Pop Culture Shakespeare and Teens with Stefanie Jochman

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 110

Do you remember what sparked your interest in Shakespeare? Was it a great performance, a magic moment in a high school English class, or a clever adaptation? When did you realize you were hooked?

Across today’s pop culture landscape, there are more ways than ever to introduce young people to Shakespeare. Pop culture representations of Shakespeare’s plays aren’t just fun: they can help kids—and adults—to take ownership of Shakespeare’s language, critically examine his plots, and connect to his themes. And from West Side Story to The Simpsons, there’s no shortage of options.

So, we called up our friend Stefanie Jochman to give us a run-down on some of her favorite bits of pop Shakespeare. As a high school English teacher, Jochman is about as close as you can get to young people on the cusp of Bardolatry. We asked her how she takes advantage of pop culture in her classroom to deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of the Bard.

Stefanie Jochman is a high school English teacher in Richmond, Virginia, and a 2014 alumna of the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, which she returned to in 2016 as a Master Teacher. Jochman is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published November 27, 2018. ©Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “Strong Passion is Impressed in Youth” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Steve Clark at WCVE Public Radio in Richmond.

Previous: Julie Schumacher on The Shakespeare Requirement


Transcript

MICHAEL WITMORE: I don’t know you, but I can guess. And here’s what I think: You may have started with Shakespeare because of school. But you stayed with Shakespeare because you wanted to. Right? Right.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. As we all know, the “Shakespeare Spark” can come at any time, at any age. And for those of us who love Shakespeare’s work, when we see that spark in a young person, we want to fan it into something bright. In today’s media universe, there’s a surprising amount of material geared toward young people that’s designed to do just that. Now seemed like the right time to do a round-up of Shakespeare in popular culture, for all those parents or grandparents, aunts and uncles or friends who know someone who’s just starting to take an interest in Shakespeare.

We called on someone who we thought would be a good guide, Stefanie Jochman. She’s someone who is as close as you can possibly get to young people who are about to become Shakespeare enthusiasts—an English teacher in Richmond, Virginia. We’re also proud to say that Stefanie is an alumna of the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute. Grab a pencil and get ready to write down her suggestions. We call this podcast episode “Strong Passion is Impressed in Youth.” Stefanie Jochman is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

----------

BOGAEV: Stephanie, it is so great to have you on our podcast, and I really wanted to tell you right off the top that nearly every time I've ever talked to my kids about a Shakespeare play, they almost always know at least the bare bones of the plot. From having seen it parodied in an episode of the Simpsons [LAUGHTER].

JOCHMAN: Yes, I can understand that. They've been... I knew they had done Hamlet but I hadn't realized they'd covered Macbeth and several other plays, too.

BOGAEV: Oh, they've cut a whole swath, it's shocking. It drives home for me just how pop culture references to Shakespeare do give kids this immediate “in” to the material. I mean at least for my kids, it made them feel like it's theirs. But I'm curious about your experience. How do kids respond to pop culture versions of Shakespeare, and why you think it is a grab for them?

JOCHMAN: I think just like you said, it makes it feel more like theirs. I think it makes them feel really smart when as we're starting to talk about a play, they can say, “Oh, I know that.” You know? “Oh, I've seen this.”

BOGAEV: Yes, they really light up that way.

JOCHMAN: Yeah, exactly. When you start to talk about Twelfth Night and they go, Wait, I watched this move, and Channing Tatum was in it! You know, it's really exciting, and that becomes a way in. To say, you know what, this play is 400 years old, but it still works.

BOGAEV: Well that's true, and you've kind of gotten ahead of me, because my next question was what are some of the criteria for choosing things for the curriculum? Because what you're saying, that all makes sense. Why it would be useful to have a bit of pop culture as far as getting kids kind of lit up. But obviously, you know, you have to meet appropriate guidelines for language and violence, and the usual taboos, and I'm sure there are other criteria I've never thought of.

