Oregon Shakespeare Festival Archives - Eva Varga

April 6, 201522

I  have always enjoyed classic literature – especially historical fiction. However, as a child I didn’t have the opportunity to study Shakespeare. The school counselors – in their infinite wisdom – hadn’t set me on the college tract. I thereby listened in envy to my peers talk about the Shakespeare play they were learning about in Honors English.

When I began homeschooling, I knew that I wanted to make Shakespeare accessible to my children. I wanted them to be familiar with his works – regardless of what they chose to do in later life.

As I began to sprinkle Shakespeare into our studies, was a little apprehensive. I had to admit I didn’t know much about this man of many words, but for their sake I was determined to figure it out. We have tried a number of activities and strategies over the years. Essentially, building a middle school Shakespeare unit takes just five steps.

Admin Note: This photo is from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. We will be seeing this play next month. 

Much Ado About Shakespeare @EvaVarga.net1. Introduce the Play

First, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the plot and story line. You can then freely enjoy the details without having to keep track of who is who. One of our newest additions to our library is The Shakespeare Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained).  {Many thanks to DK Publishing for providing the book to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.}

What a valuable resource! This easy to use but very comprehensive book offers background on the characters, a timeline of events throughout the performance, themes, and plot summary, along with an overview of the legacy of each show.

There is also a nice biography of Shakespeare’s life in the beginning of the book and a timeline of each play written during the various phases of his career: when he was a freelance writer, as a shareholder in Lord’s Chamberlain’s theater company, and when his company was given a royal patent by by King James. Throughout the book, you really get to know Shakespeare as well as his plays. I know we will be referencing this book for many years to come.

Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy of this book for yourself. 


If you haven’t studied Shakespeare in the past, it is a good idea to begin with a biography. There are many to choose from – for all levels of readers.

A few that we have enjoyed in the past are:

Biographies by Diane Stanley are sooo wonderful they transport you; Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare is no exception. The information is concise and clear yet is not watered down. This is someone that really understands writing books for children that adults can enjoy using as teachers or parents.  The text provides a great picture of who Shakespeare was and how the political and popular culture of his day reacted to his plays.

The “Who Was” series of books are wonderful. They are very informative and include a few illustrations which make learning about historical characters, scientists, writers, etc. fun for kids. Who Was William Shakespeare? even includes a great vocabulary list, which I appreciated for our homeschool lessons.  Mannis creates many interesting asides in this short book, including words and phrases that were coined by the Bard, an explanation of blank verse, what school was like, the politics of the time, big city London, and how the Globe Theatre came about.

Picture Books

To introduce the basics of the plot, I begin by reading aloud from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb or Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by Edith Nesbit.

Other favorites include:

2. Learn Some Lines

Copywork is the practice of copying someone else’s writing in your own hand. We keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, and quotes. When we are studying Shakespeare, we select lines of personal interest. I also utilize these same excerpts for dictation.

Shakespeare Monologues is the perfect site to find longer selections for memory work. Actors use this site to find selections for auditions. You can search for women’s or men’s monologues and then by play title.

Another great site for Shakespeare quotes is Absolute Shakespeare.

3. Watch the Play

We know that Shakespeare wrote drama to be performed in a theater not “literature” to be analyzed during language arts lessons. So reading his plays doesn’t achieve the same effect as watching a performance.

Enjoy a Movie

Many of the bard’s plays have also been adapted for film. This is a great way to prepare children for a live production – allowing them to see the full story as it unfolds on the television screen.

TIP :: Violence, profanity, and even nudity are all issues in many Shakespeare plays. Be sure to preview the movies yourself to decide if it is appropriate – and enjoyable – for your family.

Film adaptations we have enjoyed include:

Find a Live Production

The play we study in our homeschool is based on what will be performed locally – this year, we will see Much Ado About Nothing as well as Antony & Cleopatra – both are family productions (reduced price) at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. High schools, local theaters, and area acting companies are all likely places to find the occasional Shakespeare play. Ask around and see if there are groups you don’t know about yet.

If you attend plays regularly, you might be interested in Shakespeare Passport, a virtual ticket that gives you access to events and museums all over the world. It’s easy to use your mobile device as a virtual ticket or discount coupon. The website lists numerous venues all over the world where Shakespeare’s plays are staged.

