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Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players

Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players

5.0 1
by Elizabeth Weinstein, Anna Dallam (Illustrator)

Does your class or children's group need a jump start in producing thrilling, engrossing, lively theater?

Joy, greed, love, fear, and gluttony are just a few of the elements woven into Shakespeare's plays; these timeless topics provide endless fascination for children of any age. In Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players, Elizabeth


Does your class or children's group need a jump start in producing thrilling, engrossing, lively theater?

Joy, greed, love, fear, and gluttony are just a few of the elements woven into Shakespeare's plays; these timeless topics provide endless fascination for children of any age. In Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players, Elizabeth Weinstein retains the beauty of Shakespeare's original language and the sheer fun of acting onstage, while substantially shortening and adapting six plays for children ages eight to thirteen, including:

A Midsummer Night's Dream
King Henry IV, Part I
Twelfth Night
Romeo and Juliet
The Tempest

These forty-minute scripts come with an arsenal of practical suggestions for simple productions. Teachers and parents will find ideas for easy back-of-the-closet costume pieces, as well as for sets, props, and music. Historical and literary background is also provided.

Editorial Reviews

Midwest Book Review
It's never too early to introduce children to the greatness that is Shakespeare's theatre. "Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players" is a collection of six scripts adapted and abridged for children between the ages of eight and thirteen; each can be executed in roughly forty minutes of stage time, while retaining the heart and soul of the stories as well as the bard's original poetic language. "Shakespeare with Children" is a must for any drama teacher looking to impart something special.

Product Details

Smith & Kraus, Inc.
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8.40(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt


Why Perform Classroom Plays?

If you're holding this book open and reading these words, chances are you have already made the leap into classroom theater with your elementary- or middle-school students. Or you are part of a community youth theater, a home-schooling group, or a summer camp that offers drama. If so, you've already seen how readily children embark on play production. You see the connections between acting and reading, writing, social studies, art, music, even science, as students explore ideas from different times and different worlds.

Perhaps your school district already sponsors periodic field trips to local theaters, brings in professional actors for special performances, or provides videos of stage productions for your students. Attending plays and watching actors perform has a lot of value, and most educators appreciate these cultural offerings. In that case, it should be an easy step to convince your principal or co-teachers that rehearsing and performing drama is a profitable way to spend precious classroom hours, disguised as a fun activity.

Having students create their own theatrical performance is entirely different from having them watch it. It is an activity in which every one of your students can participate, under your guidance and by your timetable. It costs virtually nothing and requires no tickets, no special buses, no chaperones, and little if any technology. All students can act, regardless of how proficient their reading is-and it is the rare child who doesn't want to be onstage at least for a few minutes. Letting children perform in short plays and inviting them to watch their classmates perform focusestheir energy and sparks excitement in ways that listening to stories or watching professionals cannot do. Words can unexpectedly come alive for the child who speaks them. A character who is "silly" or "scary" on the page becomes meaningful when a child dresses up and becomes that character herself. A silky polyester blouse that belonged to Grandma, a neighbor's cape from last Halloween, and a pair of big sister's leggings suddenly becomes a costume, and the child wearing that costume walks out and feels the magic.

And Why Shakespeare?

Joy, greed, love, jealousy, sadness, gluttony, fear, playfulness, curiosity, and giddy delight: These are some of the human emotions and conditions reflected in Shakespeare's characters. What child has not felt all of them by a very young age? Trickery and practical joking, murder, celebration, revenge, war, poisoning, madness, and courtship: These are all woven into Shakespeare's dramas, and they fascinate children. Plus, in Shakespeare's plays, these emotions and themes are meant to be acted out-not simply read or passively studied. Most children learn best by doing, and acting lets kids "own" the speech and the rhythm, the humor and the pathos.

By introducing William Shakespeare to elementary-school students, you are giving them a huge gift. Most children have heard the word "Shakespeare"-such is the power of his immortality. If older siblings or friends have attended a Shakespeare play, acted in one, or read one in school, your students will already associate Shakespeare with "the big kids" or with adults. And they will be ready to learn who he was and what he was all about. They will be excited to learn that Shakespeare wrote more varied, complex, and poetic plays than anyone before or since. They will be impressed that Elizabethan theater took the place of television, the Internet, movies, and magazines for thousands of ordinary people. You can emphasize that Shakespeare was a very real person who cared deeply about perfecting his craft.

Working with fourth and fifth graders in my own local school brought me into a new relationship with these plays. I immediately shed the pretensions of a literature student and an educated theatergoer and felt part of a completely absorbing learning experience. Let me put that another way: It was so much fun! My own delight in Shakespeare grew when I watched fourth graders speak his lines and heard them chat confidently offstage about the dilemmas of his characters Lysander and Hermia, Puck, Romeo, and Lady Macbeth.
Producing Shakespeare with children, we learn or relearn what the plays are about and what their purpose is, namely to remind us of our history and our common humanity, to instruct, and to entertain-all at the same time.