JOCHMAN: Sure. I think if I'm using something in the classroom, I'm thinking, can this illustrate something that's complex? Can it provide some historical information? Or critical information that's going to help our study? I might also be thinking about you know, lesson openers and something that can catch students' attention and then lead the way to a deeper study. Maybe we look at the movie scene first, and then we look at Shakespeare's text. And yes, I'm thinking about those guidelines, too. So there's lots of funny parodies of Shakespeare that can't show up in the classroom, but there's also plenty of good things that can, too.

BOGAEV: Well speaking of one of these funny parodies that I think that you might be able to use, we talked to Eric Didriksen on this podcast and he takes pop songs, and the reimagines them as Shakespearian sonnets. He's the pop sonnets guy.

[CLIP: Eric Didriksen reads an Eminem-inspired sonnet from Pop Sonnets]

The novice bard doth find it hard to breathe;
his chest doth heave with hopes t' achieve regard.
His feelings guarded, all in th' yard perceive
him to've conceiv'd a tale to weave, t' bombard
their ears with song—but something's wrong tonight.

JOCHMAN: I love using them with students. The songs that he chooses are songs they know really well. It's fun to play guessing games with the pop sonnets. I'll show them the pop sonnet, and then as a class we'll guess which song is this? Can you figure it out?

[CLIP continues]

He leaves aghast; he's been miscast—a crime!
He now must climb out of the grime amass'd
until at last his skill's recast as prime.
—When opportunities arise, take heed
    And lose thyself in ev'ry worthwhile deed!

JOCHMAN: Students were some of the first people to bring me pop sonnets.

BOGAEV: Oh really?

JOCHMAN: Yeah, when...

BOGAEV: How did they even find out about them?

JOCHMAN: I had a few seniors, I'd say maybe five years ago or so who just really lived Tumblr. Pop sonnets I think began as a Tumblr. And so somehow they had stumbled upon them, and so when we started I think I was teaching poetry or I was starting our Shakespeare unit, and one of my students came up and said have you heard of this Pop Sonnets? I think I had briefly heard it referenced, but hadn't really checked it out, and I went and looked and thought, this is a goldmine.

[CLIP: Actress Elyse Mirto reads a Carly Rae Jepsen-inspired sonnet from Didriksen's Pop Sonnets]

Into the well, I cast a humble pray'r
And though the wish remains yet unconveyed,
My countenance, on seeing you so fair,
Has left all my desire thus betrayed.
‘Twas naught from lust or love that I did seek,
Yet you obstruct the road of Fate for me.
As skin through tears and shabby trousers peeks,
The torrid, breezy night arouses glee.

JOCHMAN: You're reading the sonnet, but he manages to get in all the lyrics you remember, but just in a way that maybe Shakespeare would have written them instead.

BOGAEV: And not to knock fun, but what do kids learn from something like a pop sonnet?

JOCHMAN: They're learning the form. They know what the song is about. So, they're not having to work out what it means, along with looking at iambic pentameter or rhyme scheme. We can just look at how the form works. It's a great way to think about syntax and how sentences in Shakespeare get inverted.

BOGAEV: Oh, so it's an in into Shakespeare and language and the plays as well.

JOCHMAN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: Well when I was in school, we watched Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet.

JOCHMAN: Yes.

BOGAEV: In fact that's the only pop culture reference I remember from my time at school to Shakespeare. But now you have so many films to choose from. I mean you have Baz Luhrmann with Claire Danes and Leo DiCaprio. There's one from 2013 with Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth. And there's also West Side Story and Shakespeare in Love, and Romeo and Juliet in Harlem, right? And Warm Bodies, a pretty recent movie, that's the zombie version of Romeo and Juliet. So that list just goes on and on. And we're just talking about that one play.

JOCHMAN: Right.

BOGAEV: What are teachers using these days, and what do you use?

JOCHMAN: I think the Baz Luhrmann version is still pretty popular. But lately I've been using Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, which is shot on stage. It was a film of the Broadway production from I think 2012 or 2013.