Here are few highly esteemed venues in California and Oregon:

TIP :: You might inquire about volunteering as ushers in exchange for tickets. This is a great way to attend theater if the ticket price is not in your budget.

Scripts allow actors the opportunity to interpret their characters and reflect on different facets of humanity as they do so. Shakespeare’s plays and themes are complex, as life and people are. I absolutely love to watch multiple versions of a play and see how differences of inflection, of setting, and of context put completely different spins on the lines. This is the beauty of Shakespeare.

One of my favorite productions was Romeo & Juliet performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival several years ago.  During the preface, the director stated that because Romeo & Juliet was a play of contrasts, he chose to highlight the contrasts.  The most evident way he accomplished this was in his choice of costuming.  The  older generation – the parents and their employed – wore Elizabethan costumes whereas the young generation – the young lovers and their friends – wore modern day apparel including school team uniforms.  He further emphasized the contrasts with their speech – taking liberty with the prose originally penned by Shakespeare for the youth.

A few years later we enjoyed another OSF production of Romeo & Juliet. This time, it was set in Northern California in the mid-17th century – a vibrant and conflicted time in our history.  Romeo and Juliet – the son and daughter of two landed families (one Mexican & the other Spanish) locked in an old feud. Spanish was woven into the tapestry of the Victorian English much to my delight!

4. Read the Script

Though Shakespeare wrote to be performed, there is still great value in reading his plays with their beautiful use of English. However, there’s more than one way to read a text.

A great way to read Shakespeare is to give each student a copy and play an audiobook version while you all follow along. Hearing someone who knows how the lines flow read them aloud helps immensely with comprehension.

5. Perform the Play (optional)

You can actually bring the theater home by acting out Shakespearean plays in your living room. Dress up and be actors, or use puppets instead.

Although it would be valuable, you don’t have to have costuming and rehearsals in order to give your children the chance to act out Shakespeare. Here are some other low-key, low-commitment ways to add performance to your homeschool:

  • Create a LEGO iStop motion of your favorite scene complete with your own voices
  • Illustrate a graphic novel or comic book of selected scenes
  • Memorize a monologues and deliver it as though you are auditioning
  • Take a Shakespeare theater class – many of the venues I listed above have camps and workshops for children of all ages

Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a fun comedy about two couples—one in a “merry war” of words. It is one of two plays we will be seeing performed live this year. Below you will find a variety of free resources to help you put together a unit study on this delightful comedy.

Much Ado Quotes ~ With this worksheet, your teen will translate Shakespeare’s words into modern language, match up characters with their descriptions, and assign quotes from the play to who said them.

Call me Shakespeare ~ Review the hijinks of one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies with song (accompanying worksheet on characterization is included).

Jimmie Lanley has a great collection of Hands-on Shakespeare activities on HubPages.

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March 5, 2012

This year, the Shakespeare play that we selected to study was Romeo & Juliet, arguably his most well known tragedy.  Written early in his career, the play is about two star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families.  Alas … young, teenage love.

To prepare for the production we first watched Gnomeo and Juliet  – a silly version indeed, but it was a good introduction.  We then read Bruce Coville’s Romeo and Juliet and did a few copy work exercises.  More recently, we enjoyed the BBC animated production of Romeo & Juliet and thereafter studied some of the vocabulary:  enmity, kinsmen, rancor, anon, haste, banished, churl, haply, and scourge, to name just a few.
My husband and I have seen this play a few years ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  The director then stated that because Romeo & Juliet was a play of contrasts.  He chose to highlight the contrasts.  The most evident way he accomplished this was in his choice of costuming.  The  older generation – the parents and their employed – wore Elizabethan costumes whereas the young generation – the young lovers and their friends – wore modern day apparel including school team uniforms.  He further emphasized the contrasts with their speech – taking liberty with the prose originally penned by Shakespeare for the youth.
I was particularly intrigued to hear that this year, the play has been set in the 1840s Alta California just prior the Mexican-American War.  As we are newly residents of California, the state history – the missions, the gold rush, and the battle for statehood, etc. is an ever-present part of our curriculum as we visit state parks and monuments in our regular travels.
Northern California in the mid-17th century was a vibrant and conflicted time in our history.  Romeo and Juliet – the son and daughter of two landed families (one Mexican & the other Spanish) locked in an old feud, are irresistibly drawn to each other.  Defying the hatred and distrust surrounding them, they dare to believe they can, and must, be together.

