

Heidi found No Fear Shakespeare books to be helpful, as well as taking the time for a close reading of the material. It’s critical to take an intensive look at the phrasing and wording, so that students aren’t just up there saying the words. They need to know the story and what’s going on.

Hilary relates: ‘The key is going slow.’ She and her students spent a lot of time just reading through the scenes and stopping to analyze whenever the language got confusing.

Click here for a free Shakespeare Character Exercise to help your actors delve into their roles.
Embrace the challenge! Ask yourself: “Why not Shakespeare?” For more inspiration, check out these Drama Teacher Podcasts:

About the author

Lindsay Price