Castle of Perseverance Teaching Project
In the Spring of 2006, Profs. Gloria Betcher of Iowa State University, and Alan Baragona of Virginia Military Institute decided to collaborate on a distance learning project for The Castle of Perseverance. They used online forum software available on the Iowa State web site, creating teams that mixed VMI cadets with Iowa State students to address questions about production and staging. Dr. Betcher was teaching a seminar in medieval drama with the theme “Devils, Demons, and Damnation in Early British Drama.” Dr. Baragona was teaching an historical survey of medieval theater from the liturgical plays to the 15th-century moralities. His students used David Bevington’s Medieval Drama as the textbook for all plays and consequently read them in Middle English. For Castle, Dr. Betcher’s students used the online performance modernization created by Prof. Alexandra Johnston based on David M. Parry’s acting edition <http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/%7Eajohnsto/cascomp.html>. In order to work together, it was necessary for the VMI class to study Castle out of the usual chronological order, but working together and using different texts allowed the students at both schools to capitalize on multiple perspectives on the same play.
The instructors posted prompts modeled on one created by Dr. Alan Dessen for a graduate course at UNC-Chapel Hill. They began by designing and posting a model response, a model answer, and a model response to that answer. This gave the students a pattern for what they were looking for, but not a formula. They kept the focus of the prompts on questions of performance and production, thus directing the way students would have to think about dramatic texts. The students had control over how they chose to attack their task. Some of the prompts were intended for team response, some for individual response. Each team was asked to respond to one group prompt and each student, in addition, had to respond to one individual prompt. In reality, the students, responded much more frequently than required, and some even responded to the model prompt.
A large part of the value of the project was in the collaboration. Two relatively small classes were able to expand into a larger class with a greater variety of students and thus more intellectual resources to deal with problems in early drama. However, the questions the students addressed could be used in any single class to make students think creatively about performance and production issues, especially to prepare them to mount their own productions for a course and to get them in the habit of mind of considering similar questions as they read other plays. For this reason, the prompts are provided here on this web site for anyone teaching drama to use, either as they are written here or as models for composing questions of their own.
To download the teaching prompts, click the link to the right.