The director’s vision was fantastic … the costuming, the stage, the casting … everything was wonderful. I’ve been attending OSF performances every year for the past 7 years and this one is certainly my favorite.

The kids enjoyed the production as well, though Buddy was squirrely through the monologues, the fight scenes had his eyes glued to the stage.  He even asked to see the program a few times and matched photographs to the live action.

One thing we did different this year that we’ll be certain to do prior to every production hence forth, is attend the prologue.  It was very informative and helped to bring to attention some themes and things I hadn’t thought to discuss with the children beforehand.

[Admin Note:  All photos are from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival website.]

September 14, 20106

In public education circles, you may occasionally hear educators debate, “When should students first be exposed to the works of William Shakespeare? Should it be during high school or college years?  Should it be reserved for students in honors classes or on the syllabus for all students?”

The perspectives of most home educators differ significantly, particularly amongst those of us (like myself) who follow a Charlotte Mason perspective.  The nuances of language may be out of the reach of elementary students, but the stories of Shakespeare’s plays are well within their grasp. Although our ultimate goal is for our children to read and enjoy Shakespeare’s original works, why wait until they can before offering them a taste of these classic works? Child-appropriate chunks of the Bard’s works will lay a foundation for reading his original works later. At that time, they can focus their attention on the beautiful turns of phrase and poetic descriptions rather than the complicated plot lines which they already understand.

photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival

From the time my husband and I first began attending plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, I have been looking forward to being able to share in the experience with my children.  Charlotte Mason recommend the whole family study a Shakespeare play. In early 2010, that is just what we did.  Utilizing the season guide which provided a brief synopsis of the plays that were to be performed in 2009-10, I selected a Shakespeare play that I felt would capture the interest of my children … Twelfth Night.

I then interspersed a variety of lessons throughout the school year to introduce my kiddos to Shakespeare and the selected play.  Fortunately, we discovered early in 2010, that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival offers Family Days for many of the plays it performs.  Tickets for Family Day performances are only $15, and include a pre-show introduction to the play (limited number of pre-show tickets which were unfortunately all spoken for when I purchased our tickets).

photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival

We arrived early to take part in the Green Show in advance to the doors opening.  The kiddos enjoyed watching the Ballet Folklórico Sol Azteca, a Northern Oregon dance group present traditional dances from Mexico.  Shortly after the dancers concluded, we entered the Elizabethan Theater.  The volunteer usher who took our tickets immediately looked upon Buddy and inquired about his age.  I have to admit that I fibbed … “He is 6,” I stated matter-of-factly.  The little guy without any prompting whatsoever, looked up and retorted, “No.  I’m 7!”  “Not yet…” was my reply.  The usher then pointed us in the direction of our door.

photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival

David Zinn’s fanciful stage design, which features a turf-covered center-stage riser that swoops sharply upward into a high wall at the back, as if it were meant for skateboard stunts even as it evokes the manicured lawns of noble estates.  There’s also a large opening in this grassy edifice, through which the players can enter and exit; and when a panel near the top of the wall pops open like a window, the whole thing looks a bit like a giant laughing face.

Directed by Darko Tresnjak, this is a bright, light, very funny production that features Brooke Parks as a charming Viola and surrounds her with several vibrant comic performances by Michael J. Hume and Robin Goodrin Nordli.

The kiddos though a little wiggly, to be honest, were very well behaved.  They asked several questions, “Why didn’t they show the ship?” “How did they do that?” “When is the sword fight?”  but were conscious to whisper discretely.  Buddy started to get a little sleepy and was about to fall asleep in my arms when we broke for intermission.  It wasn’t long after we resumed that he did in fact close his eyes.  Our seats, fortunately, were in the first row of the balcony, so there was ample space at our feet.  He curled up in our jackets and slept peacefully.

On the drive back to the motel … he said that he was disappointed that they didn’t show the shipwreck.  We talked about how difficult this would be to show on stage.  He also stated that he wished there was more fighting. To further spark his interest, I assured him that the next play we attended would.  MeiLi loved every  minute. When I asked if she had any difficulty understanding the words, she insisted that she did not.

The 2010-11 season will bring to life Julius Ceasar (among others). As we’ve studied Ancient Rome in history … we most definitely will plan to see this one.