Teens Learn About Themselves Through Shakespeare

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It’s part of a program to keep The Bard’s work alive in local schools – a partnership between the Mondavi Center at UC Davis and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. The students recently got some coaching from a Globe actor. And they came away with more than just acting techniques. They got a lesson in self-awareness.   

“Go! Stop. Clap. Clap, clap. Jump, jump, jump. Go.” 

So what do a dozen teenagers romping across a theater stage have to do with Shakespeare? 

“My whole approach has always been Shakespeare on my feet.” 

That’s Adam Coleman. He’s the senior practitioner for Globe Education – the instructional wing of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. He’s putting these kids through a warm-up exercise designed to loosen them up…and wake up their right and left brain activity. 

"Clap. Clap, jump. Jump, clap…….”  

Coleman is muscular with a shaved head. He’s wearing a form-fitting yellow t-shirt and cargo shorts. On this day, he’s at San Juan High School in Citrus Heights…one of more than a dozen Sacramento area schools he recently visited. Coleman says getting these kids out of the classroom and up on stage helps them grasp Shakespeare’s cumbersome language.   

“Once they’re on their feet moving the character physically, emotionally, spiritually and the thoughts of the character beginning to reveal, the language then sort of bit by bit comes in and they get more access on it as it goes.” 

That first exercise of jumping, clapping and marching around the stage goes well….but things hit a snag later when Coleman tries to get these very self-conscious teenagers to free themselves up and emote intense anger. He has them read a few lines from one of King Lear’s most forceful moments. 

“3, 2, 1, go!” 

“Milk livered man….” 

“Right, no, no, no. It’s not ‘milk livered man’ it’s MILK LIVERED MAN! That’s where we’re at. I can’t hear a single bit of anger in this room. I’m not interested in you getting the words right. I’m interested in you finding the anger here. 3, 2, 1 go!” 


“Great, now that’s an excellent start. Don’t drop it. Just keep that emotion. 3, 2, 1 go!” 


Coleman says it took a while, but the kids were finally able to get into the play. 

“What I loved actually was their journey from how quiet and quite contained they were before then going through to those end scenes when they were really beginning to play with the language and the characters and the emotion of the character and the emotion within the scene.” 

One of the students, Emily Reed, says this session gave her a better understanding of the intense emotions Shakespeare tries to convey through the actors. 

“Because I know when we’re sitting in the class and we’re just sitting at our desks and trying to figure out what he means but then when we’re up there using motion and changing your voice it just brings the paper to life.” 

Another student, Amara Cary, agrees. She says, just trying to figure out what’s going on in a scene can be a challenge.  

“Who’s mad, who’s sad, who’s the villain, who’s not. And so, by him explaining on stage like how they react, I know how to portray my character.” 

But Coleman says these kids are learning more than what motivates their characters. They’re learning something about themselves. 

“The great thing about performance and engaging with the psyche of a character it means that you can also perhaps reflect on yourself. So there is a real advantage to be doing performance at this age because perhaps it can shift people from self-consciousness to self-awareness.” 

Coleman says although he’s trying to get these kids excited about Shakespeare and performing in theater…he also wants to leave them with tools they can use in the real world…like for job interviews. 

“We want to plant some seeds that when people do go for interviews they are thinking as well about how these exercises can advance them at other stages in their life.” 

Coleman says if he can offer kids an opportunity to grow using a play that’s been around 400 years…he’s happy. And Coleman’s partnership with presenters like the Mondavi Center offers another benefit, turning out young audiences excited about Shakespeare.