To celebrate or not to celebrate? That is the question!

Celebrate the Bard with your own adventures for Shakespeare Week, described by its organisers as;

A national annual celebration giving primary school-aged children opportunities for enriching and enjoyable early experiences of Shakespeare.

The theme this year is art and design, so what better way to bring it to life than using children’s creativity alongside the playwright’s work. The week runs from 16-22 March 2020 and last year over 2 million primary school children engaged in the life, times and works of William Shakespeare. 

Sparking children’s creative juices has many benefits, as Sir Nicholas Serota, CH Chair of The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education concludes:

An education that stimulates their creativity can help them thrive, enjoy, and achieve in their lives, and shape a better future for themselves, as well as for the nation as a whole.

This is not limited to the arts but across all subject areas. However, creatively celebrating Shakespeare, whom Simon Callow describes as …the greatest, most exciting, most human, freshest, most surprising writer of them all… might just be an inspiring way to start.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most-produced plays, perhaps because it is so accessible.  Even CBeebies, the BBC channel aimed at pre-school children, has produced its own staged then filmed version under its theatrical CBeebies Presents banner.

My three children ranging from four to ten years have all enjoyed this together. The comedy with its farcical elements and timeless themes of love, celebration, dreams, order versus disorder, play within a play and magic lends itself to being imagined and re-imagined.  

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust summarises it as;

Four Athenians run away to the forest only to have Puck the fairy make both of the boys fall in love with the same girl. The four run through the forest pursuing each other while Puck helps his master play a trick on the fairy queen. In the end, Puck reverses the magic, and the two couples reconcile and marry.

Marcia Williams’ book Mr. William Shakespeare’s Plays features seven plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s comic strip style, depicting scene by scene, with short bursts of text, brings the complicated plot and its humour to life, whilst maintaining the integrity of the story. It is a great way to introduce Shakespeare to a new audience and to those who would find an extended text intimidating.

Alternatively, Leon Garfield retells it as a short story in Shakespeare Stories and Mike Manning summarises it and gives a context for its origin and first performance, with great illustrations by Brita Granstrom in William Shakespeare: Scenes from the life of the world’s greatest writer. 

All of the above are part of our Shakespeare Curriculum Collection specifically developed for Key Stage Two. This has been designed to showcase to the children the breadth and depth of the man and his work.

Here are some creative ways you could use art and design to explore A Midsummer Night’s Dream further:

  • Compare a range of posters from different theatre companies from the same production.  Consider as a group what they have included and why. What does it tell us about the play?  Which characters are featured? Why is that? Does it make you want to go and see the production? Is there a particular flavour to the interpretation – modern, traditional, timeless? Help the children to consider what they would choose to feature – does the text support their decision? Enable the class to use a mix of mediums and styles to create their own posters.  You could extend this further with written work where the children articulate their intentionality.
  • Make shadow puppets to tell the story within the story. You could use them to take the stories in different directions and explore ‘what ifs?’.
  • Watch the National Theatre: Fifty Years of Costume Design.  Think about how this applies. Design a costume for Puck or Titania. You could have a theme of natural or recycled materials which would add challenge and help control costs.
  • To explore set design you could create a set box.  Here is a video about making a set for a production of The Gingerbread Man. You could use this as a basis of discussion for how to develop a set for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then make sets in shoe boxes.
  • Make a short stop animation of the story – for an example see the Playground at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Using the principles behind the approach of analysing the text, identifying key events/ characters and acting them out, you could use children to play the parts instead of animation and film it or perform it in groups to each other.  
  • BBC Teach also has animated shorts as part of its Shakespeare Week teaching resources. You can use this as a means to revisit the play and plot and springboard to improvisation and creative writing tasks.  There is also a raft of other materials related to the week.

Gregory Rogers wordless book, the acclaimed, The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard uses drawings to bring to life the Elizabethan era when Shakespeare wrote and had his plays first performed. 

Of it he says;

I have always been fascinated by everything Elizabethan: the clothes, the music, the dancing, the food. When I had the idea for a story about a young boy who is flung through time to land on the stage of the Globe Theatre in Tudor London, I saw my chance to share those harsh, dirty, brutal and beautiful times with others. I made my way through a mountain of books to discover all the amazing historical details of the era; then I drafted and redrafted the story to make it rich and real.

It is a great way to start to develop discussion and understanding of the life and times of Shakespeare in order to grasp some of the cultural and political contexts of the plays. (It is perhaps ironic that the times of so many words have been so well depicted in a wordless book).  It is complemented by Mick Manning’s William Shakespeare: Scenes from the life of the world’s greatest writer which, as well as graphically dramatising Shakespeare’s most famous plays, also follows his dramatic life in words and pictures.  

We explore this fully as a unit for Year Five in our Take One Book programme.

If you are looking for more ideas then head to the Shakespeare Week Website where you can generate a login to access 150 free resources.  

Surely now, how best to celebrate?  That is the question!