The actors in the Actors' Shakespeare Project (ASP) know what students think of Shakespeare. They hear it all the time when they visit schools.
"We ask them at the beginning," says Mara Sidmore, who runs the Boston-based troupe’s education programs. “We say, ‘When I say Shakespeare, you say ... ?' And we turn it into a kind of a call-and-response thing, and we hear things like ‘Dead!’ ‘White guy!' You know. ‘Who cares!’ ”
Sidmore says kids have trouble with Shakespeare when they only read his plays.
"There is some understanding that just comes by doing, rather than analyzing or talking about," she says. "And doing is what theater artists do."
So ASP encourages teachers to have kids act—not just read.
"Once they have the text in their mouth from the perspective of a character, everything is going to make sense to them," Sidmore explains. "The faster we get them into the scenes, the more they suddenly say, ‘Oh, OK, that's why so-and-so's fighting with so-and-so.’ "
Sidmore and other members of the troupe work with teachers in an annual week-long workshop. There, about 20 teachers at a time learn acting, vocal and dance techniques. They also explore ways to connect these artistic approaches to the curriculum standards they’re expected to meet.