[CLIP: Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in Romeo and Juliet]

Bloom as ROMEO
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

Rashad as JULIET
Ay me.

ROMEO
           She speaks.
O, speak again, bright angel…

JOCHMAN: I really like it because it's onstage, and I'm often trying to get students to think about how they would stage a scene. Here they can envision the play onstage, whereas say the Zeffirelli film they're on sets. And the Baz Luhrmann one as well.

[CLIP continues]

ROMEO

…As is a wingèd messenger of heaven
Unto the white-upturnèd wond’ring eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him…

JOCHMAN: I like that you have a cast where more of the actors are of color than say the Baz Luhrmann or the Zeffirelli. And Condola Rashad is an incandescent Juliet.

[CLIP continues]

ROMEO

… And sails upon the bosom of the air.

JULIET

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

JOCHMAN: She's really youthful, and she's funny. In the balcony scene, she's so funny. And I think it's good for students to see that in Romeo and Juliet, a play that can be so tragic.

[CLIP continues]

JULIET

…Take all myself.

ROMEO

I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized.
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

JULIET

What man art thou that, thus bescreened in night,
So stumblest on my counsel?

BOGAEV: Speaking to the other plays beyond Romeo and Juliet, there's the Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles take-off of Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You. And She's the Man, that's with Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum. It's inspired by Twelfth Night. I was thinking, those films are already pretty old. I mean, I think 10 Things came out in 1999, in the last century.

JOCHMAN: It was when I was in high school. [LAUGH]

BOGAEV: So does that matter with pop culture Shakespeare references? Does it work best if the material is of their generation, or do students still relate to them as pop culture?

JOCHMAN: That's a good question. I think it might depend on the film. I feel like 10 Things I Hate About You has lived a long life. It's so fun, Heath Ledger's so compelling. Basic cable has helped to make it relevant for a number of different generations.

BOGAEV: Oh, that's true.

JOCHMAN: And then Netflix, too. I think both that and She's the Man. The Freeform Network, which was ABC Family—which, when you're teaching middle schoolers or high schoolers, that's a network they're watching pretty frequently—they played both of those movies quite often.

BOGAEV: And just stepping out of the classroom for a moment, I imagine if you wanted to get someone fired up, a friend or a grandchild, or you know, your son or daughter about Shakespeare, would you recommend these? I guess would these same questions apply? Like should I choose something from their generation, or can I go back to something that's on basic cable? Or will they think, oh, Scotland, PA, that's from I don't know, the '90s.

JOCHMAN: I think that's a good question. You have to think about who you're trying to attract to Shakespeare. But Scotland, PA, I think for your film buff friend who maybe just hasn't seen a lot of Shakespeare, that's a really great way in. Or you know, even finding a YouTube clip and saying well, you know, here's one really great filmed Shakespeare. This is what we're going to go see onstage in a couple of weeks. There's so much out there on YouTube. Some of it should be there, some of it may be copyright infringement. But just giving people a little taste of how their favorite auteurs have interpreted it can be a great way to get people interested.

BOGAEV: Well one of the things that you use in schools is the National Theatre productions. National Theatre Live.

JOCHMAN: Yes.

BOGAEV: Shakespeare productions. Those are ones that you see in movie theaters. How do you manage to use that in your teaching? Is that a field trip? Do you show them in class? How does it work?

JOCHMAN: They are a field trip. The first time I took students, I had to convince my local theater to show it. I was teaching Hamlet, and I knew that they were touring the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet.

[CLIP from the National Theatre's Hamlet, with Benedict Cumberbatch as HAMLET]

HAMLET: What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel…

JOCHMAN: I wanted that production as a way in for my students, and I collaborated with some other teachers in my area. We said, We'll buy enough tickets to make it worth your while to show this film. So we brought all of our classes. It was a nighttime field trip. And then when they've had future productions coming through, sometimes I've made it an optional field trip. You know, where I'll promote that this is happening. We'll send around the permission slip, and students come and meet me. It becomes this really wonderful shared experience. I love that they have the intermission in the middle, where we can talk about what's happening in the play, or students can ask me, you know, what was happening here? What did they mean when they said this? It's a great way for you know, student-to-teacher, to have conversation. What was really wonderful is that once we brought this NT Live production to Green Bay, where I had been teaching, a ton of community members showed up, too.

