Advanced Drama’s annual Shakespeare showcase
Class shifts focus from two longer performances to several scenes from a variety of plays
On March 1, the Advanced Drama class performed scenes from Shakespeare classics like “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” “Hamlet” and “12th Night.” The student-run showcase of Shakespearean scenes requires students to either direct or act in one of the five scenes and perform each of the scenes during all seven periods throughout the day on Friday.
Drama teacher Jeffrey Adams implemented a slight change in moving from two main scenes to five smaller scenes from multiple plays due to time limitations. The students had a month to prepare, including blocking, memorizing lines, adjusting lighting and costuming.
“What I found in watching those was that it was a great experience for them to kind of dive into a large piece like that, but it was a lot for student directors to put on a full show in the time that they had to prepare for it,” Adams said. “My goal this year was to break it down a little bit into smaller scenes. That way they get to tackle more material that way.”
The Shakespeare showcase aligns with the Freshman Literature and Writing classes’ exploration of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Adams also teaches his Beginning Drama classes Shakespearean scenes and has them perform their own modern concepts of the scenes.
“We talked about Shakespeare, we’ve talked about ancient Greek theatre and we talked about commedia dell’arte [in Beginning Drama],” Adams said. “Each of those are connected to a project or writing project. Right now they’re taking Shakespeare scenes that I assign and then they’re modernizing those in their own words to kind of today contemporary language.”
Adams believes this also helps more students try directing because there are more opportunities to direct one of the smaller scenes, rather than just two large ones. Adams first introduced directing in the first semester. For this showcase, he let anyone who wanted to direct, but would pick a random scene and set of actors to work with for a month before performing
“There’s multiple student directors,” Adams said. “If they find a passion for directing, they’re able to take on these projects the second semester. It’s all student-led, student-directed projects and by breaking it down into smaller scenes, the students are able to focus more on what they’re saying and relationships between the characters and hopefully accomplishing more clarity in terms of the story.”
Sophomore Kai Xiao directed the last performance of the showcase, a scene from “Hamlet.” Xiao says he prefers a smaller scene, as it helps with the communication between the director and actors.
“A benefit of working with a smaller cast of people is that it’s easier to direct. It’s easier to get to know what their strengths and weaknesses are and what works for them,“ Xiao said. “But as a whole, I think it was more chaotic because they are smaller scenes, it was harder for a lot of people to take it as serious as had been in the past. That may have [created] some small hiccups.”
Sophomore Sachi Roy directed a scene from “12th Night” and found that a larger performance of her scene would be difficult for her to execute. She wanted to portray the play in a 1960s setting, as women’s equal pay and crossdressing are major themes of the scene. Roy wanted the scene to be focused on the actor’s struggles that led her to crossdress, which she thinks would have been “tossed aside” if the scene were longer.
“As a director, you can think about more things, think about more conceptual ideas, think about what makes your scene different than other versions of it,” Roy said. “When you’re given the full package, the full play, there’s not much you can do to make it different from others, except for maybe props.”
Unable to change the scripts themselves, both directors say they used a variety of elements to portray a specific time, theme and enhance their scenes. For Xiao, he focused on the use of costumes and a spotlight in his performance.
“I tried my best to influence what little lighting that I could understand,” Xiao said. “[With] costumes, I definitely tried to go for a black and white only theme. There were some hiccups with costuming, but I tried to only go for black and white monochrome colors on my cast, just to make it look more old fashioned and a detective style.”
Roy used her actors’ costumes to help structure the scene in a communicative way for the audience to follow. With the backstory missing in a scene taken from an entire play, Roy thought of details like costuming a black dress to show that one character had just been to a funeral, although not stated in the scene.
“I had Kayla wear a black dress because she was mourning for the death of someone,” Roy said. “Her maid was wearing more of business attire from that time. And then obviously, the main girl was very stereotypical 1960s clothes, like what you would get at a costume store because I wanted to show how it wasn’t really authentic. Her style wasn’t what a man would actually wear; it was more just like a copy of what they’ve seen other men wear.”
Advanced Drama’s next unit will introduce musicals, which aligns with the Advanced Drama Honors musical that is student produced every year. Xiao hopes to continue directing for both.
“Next year, we have a student produced musical that’s entirely just worked on in class,” Xiao said. “I hope that I’ll be able to direct that, but again, that’s up to Mr. Adams. Directing a musical seems like a fun experience just because there is so much more choreography and vocal choices that goes into it compared to just a play.”