Shakespearean Shakedown: Grade 8 and 10 English Students Meet Riotous Youth Shakespeare
By Coco Lee, Kristy Smith, and Liuba Turlova
Linden students in Grade 8 and Grade 10 have been bringing their study of Shakespeare to life with Riotous Youth Shakespeare. Over the past two weeks, Liuba’s Grade 10 English class and Kristy’s Grade 8 English class welcomed RYS founder Scott Emerson Moyle and Linden teacher Coco Lee to their classes for some interactive and challenging workshops.
Riotous Youth Shakespeare is aware that, though Shakespeare’s works are treated with reverence in canonical Western literature, they are not always taught or presented with cognizance of how they can perpetuate classism, racism, and misogyny. A perfect fit for Linden’s commitment to social justice, RYS asks students how they can find their voices using Shakespeare’s text as a tool and a canvas, simultaneously deepening their understanding of the work and challenging its problematic context.
With Liuba’s Grade 10s, who had just finished reading Macbeth, Riotous Youth got students on their feet, performing and workshopping scenes from the play with an eye to how they can use dramaturgy to work their own stories and themes into the Elizabethan content.
We staged the banquet scene as a part of a Linden Board meeting — with intrigue and mystery surrounding the appointment of a new principal! Students made it clear that, through staging a play about a power struggle between women, they risked portraying women as “catty” or manipulative. We discussed how we might present the script to critique that portrayal rather than condone it — and through reframing the narrative, the students left with a deeper comprehension of the original text.
Liuba was very impressed with the experience. “The Grade 10s were very engaged with the workshop. Scott and Coco got the girls on their feet, staging the play and asking questions. They questioned whether the play could be set in different times and places, and demonstrated a really profound understanding of the play by testing out those different scenarios,” she shared.
Shakespeare’s works are not novels—they’re blueprints for a play. So for Kristy’s Grade 8 class, who will begin to read Romeo and Juliet this week, RYS brought in physical and written tools to help students decode those blueprints. We studied how iambic pentameter (the rhythm of much of Shakespeare’s poetry) is a tool for actors to help them understand their characters, and we looked at how the sounds and rhythm of these lines can help readers understand more about the story and its themes.
Here’s what Kristy had to say about the experience: “The Grade 8 class enjoyed this hands-on and physical workshop that challenged them to consider how we can manipulate language. We enjoyed incorporating boxing into studying the language, and we’ll be approaching our study of Romeo and Juliet with greater confidence in our ability to decode English that sounds strange to us! I’ve also never seen iambic pentameter taught in such a clear and exciting way, so I got to learn lots during the workshop as well!”
Students can begin their work on the text empowered with comfort and familiarity around Shakespearean poetry that will help demystify the messages of the play.
As Linden girls find their voices, they also learn to listen for them in all contexts, from canonical literature to modern graphic novels. With Kristy and Liuba’s expert instruction, combined with Riotous Youth Shakespeare’s on-your-feet approach to social justice Shakespeare, the Linden girls enjoyed an enriching and empowering Shakespeare experience.
Photo Credit: Coco Lee