Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tableau Vivant and Romeo and Juliet

I've used the Shakespeare Set Free guides for years, but I've always shied away from the Tableu Vivant ("Living Pictures") activity described in there. The activity basically asks students to present a series of still photographs of a scene by editing down Shakespeare's lines to their bones, then setting themselves in a formation, having one actor read his line and make a movement while the other actors are frozen, then pause two seconds, and continue on through the scene. I didn't really get it until this summer, when we did it as part of our Teaching Shakespeare Institute.

That gave me the confidence to do this sort of activity, and I did it today - exactly as described in the guide, for Act 3.1. It's difficult to do things like this in my small, overcrowded classroom, and I sometimes worry about making too much noise, but was able to find nooks and crannies around my corner of the hallway to put groups of kids in. And today's class was just amazing.

The things I heard the kids saying, the arguments they were having - "No, he wouldn't do that, dummy! He just killed his best friend!" and "We can't take that line out, it wouldn't make sense anymore, nahmean?" - really showed them jumping into the text and getting it.

I've been battling kids throughout the unit who just give up with this language. "It's too hard," they complain, and wait for me to explain it. And the unit hasn't gone as remarkably as I would have hoped, mostly because of the timing and lack of continuity I seem to be having. But, wow, today was awesome. It is 100% clear to me that the kids are getting it.

Tomorrow are the performances of the living pictures. I guess that will be the true assessment. But, wow, the conversations and movements I saw certainly suggest an understanding that rote 'question and answer' would not have.

It was also pretty cool that I posted an update on Facebook tonight about the success of the Tableau Vivant, and, within a few minutes, a couple of my TSI colleagues had commented on my status. I've been a little disappointed with sort of losing touch with almost everyone so quickly into the busy-ness of our careers, so that was really cool. I really wish I could afford to get myself down to San Antonio for NCTE next month, but, alas, I won't be able to pull that one off this year in the midst of new car and new house buying.

Tomorrow, by the way, the entire English Department at our school is dressing like characters from Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, I'm whiny, boring Romeo, but that's okay; it's going to be a fun day.


HappyChyck said...

I'm glad to hear you liked this activity. I tried it a few times with R&J with much success, and last year I used it with my middle schoolers and Twelfth Night. It's hard to explain at first, but once they catch on, they do a great job with it! Great way to get the students on their feet without having to act out a whole scene. The students have to get to the meat of the lines, so they DO understand the scene by the time they finish.

Isn't this about the time you think you might have to poke your eyes out with daggers before the R&J unit is over? It was for me, anyway. This particular activity rejuvenates!

jackie said...

I have seen that activity described too before (I teach Hamlet and Macbeth) and always have the same fears as you! Maybe I will give it a try with my ninth graders in the spring when we do Macbeth.