UD students host Shakespeare workshops for LD students

Nia Huff, Staff Writer

For the next few weeks, Upper Division (UD) students, assisted by English teacher Dr. Adam Casdin, will host Shakespeare Workshops for Lower Division (LD) students. During their frees, UD students will lead 30-minute sessions in which they teach and perform scenes from Romeo and Juliet that have been slightly edited by Kindergarten teacher Nora Meredith, Jared Contant (11) said.  

The initiative began when Head of the Lower Division Deena Neuwirth, voiced her excitement about resuming the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Shakespeare program after two years, Casdin said. As a result, Head Kindergarten teacher Nora Meredith, and the RSC developed a plan for performance-based teaching of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the LD. 

However, because the teachers who had trained with the RSC had either retired or moved, Casdin, who has been working with the RSC for seven years, volunteered to teach those classes, and Neuwirth agreed to let Casdin work in her classrooms, Casdin said. Having heard about a Shakespeare Ambassador program in the UK, he put out a request to UD students and has seven UD students participating in the lessons.

So far, UD students have taught in two fifth grade classes, two fourth grade classes, and will begin teaching third graders next week, Casdin said. This week, they began with the balcony scene, and will cover three other scenes in the coming weeks, he said.

In order to prepare for the workshops, participating students have been meeting every I period to discuss logistics, Clementine Bondor (11) said. 

During meetings, students learned RSC techniques and crafted their own lesson plans, Contant said. “We talked a lot about ways to keep the class engaged and things that work or don’t work in an elementary school setting.” 

“[The training process was] exciting, given the pandemic, to see other actors with their masks off, seeing facial expressions, and doing acting exercises in close proximity to each other,” Jiyon Chatterjee (11) said.

When Bondor was in the LD, she was not exposed to any of Shakespeare’s works until fifth grade, which inspired her to become involved in Casdin’s initiative. Bondor also felt that the initiative was a great way to form connections between the divisions, she said. “I get the bonus experience of reconnecting with some of my old teachers and studying the Shakespearean texts myself,” Bondor said. 

Similar to Bondor, Chatterjee’s own time in the LD inspired him to become involved in the initiative. “Any opportunity to return to the LD is really exciting for me,” he said. “[LD students] are so much more free and open-minded than older students, so teaching them through acting and revealing the text through acting is a really meaningful experience,” Chatterjee said.

Theater teacher Benjamin Posner became involved through his own passion for Shakespeare, he said. He believes that this experience helps UD students utilize skills learned from their RSC training, work with the text themselves, and gain valuable teaching skills. With this work, they are able to share their own passion and enthusiasm with LD students, he said. “They come with this great sense of wonder and fun.

“The RSC at HM program is one of the few that connects all four divisions — Nursery, Lower, Middle, and Upper — and several of our projects have involved students from different divisions performing for one another,” Casdin said.

Contant found his first session to be quite fluid. Students played acting games, ran an abbreviated scene involving as many fifth graders as possible, and ended the session with the students reading a section of the balcony scene, hitting a piece of paper to emphasize one word in each line, he said. 

“The kids were great. Even though they didn’t understand every word of the scene, they definitely understood what was going on, which was pretty cool to watch,” Contant said.  

Fifth grade English teacher Eliana Taub’s students have voiced excitement about the amount of Shakespeare they can understand and how much they relate to the works, Taub said. Additionally, the students in her class were thrilled to have high school visitors and get a sneak peek into what the UD looks like, Taub said.

During the session, Contant felt like a fifth grader again and forgot about the stress junior year brings, while also enjoying seeing the LD after almost seven years, he said.

“The learning goals are that they find the human side of Shakespeare and start exploring the complicated questions the play asks of us about love, relationships, disobeying parents or how we function within the rules of our society,” Casdin said.