BOGAEV: Wow, so you really set a wave going. It's like a domino effect.

JOCHMAN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: That gives me the idea that people listening, if they don't have these live National Theatre Live productions coming to their local movie theater, that they could make some calls.

JOCHMAN: Yeah. I think they could. And there's so much great stuff out there. If theaters know that it will bring in business, they're more likely to bring it to your community. And what a wonderful way, if you're living in a small community, to bring this production from London to your doorstep.

BOGAEV: Well I just talked with the producers of the Shakespeare Uncovered series on PBS for this podcast. So, people listening, if you missed that podcast, go back and listen. They were really lovely.

JOCHMAN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: And in that series, each episode focuses on one play, and they pick an actor who's performed the lead in the play at least a few times. Then the host takes you on a journey to places related to the play. For instance, Venice for Merchant of Venice. And the host speaks to other actors and directors and scholars along the way. Anyway, we talked about what audience they aim the shows at, and whether it's aimed at people already engaged in Shakespeare, or people who don't know the play at all. Don't know the plots. I know you use this series with your students. So how does it go over? And again, what do they get from seeing a show like this?

JOCHMAN: I think it goes over really well. One, it's just a wonderful way to review the plot of a play. Or for them to see the places where these plays are happening.

[CLIP from Shakespeare Uncovered: “The Merchant of Venice with F. Murray Abraham”]

F. MURRAY ABRAHAM: Portia is trapped waiting for a suitor. Maybe her answer lies in Venice. Back in the city, the hopeful Bassanio is planning to try his hand with Portia. But he will not be able to unless he secures his loan. This will bring Antonio the merchant to Shylock the moneylender.  

JOCHMAN: I think too, for some students it's great to see famous faces get excited about Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: Like David Tennant.

JOCHMAN: Yes.

BOGAEV: Who I'm sure they might know from Dr. Who.

JOCHMAN: Yes, exactly. Big David Tennant fans in past classes. They know him from Dr. Who, or when they see his face, they say Barty Crouch, Jr.!

BOGAEV: Right!

JOCHMAN: From the Harry Potter films. So they know him really—

BOGAEV: And he's in the Hamlet episode, of course.

[CLIP from Shakespeare Uncovered: “Hamlet with David Tennant”]

DAVID TENNANT: As Hamlet struggles to make sense of the chaos in his head and all around him, Shakespeare allows us to hear exactly what his troubled protagonist is going through. We, the audience become his confidant. He uses soliloquies to speak to us directly.

JOCHMAN: When he's looking at the “Bad Quarto” of Hamlet in that episode, and is just really thrilled to be looking at this text that he didn't know a lot about beforehand. And learning about it...

BOGAEV: Yeah, and actually touching this rare book. And he looks at the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, right? Which is so different.

JOCHMAN: Exactly. And I think that's so good for students to see. “To be or not to be,” as we know it, exists in different versions. And that opens up some really wonderful avenues for interpretations. We do some work in my classes where we look at copies of Folios and copies of the Quarto, and think about, you know, if he said the words of the Quarto onstage, how does that change our interpretation of his character? It's exciting for them to see [Tennant] so excited about this rare book. And I love the part when he's walking through the graveyard with the scholar, and they're thinking about ghosts.

[CLIP from Shakespeare Uncovered: “Hamlet with David Tennant”]

TENNANT: By the time William was 30, around the time it is thought he wrote Hamlet, his father was aging and ill. And then, Shakespeare suffered a terrible tragedy, when his 11-year-old son died. He was called Hamnet.

