“Living the Lines”
The first time I attempted to teach Romeo and Juliet, it took four months to complete. When I say four months, I truly mean four entirely long, miserable, and tedious months. Did the students learn about Shakespeare? Sure. Did they learn about the story and reading in general? Yes. Did they walk away from the experience enlightened and impassioned? Definitely not. In fact, my previous students still whine about Shakespeare to this day. It felt very much like failure to say the least.
This time was different.
Two weeks into our unit, I walked into class and dumped three bags full of art supplies across a row of desks determined to make a change. Glitter glue, sequins, tissue paper, paint brushes, buttons, and ribbons littered the tables as my students stared at me as if I were crazy.
When I told them we were going to be guests at the Capulet ball, performing a traditional Renaissance dance and having a feast, their level of excitement mirrored my masked terror. While I knew that producing the Capulet ball, “living the lines” so to speak, would be valuable and integral to students feeling connected to the story, I also knew I was taking a massive risk. I have no formal training or experience what-so-ever in drama (minus three short workshops I attended last year); yet, here I was jumping into a unit full of dramatic inquiry strategies, and teaching my students a Renaissance dance, too!
For the next five days, we moved at warp speed:
Students poured all of their energy into reading lines at home because they knew if they were not prepared by Friday, we would have no ball to produce. For the first time, I watched as students completed their homework without excessive fuss and came to class on time. Each student designed a mask which would be worn to the ball, and while some struggled to cut eye holes, others crafted their masks into beautiful works of art. By day three, we were stumbling around our make-shift dance hall, holding hands, and laughing at our sad attempts to choreograph a dance worthy of recording and showing friends and family. Nevertheless, when Friday came, students strutted into the classroom laden with crockpots, chip bags, taco dip, sparkling cider, and plastic wine flutes. We were ready.
While the lines were occasionally emphasized incorrectly, cider was spilt, and our dance steps did not always line up with the music, the end result was certainly not a failure.
This time around, students walked away from Act 2 truly understanding the emotions and motivations of each of the characters and not hating the story. In fact, this crazy undertaking ended up being the one activity that truly unified our classes and encouraged students to feel safe in taking risks for the remainder of the unit and year.
Sometimes, I guess, what seems crazy is not so crazy after all.