The Play's the Thing: Breathing Life Into Shakespeare

Six professional actors from the Lenox, MA, based Shakespeare & Company visited Taft for a full day of hands-on workshops built on the "classical ideals and visceral experience of Shakespeare's work: collaboration, commitment to language, physical prowess, and the embodied voice." They were part of Taft's monthlong immersive Shakespearean study, and gave students the opportunity to lift the Bard's words from the page, breathing new life into the texts through voice and movement.

"The workshops were designed to provide background for understanding the work as performance, not simply as literature," notes English Department Head Ken Hincker. "Shakespeare's work was created to be performed and to be seen. Performing it both deepens understanding and makes it more accessible."

Each workshop began with a series of group exercises, through which students explored the synergy of word and movement—how volume, intonation, and word choice complement posture, reflect energy, affect intent, and shape interpretation. Participants married battle stances with battle cries, and proclaimed love and compassion with open arms, and on bended knee. As each session progressed, performance groups grew smaller, culminating with small group interpretations of scenes from MacbethThe Taming of the Shrew, and Othello. Each participant delivered at least one line from the play.

"Approaching the text in this way asks students to see it as more than just words on a page," says Hincker. "What do these words mean? Who are they directed to? What feelings are behind those words?"

Which was exactly what Ellie Ketchum '20 took away from the experience.

 "Sometimes when you read you hear the words in your mind in just one voice or just one tone," says Ellie. "Performing in this way not only brings in emotion, it brings perspective. Performing required me to think more deeply about the meaning of each line, and how best to convey that." 

Shakespeare & Company's visit to Taft concluded with an evening performance of The Taming of the Shrew on stage in Bingham Auditorium, which, says Hincker, challenged students to examine their understanding of important social issues, while sparking "fruitful conversations about gender, marriage, and violence" in English classes this week.

And while some students may bring their workshop training to Taft's annual Lower Mid Macbeth and Mid Sonnet Recitation Competitions in February, Hincker notes that the goal of the programming was much simpler: 

"I hope that students discover something new—that they see Shakespeare in a new light, and come away energized by that revelation."

Shakespeare & Company delivers a sustainable, integrated, and vital program of performance, training, and education for the audience, the artist, the Company, and the community. Learn more at shakespeare.org