Class 9 Shakespeare | The Power of Performance

The Benefits of Shakespeare for the Adolescent

Every year the class 9 High School pupils of Roseway Waldorf School perform one of Shakespeare’s plays. Roseway has a proud tradition of never repeating a play allowing each year’s Shakespeare production to become part of the community’s memory of those particular pupils. I for one will always think of King Lear as Vincent, of Macbeth as Mathew, Rosalind as Sarah and Malvolio’s yellow stockings will always conjure up memories of Dugan!

We have to date staged seventeen different Shakespeare plays including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, The Tempest, Hamlet, and A Winter’s Tale. All with their own unique memories and experiences.

The play forms part of our holistic education that supports emotional, social, psychological, and artistic development of our pupils with the same value and rigour given to supporting their academic and intellectual development.

All pupils participate not only those who will ultimately choose Drama as a matric examination subject. The play is a class activity and benefits each and every one of our pupils in a unique way.

Plays build class unity. Students learn to rely on one another and learn that they themselves need to be reliable. No part is dispensable and even the most talented pupil needs their peers to share the stage with them and deliver lines and create the synergy needed for them to shine! An experience that enhances their social development and builds valuable personal traits.

Acting also takes students out of their cliques and demands they connect with and cooperate with all members of their class. Through this experience very often new friendships are formed nourishing their social development and understanding of others.

Shakespeare’s language is difficult to read aloud and understand, and it is even more challenging to perform in front of a hall full of teachers, family, and friends. In facing such a challenge and completing it in the short time frame of a Main Lesson pupils develop resilience. When they do so successfully, they grow in self-esteem and fortitude.

The characters offered by Shakespeare too are complex and compelling and acting them out gives the pupils a chance to meet themselves or recognise others in the characters’ strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions. This is an important experience for the adolescent whose powers of perception are growing daily and whose individuality and character are becoming more prominent as they strive towards independence. Wrestling with the fate of the tragic hero speaks powerfully to their own inner wrestling with self, destiny, and purpose.

The plot lines are intricate, the settings foreign and both call for the pupils to add historical and contextual knowledge to their interpretations. The opportunities to deepen their understanding of the plays in English lessons abound. The performance is driven by dialogue rather than stage action and the cast must learn to speak their lines with the full beauty and potential of every phrase. The skills developed here for performance are essential. The plays are stripped of the trappings of theatre and performed traditionally with a limited set and simple costumes so that the young actors remain the focus.

It is indeed a remarkable opportunity that Waldorf schools offer their pupils, that they can be so practically and actively involved in producing a Shakespeare play. Our pupils look back on their Shakespeare studies with fondness and relish in the memories of performing a play rather than labouring over a dull text. Their memories are of action and embodied characters played by friends. The vitality of their experience ensures that it is never forgotten.

Lauren McGuire

Drama Department