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Shakespeare, the 900-pound Guerilla: or Performing Scenes for Unsuspecting Audiences

Teachers' Rating:
  6 ratings

The Complete History of America (abridged)

January 2011
Geoffrey Stanbury teaches English at Elgin Academy in Elgin, IL

Plays/Scenes Covered

Excerpts of any scene that could occur in a public setting.

Good examples would be: Romeo and Juliet 1.1, Twelfth Night 2.3, 1 Henry IV 2.4

What's On for Today and Why

In groups, students will produce and perform a scene by Shakespeare as a piece of guerilla theater: in other words, they will perform in a public setting, in front of an unsuspecting audience. Performances do not need to be "perfect" as this activity is about the process not the product. The goal is to bring Shakespeare to others, especially those who least expect it.

Students will work collaboratively, doing close reading on their feet. They will explore themes and stretch their creativity by imagining ways in which Shakespearean themes and characters can be seen as relevant and contemporary. The final performance will incorporate documentary-style video footage, allowing students to review their work and see how audiences feel about Shakespeare.


This lesson will take 8 x 45 minute class periods, plus time outside of class for performances.

What You Need

Shakespeare Set Free (optional but highly recommended)

Access to You tube

3 Handouts: Location,Scene Conception, Workshop

Video camera/cell phone

Handout 1 Location chart sample
Handout 2 Scene Conception
Handout 3 Workshop
What To Do

Teacher tip-before beginning this activity, read Shakespeare Set Free, "Three-Dimensional Shakespeare" essay by Michael Tolaydo.


Day 1

1. Have students watch scenes of guerilla theater or flash mob on Youtube. Be sure to screen before hand. A good example is commuters freezing at Grand Central Station.


2. Discuss the impact of guerilla theater: how is it different from conventional theater?What is theater anyway? Is a performance different from daily behavior? Where does theater begin and end?


3. With the students, identify some scenes that could conceivably occur in public spaces, and which have lots of interaction between them. (e.g the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet). In additon, identify some less well known scenes, such as the midnight party scene in Twelfth Night, 2.3.


4. Create a chart to brainstorm contemporary, local settings where each of the chosen scenes could occur. Encourage students to think of locations both within and outside of school. See Handout 1


5. Break students into performance groups, and assign each group a scene. Consider giving each group the same scene, to see the multitude of possible approaches, or you might give them each different scenes, and thus create an abridged production of the entire play)


Days 2-3

 1. Distribute Handout 2: Scene Conception


2. Using the handout, students will decide where and when their scene will occur and explain their choices.


3. Have students develop their scenes cutting and rearranging Shakespeare's language (but always using original language). See Shakespeare Set Free, "Romeo and Juliet" , Lesson 16.


4. Encourage full participation. Any student who is reluctant to perform can take the role of director or script editor, or videographer.


5. Have students plant "plugs" in the audience: these appear as audience members but enter the scene partway through to the surprise of real audience members.


6.Monitor the rehearsal process, challenging students to justify their performance choices with reference to the text.


Day 4

1. Distribute Handout 3 Workshop to class.


2. Have each group perform their scene to the class and record notes on each.


3. Have students exchange notes and discuss feedback.


Day 5-6

1. Allow students time to finalize performances. Lines MUST be memorized.


2. As students rehearse, prepare them for unpredictable audience reactions by discussing possible distractions.


3. Encourage students to gather props and have these readily available.


Day 7

1. Video tape each group as they perform their scene encouraging thunderous applause from the class audience.


Performance tips:

For in-school performances, advise relevant faculty/staff members.

Perform partway through an activity (i.e once "audience" members are settled into some sort of routine activity).

Have videographer concealed in designated secret location to record the performance and audience reaction.

In the event of the unexpected, prepare students to "carry on" as far as possible and stay in character until they "feel "the scene has ended.


Day 8

1. Compare the footage of the performances to those of the dress rehearsals. What changed? Why? What effects did these changes have on the scene?


2. Debrief the performance and experience. What was expected? What was not expected? How did the experience feel? What did each student feel about the experience? Any suggestions for next time?


3. Consider returning to the discussion about the concept of theater. Have students' ideas changed? Where does Shakespeare fit into this concept of theater?


4. Consider collecting responses from the audience members? Have they seen a Shakespeare play before? If not, does this experience of guerilla theater make them more/less  likely to go and see more?



How Did It Go?
Were students able to put a scene on its feet? Did they have a strong grasp of their characters through performance? Were they able to perform effectively to an unsuspecting audience?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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