JOCHMAN: I tend not to show a whole episode, because that takes up a lot of class time, but in clips, it's really great, and often I offer it as an enrichment opportunity for students. Our PBS stations have been really good about showing those episodes, and so I'll tell students when they're scheduled and invite them to watch, and maybe write a little reflection and earn some extra credit.

BOGAEV: Have you used Ethan Hawke's Hamlet?

[CLIP from Hamlet, with Ethan Hawke as HAMLET]

HAMLET

To be or not to be—that is the question…

JOCHMAN: Yes, sometimes we'll look at a series of video of the same speech, and so his “To be or not to be” is so great, because he's walking through the Blockbuster.

BOGAEV: Right.

JOCHMAN: In the action section.

BOGAEV: Which kids probably don't recognize. It's like what's that? What is he doing?

[CLIP from Hamlet continues]

HAMLET

                                  To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.

BOGAEV: We've been talking a lot about movies. But you I know have had quite a few students who really like theater. I imagine in any English class, there's going to be some theater kids. So, when you think about using pop culture Shakespeare materials, do you find that they're working better for the kids? Or do they work better for the literature kids? Because people come to Shakespeare different ways. And I'm also asking because the Folger's Shakespeare training is really emphasizes getting students to get up on their feet and to get the language into their mouth. But not every kid is going to think that the best way to engage with Shakespeare is that way, or even through theater. Some kids just prefer to read Shakespeare. They love the poetry, they love the language as literature. Do you find that these pop cultural materials work better for one kind of kid more than another?

JOCHMAN: That's a good question. I think in the NT Live productions, when it hasn't been a required field trip, it's often my theater kids who are going to see the play. Because they want to see how this shows up onstage. And they want to watch the actors make choices, and learn from those choices. I think the little clips and parodies or adaptations might be more appealing to say my literature students, in that they are soaking up lines and language. So they might be the ones more likely to play with it. To write with it. And so they can watch other people play and write with it in something like 10 Things I Hate About You, where they take the story and put it in new words.

BOGAEV: So again, taking this out of the classroom, [if you’re trying to introduce someone to Shakespeare,] think about what kind of person, when they're—what are their proclivities? And then match the pop culture to those.

JOCHMAN: Sure. I think if you are a poetry lover or a music lover, you are a Pop Sonnets person. If you are a theater-goer, the NT Live or the RSC Live are definitely for you. Or if you are maybe the skeptic who saw a really bad Shakespeare production years and years ago, kind of refresh yourself with something from NT Live. If you remember your Shakespeare from high school, and you like having that knowledge, then maybe you check out some YouTube parodies, or you watch the most recent teen adaptation of a Shakespeare play. Or you go check out like the new film version.

BOGAEV: There's so much to choose from. I have a whole list of things I want to ask you about. One of them is Thug Notes.

[CLIP from Thug Notes with Greg Edwards as Sparky Sweets, PhD]

SWEETS: What’s happening, yo? This week on Thug Notes we getting’ regal, with Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: For people who haven't seen it, it's a website where classic literature like Shakespeare is—well the plots are re-told by comedian Greg Edwards, playing a rapper called Sparky Sweets, PhD.

[CLIP continues]

SWEETS: Ghost Daddy tells Hamlet that he’s gotta a strap up and put a toe-tag on that fool Claudius. Street Justice, kna’mean? Back in the castle, Hamlet’s boo Ophelia is getting an earful from her daddy Polonius and her brother Laertes.

BOGAEV: He does get to some serious themes, though, and insights.

[CLIP continues]

SWEETS: Now, all throughout this play, Hamlet be all torn up about the task of putting one in Claudius’s dome, and keeps delaying His procrastination is one of the most debated subjects in all of Shakespeare. Some ballers think it's because Hamlet is. . .

JOCHMAN: Certainly I've had students who have seen it already. You know, if they're looking for different information or explanation online, they fall into all sorts of rabbit holes. I have students who have watched it, and they'll ask me you know, have you seen this? Or can we watch it?  And I'll say, you know I've seen it. I'm glad that you enjoyed it and learned something from it. But I'm not going to show it in class. Best to be enjoyed at home.