Practical Matters

How long will it take you to produce one of these plays? It depends. If you are in a school setting and have a half-hour to forty-five-minute reading period once a day, then you will probably need at least three weeks. Count in time for reading aloud a story version of the play, learning some background, and reading the script aloud as a group before the play is cast. If you have longer stretches in which to rehearse, you may be able to produce the play in less time, but most children can't rehearse for hours on end.

I have called these productions "classroom theater" because I hope educators realize that a formal stage is not a requirement. (Some teachers may not even stage them at all, but might assign parts and use the script as a read-aloud exercise in class.) Of course it is nice to have the option of using an auditorium, gym, or cafeteria, but you can rehearse them-and even perform them-in a classroom or outside on the playground.

Stage directions should be as simple as you can make them, and children will ignore many of your suggestions. That's all right. Your goal should be to get them to come forward and say their lines clearly and with emotion and to relate to the other characters in the scene. With some groups the biggest issue is volume. The easiest way to deal with the problem of inaudible lines is to ask those children who aren't acting in a particular scene to watch their fellow performers from the back of the room. If they can't hear, an audience won't be able to hear either.

Shakespeare is in the public domain, so we can edit his work without receiving permission. I have substantially adapted these plays, and they are best suited for children up to the age of about twelve. But while I have shortened speeches and cut out whole scenes and characters, I've tried hard to keep the lines spoken by your students pure Shakespeare. That is, the words spoken trippingly on their tongues are the ones the Bard himself wrote.

There just are not as many of them.

The narrator is the link between the audience and the action onstage. In one production I assisted, we had a different narrator for each act of the play, and the new narrator entered and announced, "Act I" or "Act II." (Note that any role can be double-cast, not just the narrator-that is, assigned to more than one child.)

While the characters rarely have more than five lines to speak at a time, the narrators may have more because they can read their parts. The narrators move the plot along by announcing action that will take place or by summing up what has just taken place-in case the audience misses something. They are vital, and it's important to give these parts to able readers with strong voices.

There are music, set, prop, and costume suggestions included, but feel free to do things your way. Music is an invaluable addition to these plays. Shakespeare incorporated music freely, and productions of his comedies and romances always included dance as well. Use student musicians to play a tune-any tune-at intervals or between acts. If this isn't possible, recorded music will also add depth and beauty to your performance. The music I've cited is generally period music (Renaissance) or music with a period sound. Feel free to be creative in your choices. You will be in good company if you experiment with rock, folk, pop, or classical music for your production.

A painted backdrop or two-castle, forest, battlefield-is wonderful, and some children prefer behind-the-scenes work. Backdrops aren't essential, but many children find it easier to grasp a different place and time when there is visual evidence. Scenery can be reused for years if it is fairly generic.

Costumes can be as simple as T-shirts, scarves, nightgowns, and leggings. Check out thrift stores, backs of closets, and friends' attics. Please don't allow one or two diligent parents to sew costumes for everyone. It simply is not necessary.

One last thing: I urge you, if you can possibly take the time, to read the original play yourself and share with your students some of what you learned. Yes, your goal is to produce a simple production with children. But reading the original play and referring to some of the helpful notes and definitions included in any decent text will give you a much more solid background, and it will increase your confidence as the play's director.

What People are Saying About This

Ronald Bell

"Ms. Weinstein's book is a must for every creative elementary classroom. She gives you all the tools you need to build a beautiful production of six different Shakespearean classics including comedy (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, The Tempest), tragedy (Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet), and history (King Henry IV, Part I). The book provides a detailed blueprint that includes a synopsis and ideas for music, props, backdrops, and costumes, as well as a hard-to-Pnd pronunciation key for each character. A great gift for teachers that will benefit their students forever."--(Ronald Bell, Artistic Director, Syracuse Shakespeare Festival)

Bruce Coville

"Having seen children as young as second grade perform adaptations of my own Shakespeare picture books, I know how eagerly and joyfully they can fling themselves into doing this. Now Elizabeth Weinstein has created an amazing resource for teachers who want to introduce their own students to the richness and wonder of the Bard. Her beautifully adapted texts are especially well served by the wonderfully useful suggestions for staging and music. Huzzah for shakespeare with children!"--(Bruce Coville, Author of William Shakespeare's Hamlet (and other Shakespeare picture books), My Teacher Is an Alien, Song of the Wanderer, and many other books for children)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Weinstein lives with her husband and two children in Tully, New York, where she first developed and wrote these scripts for local elementary school productions. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Carleton College and a master's degree in English from the University of Minnesota, and writes both fiction and nonfiction.

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Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
LibE More than 1 year ago
I think this book will become a well-used treasure in my classroom. I like that the adaptations use the language right from the original texts, so the students will have an authentic Sheakepeare experience. Ms. Weinstein has done a wonderful job making the storylines understandable while remaining true to the plots in Shakespeare's versions. I am grateful for the historical background she provides so that I don't have to dig it up myself. Putting on a classroom play can be a big undertaking, but this book includes everything I need to make it do-able--staging, costume, and music suggestions. This is just the kind of book I love to find, because it makes teaching fun for me and learning fun for my students.