To be or not to be: “No-Fear Shakespeare”
November 6, 2019
The Lower School Shakespeare Festival is a favorite tradition at Aspen Country Day School. Four days of performances bring the Bard’s classics to life as children create their own new interpretations of works ranging from Macbeth in Kindergarten to Julius Caesar in Fifth Grade.
Country Day children gain early and deep exposure to this rich cultural legacy, and in particular the complex but intriguing language of the plays. Teachers start by storytelling, sharing the plots in a developmentally appropriate way. “With Macbeth, for example, we explain that he could become king, but his wife wants that crown more than he does,” says drama teacher Marci Sketch. “They pick right up on the themes of power, love, and betrayal. They love the stories, always wanting to know what happens next.”
Next, students dive deep into the language and practice acting out the famous scenes. “Some of the lines we are using, even in Kindergarten, are right from the folio,” Marci says. “They hear the vocabulary and learn to enjoy it, rather than to fear it. It becomes accessible to them, so that when they go on to high school or college, it’s already familiar.”
“There are not many schools that do anything like this,” says music and drama teacher Brandon Joseph. “Maybe one grade will do one play, but not this continuous exposure year after year, and for children beginning at such a young age. It is a real gift to children.”
In a recent rehearsal of Hamlet, children practiced tapping their chests as they recited the famous “to be or not to be” sililoquy. One young performer commented, “Hey, it’s like a heartbeat! Shakespeare is talking to us from his heart.”