BOGAEV: What do you they learn from it, beyond plot?

JOCHMAN: Yeah, I think they're learning plot and sometimes they're learning maybe one angle of interpretation. Which is one reason why I try to avoid something like that, or Spark Notes or No Fear Shakespeare in class, because often what we're trying to do is get students to make meaning of the language on their own. Just the student and the text. I try not to show videos like Thug Notes because they're taking maybe one line of interpretation. I think students can arrive at that on their own, or maybe once they hear you know, somebody more official say it, that makes itself concrete in their mind when I want things to be a little bit more flexible.

BOGAEV: Do you find that this kind of pop culture material is a good way to breakdown resistance in kids who are resistant to Shakespeare or Shakespearian language?

JOCHMAN: Definitely. If I have students who are resistant, and I often do, that's one of my first steps. If we're looking at, say, Romeo and Juliet, their first meeting, we might look at the Zeffirelli film clip. We might look at the Baz Luhrmann clip, but I'm also definitely bringing in West Side Story. Because, like, I dare you not to move around when you hear “Mambo.” Or you know, if it's the pop sonnet, it's a way to say well, people are having fun with this. The “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” theme is a rap. A sonnet is working with rhyme and rhythm too.

BOGAEV: Yeah, just recently I watched a BBC miniseries called Shakespeare Retold. It's four Shakespeare plays, Much Ado, Macbeth, Midsummer, and Taming of the Shrew. And they're all adapted into telemovies, set in modern times. And for instance, Macbeth is set in a London restaurant.

[CLIP from Shakespeare Retold: “Macbeth.” Restaurant kitchen sounds and quiet talking]

JOCHMAN: I really enjoy that series. I used to, when I was teaching Macbeth, I actually used that Macbeth in class. At the time that I was using it, I think Hell's Kitchen was really popular, and it had sort of a Gordon Ramsey edge.

BOGAEV: Oh yes, because Duncan has a TV show.

JOCHMAN: Yes.

BOGAEV: A celebrity TV show, yeah.

JOCHMAN: I thought that was a really clever way in for the kids, and that adaptation in particular does some really interesting things with imagery, and the idea of like butchery versus murder. And they capture sort of all the big moments in Macbeth.

[CLIP from Shakespeare Retold: “Macbeth.” Keeley Hawes as Ella Macbeth, James McAvoy as Joe Macbeth]

Hawes as ELLA MACBETH
You’re a knife man Joe. You know how it feels.

McAvoy as JOE MACBETH
You can't imagine a thing like this. How can you?

ELLA
It’s all set up. You do this and we win everything.

JOCHMAN: Again, here's that chance to say you know, this screenwriter read Macbeth and thought, Ah! You know, that competition, that's happening in the restaurant world, and here's how we can make that connection. Then I ask students to think about where else somebody like Macbeth might take the steps that he's taken to break the rules, or go so far beyond breaking the rules.

BOGAEV: I love how they make the witches are the trash collectors.

JOCHMAN: Oh, that's right.

BOGAEV: Those three—

JOCHMAN: I had forgotten about that.

BOGAEV: They call in England “bin men.”

JOCHMAN: That's right, and you know, they know it all. They see it all.

BOGAEV: Right.

JOCHMAN: Right? And to ask students, like, Why would somebody make the choice to have the bin men be the witches? What are the parallels? Anytime these pop culture pieces can inspire discussion, or analysis, I'm going to take advantage of that.

BOGAEV: And just to be clear, in these adaptations, they stick closely to the plot points of the plays, but they're not in Shakespearian language.

JOCHMAN: Right, I think that is the one drawback for me. Since one goal in my teaching is for students to be comfortable with Shakespeare's language, to really own it, that's a drawback. But for the person who is really intimidated by Shakespeare, for the person in your family who's maybe not sitting in the classroom, who's really intimidated by Shakespeare's language, that's a first step in.

