As mentioned in last week’s post about World Book Night, the California Shakespeare Ensemble—who has been partnering with Pasadena LEARNS—spent the evening of April 23rd with John Muir High School students who have joined the after school Drama club.
HP: What was the idea behind your involvement with World Book Night and the John Muir High School students in the after school Drama Club?
BE: The idea was to introduce the students to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The sonnets are dense and sometimes without the context of a play it takes a couple readings of each sonnet to get what’s going on.
HP: How did you approach the evening? What were you hoping to impart?
BE: As the coordinator of this little bit of World Book Night, I didn’t try to bring much of an agenda; I’ve found you can step into Shakespeare’s work and if you’re honestly keeping your eyes peeled, the agenda is there to find. I also remembered times when I was a student and people tried to force an agenda on me when reading poetry. I’m much more a fan of going on a journey to find out what something’s about than embarking on a lecture.
We took some time to read through the sonnets separately so each student could move at their own pace. Each student chose a sonnet or two, and then we just started to read them out loud. Sometimes just speaking Shakespeare’s words can bring a new and surprising level of understanding, and that definitely happened with the students on World Book Night. They started coming up with ideas about who each sonnet is about, what the character’s situation is, and started to relate the poems to contemporary issues.
HP: How did the students react?
BE: The students were fantastic! Of course, there’s always the frustration of encountering words that haven’t been in circulation for a few centuries. Not only that, for many of them, this was their first time reading the sonnets, let alone reading them out loud. I was impressed with how much they were able to make the words real, and make their own context for the experiences therein.
As far as being a part of WBN, we’ve just learned that Pasadena LEARNS is being forced to cut back its programming for this semester—several after school arts programs just lost their funding, including ours—and there’s nothing like participating in a world-wide event to help regain a feeling of purpose.