Advancing Faculty Leadership / Globe Trotting

“It would be an overstatement to say that I learned how to act, but I learned about how to do it...”

– abby laber

A summer sabbatical for teachers teaching Shakespeare

Plummet into the Elizabethan era of Shakespeare’s performances, fall through the heavens of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and land on the stage. Hell lies below you, next to you are the engaged and brawling townspeople, and in front of you sit the wealthy, hiding from the sun under the Globe’s small roof. This past summer, English teacher Abby Laber used her summer sabbatical to experience the Globe Theatre’s many wonders, and rediscover how to absorb and teach Shakespeare.

Laber joined 24 other American teachers attending a three-week class at the Globe called Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance. The group met with three main classroom teachers: two focused on acting, and one focused on how to bring the lessons back to the teachers’ classrooms. Rather than sitting in a chair to read the text, Laber and her fellow teachers learned to feel the meter, movement, and conflict within it. “That turned out to be a really powerful way to understand the very kinds of things that English teachers like me have often tried to teach,” Laber says.

As a part of the program, the group learned and performed scenes from Julius Caesar on the Globe stage. To prepare for the performance, they had lessons with the professionals who train actors in dance, voice, and speech at the Globe. One movement instructor, for example, taught the group “how to feel iambic pentameter,” Laber says. “It would be an overstatement to say that I learned how to [act], but I learned about how to do it,” she laughs.

Laber hopes to bring back to CA a new way of reading, performing, and understanding the characters, themes, emotions, and rhythms in Shakespeare and other texts. One technique she might use involves playing games to get access to the emotional aspects of a scene, and then using these discoveries to get inside the poetry. For example, she might address an argument between Beatrice and Benedict in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing like this: Instead of just giving them the script, she might ask them to work in pairs. “One person in the pair is going to want to make eye contact, and the other person in the pair is going to refuse to make eye contact. Go. Okay, you’re going to argue now. One of you is going to say yes, one of you is going to say no. Go. And that’s when you might give [the students a reduced version of] the text where the fight is very vivid,” she says.

Overall, Laber had a fantastic experience that stemmed from both the wonderful teachers and her open attitude. From the beginning, she decided that she would just “embrace the fact that I don’t know anything and just do it!”