Embracing the Bard
Posted 04/23/2016 01:00PM

By Valerie Bijur Carlson, TASIS Drama Director and David Jepson, Director of Studies


At TASIS Shakespeare is more than studied in classrooms: He is also produced onstage. This weekend's production of the musical Kiss Me, Kate, based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, takes place at an auspicious time. Saturday, April 23, is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and a number of theatrical and literary events will be happening all over the world to commemorate the occasion. It is really quite remarkable that the son of a small-town glove maker with no university education should be so widely recognized four centuries after he wrote some words on some paper. Shakespeare never commanded an imperial army, never won a Nobel Prize, never inspired adoring disciples during his lifetime. He was neither a celebrated politician nor a powerful CEO. His fame rests merely on his use of language. Unlike some students in European school systems, all TASIS students take courses in language and literature every year, not to become famous playwrights but because language, more than anything else, defines, expresses, and creates our humanity.

"Because language changes so much over time, it's difficult for students to understand the nuances and the humor in Shakespeare's language without seeing people perform the plays… The performances unlock Shakespeare's language in a way that reading them on the page never could."
Peter Locke, TASIS High School English Faculty

There is great value in having students act and see live Shakespeare, which is why it is a hallmark of a TASIS education. The depth of analysis and critical thought that goes into defining and presenting a character (not to mention a unified play) is equivalent to writing an IB Extended Essay. Understanding and committing those beautifully-written words to memory is a valuable skill, and, as Board Chair Lynn Aeschliman says, “Those words will stay with them for a lifetime.” But in addition to using their brains, young actors need to learn to use their hearts and emotions to captivate an audience and tell the story the playwright wrote. Additionally, performing Shakespeare teaches the need for clear enunciation, vocal strength and support, and comfort in being in front of a crowd—all aspects of public speaking that will serve them well in other classes and their lives beyond school. It is vital in our world that students learn how to communicate articulately and clearly, and not only do student actors practice this skill, but also student designers and managers, as they engage in discussions with the director and other company members about their vision for the physical world of the play. Engaging concurrently on the collaborative and independent work of producing a Shakespeare play helps students achieve all of this.

For students seeing the plays—from elementary age kids who’ve never heard of Shakespeare through high school students studying everything from Henry IV to A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Othello in English classes—there is an enormous benefit. Both Todd Matthew (English Dept. Chair) and Peter Locke (HS English) taught The Merchant of Venice when it was produced as the 2014 Fall Play.

In Dr. Chris Love’s 10th grade English classes students are encouraged to explore Shakespeare’s language and characters through performance; they film and share scenes from the plays they study. Mr. Matthew agrees. After observing rehearsals for a scene the 2013 TASIS performance of Macbeth, he remarked upon how working with the text and characters “on their feet” revealed just how much a seemingly minor scene can, through thought-out staging and characterization, add a richness and depth to the play’s theme that would otherwise be missing.

For the High School Drama Director Valerie Bijur Carlson, it’s thrilling to see our students—of all ages—feel an ownership of Shakespeare because of all we do here to engage them with the Bard.


Twelfth Night (2005)

Romeo and Juliet (2006)

Much Ado About Nothing (2007)

Comedy of Errors (2008)

The Tempest (2009)

Midsummer's Night Dream (2011)

As You Like it (2012)

Macbeth (2013)

The Merchant of Venice (2014)

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