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The play's the thing

Macbeth witches performance
The three weird sisters in Macbeth: Charlotte Apted, Helena Leitch, and Chloe Noorman

Wesley’s Standing up for Shakespeare program is enabling Year 8 students to take an active approach to understanding Shakespeare based on the rehearsal room approach of the Royal Shakespeare Company, as Madison Torres-Davy and Lilly Koot report.

The Standing up for Shakespeare program at Wesley’s Glen Waverley Campus, led by Head of Student Theatre, David Dunn, uses drama techniques to explore Shakespeare’s plays, expose students to theatrical performances of the plays and do this as early as possible rather than leaving Shakespeare until the senior years.

The key is to make Shakespeare fun, as Mr Dunn explained in ‘All the world’s a stage.’ ‘If students enjoy it, they’re going to learn. The great thing about Shakespeare is that he wrote to engage his audiences. Standing up for Shakespeare at Wesley isn’t about acting; it’s about understanding language, and because Shakespeare is such a great user of the English language, his plays are a perfect fit for our approach.’

Glen Waverley Year 8 students in two classes studied Shakespeare using the Standing up for Shakespeare rehearsal room approach and performed at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, one class tackling Macbeth, the other A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Learning without toil and trouble

Standing Up for Shakespeare has been sensational. Studying Macbeth has enabled us to understand the circumstances that influenced and shaped Shakespeare’s poetry and drama in general, and Macbeth in particular.

Performing Macbeth at the Malthouse Theatre was at the same time thrilling and challenging, but so rewarding. Powering onto the stage as the character of Macbeth was a truly surreal experience, inhabiting all of his pain, anger, loss and ambition.

On stage, the bright lights, huge audience and thunderous music swept the whole cast up into the sensationally captivating world of Macbeth. It’s the active engagement with and physical experience of the play that enabled us to connect with the characters and understand the play’s complex themes.

It was great for the class to be able to present much of our hard work and commitment, but the Macbeth cast and crew also had the opportunity to watch A Midsummer Night's Dream by our Standing up for Shakespeare peers before our performance.

We’ve grown not only intellectually, but also as a community as a result of this immersive, interesting and insightful experience. We are extremely thankful for this amazing opportunity – and a great night.

Apprehending more than cool reason ever comprehends

Standing Up for Shakespeare has enabled us to learn a great deal – about Shakespeare, his plays and the Elizabethan period. In the words of Theseus, we really were able to, ‘Apprehend/More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

At the beginning of the year, Shakespeare could sometimes be a struggle, but the rehearsal process and approaching the narrative through the eyes of a character meant we were all able to develop a deep understanding of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Performing the play at the Malthouse Theatre gave us, as performers, a unique experience that we hadn’t had before. It demonstrated to us how a professional Shakespeare performance could be presented to the public. Going off-campus allowed the class to experience the event in a different and exciting environment, portraying our characters and performing a humorous and meaningful performance of Shakespeare’s great comedy.

Madison Torres-Davy is a Year 8 student at the Glen Waverley Campus. She played Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. Lilly Koot is a Year 8 student at the Glen Waverley Campus. She played Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.