BOGAEV: Well I'm curious, we've been talking about things that make the cut for you. And then one that didn't. What else doesn't make the cut for classroom use?

JOCHMAN: Sassy Gay Friend is really entertaining.

[CLIP from Second City’s Sassy Gay Friend: “Romeo and Juliet,” with Brian Gallivan as the SASSY GAY FRIEND]

NARRATOR: Meet Juliet from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. She is about to take her own life. This fate could have been avoided if she had a sassy gay friend.

SASSY GAY FRIEND: What are you doing. What, what, what are you doing?

JOCHMAN: That is a series that's a comedian I think from the Second City. He plays this sassy gay friend of a number of Shakespeare's female characters. Often he walks in on their most climactic moments.

[CLIP from Second City’s Sassy Gay Friend: “Macbeth,” with Brian Gallivan as the SASSY GAY FRIEND and Jean Villepique as LADY MACBETH]

LADY MACBETH: Macbeth is going to be king. He heard it from the three witches this morning.

SASSY GAY FRIEND: Okay, first of all, stop getting your political news from crazy old women who live in the bushes. Second of all, maybe he'll die of natural causes! Slow down, Lady MacDeath, slow down.

JOCHMAN: It’s really funny in the way that he makes these… asks us to ask really critical questions about these female characters, and the choices that they make. But not classroom appropriate in that he is playing a stereotype of sorts.

BOGAEV: Anything else?

JOCHMAN: In terms of what else won't make the cut, I know right now there's emoji versions of Shakespeare plays floating around. That probably won't show up in my classroom. If students find it and find it amusing, great. Because I love it when they're making connections to what they see out there in the world. But again, like in my classroom, I want the focus to be on the language, and the emoji versions tend to really simplify the language, replace a lot of beautiful words with symbols. But it's funny to hear Shakespearian characters talk in texts. So, if students want to pick that up on their own, sure.

BOGAEV: Well if you're looking at the whole collection of all of this material that we've been touching on, overall, what do you think makes something appealing to people who either are resistant to Shakespeare, or who are younger and feel like, Oh this has nothing to do with me? Or who are just people who are new?

JOCHMAN: Timeliness, creativity, passion. Some of those teen Shakespeare adaptations you know, your 10 Things or your She's the Man, at one time they're capturing like timeless questions of teenager-dom, but they're also these really great time capsules of the moment when they were made. That can be really appealing to a generation. So, timeliness or timelessness—and just the creativity and the passion behind a project. That NT Live Hamlet, I know critics had mixed reviews of the production itself, but what they do with stagecraft, and the production of the play, show so much passion and creativity and interest in really engaging the audience and surprising the audience. That for the person less familiar with the play itself, they're going to be dazzled. If I can get students to feel dazzled by Shakespeare then I've done my job. I think also that creativity, that eagerness to adapt and reimagine, and so that's why those Retold movies are so interesting in the way that they reimagine where they could be happening.

BOGAEV: Well, this is wonderful. I'm coming away with lots of ideas. And it's been so great talking with you, I wish you had been my teacher back then. I would've known so much more about Shakespeare by now.

JOCHMAN: Well thank you so much, it's been really, really lovely talking with you Barbara.

----------

WITMORE: Stefanie Jochman teaches high school English at Trinity Episcopal School in Richmond, Virginia, and before that, at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She’s a 2014 alumna of the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, which she returned to in 2016 as a Master Teacher. Stefanie was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

“Strong Passion is Impressed in Youth” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Steve Clark at WCVE Public Radio in Richmond.

We hope that you are enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited. If you are, please consider rating and reviewing this podcast. When you do that, it helps us get the word out to people who haven’t heard it yet. We'd really appreciate that help. Thank you.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. And, if you find yourself in Washington, DC, we hope you’ll visit us on Capitol Hill. Enjoy a performance in our Elizabethan theater and come face-to-face with a First Folio, the first printed edition of Shakespeare's plays. We hope to see you here.

Thanks again for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.