Saturday, April 26, 2014

Shakespeare in Shanghai

Just getting caught up on a lot of posts here! One great thing that happened in the past few months, back in December, was the overnight field trip we took with the junior AP English class to Shanghai, in order to see a live performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth, produced by TNT Theatre Britain. We'd also done this the year before, with another class, in order to see King Lear. Anyway, it was the first live play the kids had seen, and we had a blast. Fellow teachers Gerry and Zhangyan (plus Zhangyan's husband), all helped to chaperone the event.

The month before the show, we began reading and studying Macbeth. We read slowly and in-depth, in class, in order for students to understand the play--it's one thing to have English-speaking Western kids read Shakespeare, but to have Chinese students read it, in a second language, is an entirely different ballgame. They were all mostly terrified of trying to read Shakespeare, and baffled by the Elizabethan English, but with practice and patience, I walked them through it. Students first chose character names out of a hat--one student would get Macbeth, one Macduff, etc.--which they were to "adopt", to study their character's lines, and understand their motivations. This made the study a little more personal. Every day we read scenes, with each student reading the part of their character, and me helping to interpret difficult sections. We discussed plot events, themes, historical and mythical allusions, and more, and watched scene videos from a variety of different productions over the years. The students, of course, LOVED the witches (who doesn't, really?). Banquo's ghost scene was also a big hit. After reading the play, students were required to write four page essays on a thematic element, and then we watched the 2010 Macbeth, with Patrick Stewart in the lead role. The biggest thrill for me, however, was that day in class when we finished reading it--that fantastic final scene of Macbeth's death at the hands of Macduff, and the crowning of Malcolm--when the students broke into loud applause. Whether they were applauding the scene, applauding themselves for reading it, or just applauding because it was over, it didn't matter--we'd all made it through, together. I was so proud of them. What better way to celebrate than to attend a live showing? 
The students' excitement was palpable even on the bus to Shanghai, a couple of hours away. We all checked into the hotel after arriving, then made our way to dinner, and then on to the Lyceum Theater. I'd been to the Lyceum the year before, for King Lear, so I knew the students would be dazzled by the elaborate (yet intimate) playhouse, with its marble entry, chandeliers, winding staircases up to the balcony level, and red velvet chairs. The place was teeming with theater-goers, and we made our way through them to our reserved row of seats, where I had the students turn off their cell phones. Once the play began, the students were hooked. Shakespeare's plays just come alive on stage, and this production of Macbeth was no exception. I looked down the row to see all my students leaning forward, in rapt attention, and I knew, this was an experience they would never forget. 

Here are some photos:

Excitable bus ride to Shanghai

Chaperones: Gerry, Tony, and Zhangyan

TNT Theatre Britain--they put on a helluva show

Outside the theater--it was a heavy smog day (note the masks)

The Lyceum Theater, Shanghai

Happy students, just before the show

Gerry and students, before the show

The play was fabulous, of course. The students really loved the presentation of the witches as nature spirits (more in keeping with the original idea in Holinshed's Chronicles), and their foresty costumes. They laughed hysterically at the drunk porter's bawdy antics, and were completely mesmerized by Lady Macbeth's bloody performance and subsequent sleepwalking scene. After, they pointed out inconsistencies between the script and the performance (smart kiddos, these!). Suffice it to say, the field trip was a success.

This has been one of the best ideas I've implemented into my syllabus--making the study of a Shakespeare play AN EVENT, as meaningful and memorable for me as it is for the students, and I have every intention of doing it again next year. Fingers crossed that Hamlet is next--that's my favorite.


  1. Bless you for meaningful teaching, for safe bus trips, for telling us about it.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I've been gone for a really long time, so I hope all these blog updates aren't clogging up your newsfeed. Cheers, Lauren