In late January, three GWA teachers collaborated to stage a reinterpreted performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The full-length play also included new, original scenes written by 9th grade students.
Upper School English teachers Charlotte Kimmel and Mandy Friedrichs worked together with drama teacher Devan Hibbard to include the entire 9th grade class in the performance.
Ms. Kimmel and Ms. Hibbard had the idea for the collaborative project after realizing that both drama and English taught Romeo and Juliet to their 9th grade students. They immediately began the conversation about what they could join together to accomplish. Working with Ms. Friedrichs, the teachers met to divide up the scenes in the play and specify the assignments for English and drama. Ms. Hibbard had the idea for her drama students to write “Missing Scenes” from the play. This allowed her students to explore questions they felt were unanswered in Romeo and Juliet or to show a scene they thought was missing from the story. Working in groups, the drama students wrote the dialogue for their new scenes. They could use modern language, although they were encouraged to use a Shakespearean turn of phrase when appropriate. For their English classes, all the 9th grade students were assigned a scene from the play to reinterpret and perform. They used the original script, but they gave the scenes a new setting or genre that highlighted a major theme. Each English class was in charge of a part of the play.
The three teachers met frequently and created shared documents to keep track of the running order for the performance and the details of each scene.
In drama, the students began by brainstorming ideas for the “Missing Scenes” as a class. Ms. Hibbard selected their groups, but the students chose which scene they wanted to create. They wrote their own dialogue, rehearsed their scenes, and performed them in front of the 9th grade class. Ms. Hibbard was available to edit their writing when needed and provided guidance and ideas when the students asked for help, but she was impressed at their independence. The “Missing Scenes” were almost completely student-driven.
Ms. Kimmel stated that in English, “It was really fun to watch the students work together. Some of them really spread their creative wings while they were interpreting the scenes and got excited about editing, costumes, connecting with themes, and more, so that we got to watch them perform really creative connections, like setting the Act 3 fight scene during modern-day war conflicts, changing the feuding families to rival football teams or political parties, and the final scene: ‘Keeping Up with the Capulets.’ It was also a great experience to see my quieter students step up to do their part in a group and perform Shakespearean lines, that are typically way out of their comfort zone, in front of their peers.”
Ms. Hibbard hoped that her students felt “a sense of ownership for their work and pride in what they accomplished.” She thought her students reached a “deeper understanding of the text, themes, and characters” in the play. She added that, “from a performance standpoint, I think they continued to develop their public speaking, and while I wasn't grading them on how good of an actor they were, I think they all developed skills in how to write dialogue that furthered a story and, as an actor, how to better understand a character. Putting on a mostly full-length Shakespearean play is no small feat.”