A circa 1884 poster for William Shakespeare's Richard III, starring Thos. W. Keene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Before you decide you have never heard as much rubbish in your life – lend me your ear and I will explain. I am positive that children can really enjoy Shakespeare if they are primed properly for it before they are thrown head first into the text in their teens. Acting out monologues can be a useful starting point. However, to get our wisdom across we have to have laughter and lots of it. If we tell children they have to do it badly, they lose all their fear – they cannot get it wrong. As confidence affects every decision we make, trying to be good at something as odd as Shakespeare when you are ten means that you want to disappear. When you are told you have to be as terrible as possible at it, it doesn’t matter if your peers laugh at you – they is what they are supposed to do. The bigger the laughs, the more successful you are.
Okay, so that deals with the confidence factor, now we can move onto actually teaching them something about the monologue and how it is meant to be performed. I have added a Loony Literature video here to demonstrate what I am talking about. The main actor is fourteen years old and is auditioning for Richard III. The young actor in question is extremely serious about acting and can do a very convincing Richard III. So much so, that when he performed the same monologue for a LAMDA exam, he got a distinction. However, do you think he enjoyed filming this? Indeed he did, he was in his element and he’s fourteen. Younger children, therefore, will positively love being told to do something badly.
You can use the video to demonstrate how utterly badly it can be done. Ask your child or group what is wrong with the way Horace Gaup is standing and delivering the text. In fact, you can be sure that they will want to have a go too after seeing that! If the children are particularly enjoying themselves, you could film it. Playing it back would cause more hilarity and enhance discussion greatly.
Once the terrible deed has been done and the young thespians have done their worst, you can talk about the way they moved and held themselves. We can ask them what they think is wrong with it. How could they do it better?
We can talk about the manner of the delivery – would it be better if it was louder, quieter, slower or speeded up. Why would that sound better?
We can talk about what the text means and what is the best way to say it – for instance when Richard III is saying that he is so deformed dogs bark at him – what sort of voice would he say that in? He would he be feeling whilst saying those words?
I hope this is helpful,l but above all I hope that you have as much fun as we had whilst making the video. Happy acting.