To Mime or not to Mime!
The Elizabethan "Dumbshow" or what we now call "pantomime" is how we began our Reader's Theatre class this week. After a few failed attempts of watching a short video on pantomime (the internet was not cooperating) we got to see a few bits and pieces on the basic premise of pantomime. Here is what we tried to watch in its full uninterrupted version. After understanding pantomime's definition we moved on to a short exercise to put it all to work. The kids had fun with this as they stood in a circle and pantomimed together passing a "heavy" ball to each other or passing their facial expression (happy, sad, surprised, scared, etc.) to a classmate and in turn passed it down the line. They were then asked to act out a short skit in pantomime making sure they applied a basic story outline of a beginning, middle and end to their skit. The class had to guess what the scene was about. There was a lot of enthusiasm around telling a story through motion and expression. The trick for them was to do it without sounds or voice. It was great to see the kids volunteering to try it out solo!
Why were we pantomiming in a "reader's" theatre class you ask?
"The Play's the Thing" (Hamlet Act III Scene II). The most famous pantomime in English Literature occurs in Shakespeare's Hamlet in the "play within a play" staged by Hamlet who wishes to witness his Uncle King Claudius's reaction in hopes it will uncover his guilt over the murder of Hamlet's father. However, this type of pantomime stems back to Elizabethan times when it was called "Dumbshow." The shows were "dumb" in a sense because there was no speaking as actors acted out the scene to flute music. Naturally, and thankfully over time, the name was taken over by "pantomime" whose roots are steeped in Ancient Greece. Here is a version of Hamlet's "play within a play" from Act III Scene II that we also tried to view (when the internet was in our favor). The "dumbshow" doesn't get underway until the time marker 2:00 on your YouTube screen.
The students were then split into two groups and given a handout with six scene choices from Hamlet they could pick from to create their own dumbshow skit. Not to worry! We won't be smearing our faces with white clown makeup (even though that would be kinda fun!), but students are asked to select music that they would like to use during their skit and any props they want to incorporate for next week's showing. There were some terrific directors emerging as the groups worked on their staging and acting.
Finally, we ended class with our script from Hamlet. Everyone has seemed to relax more into their parts and after a little coaxing become more animated in their characters. In this reading, we incorporated a seated staged reading where the actors sit in a row on chairs and lift their heads when it is their turn to read their part. Next week, we will integrate some more gestures and movement into our reading. This will round out the completion of our exploration into the life of Hamlet after which we will move on to our final Shakespearean play for the semester -- A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The Homework's the Thing!
For homework, students are asked to complete their Hamlet character study and collections to present to the class next week, 4/22. Remember there is room for lots of creativity here…music, drawings, photos, poems, fabrics, articles, books…you name it. Be sure you are able to explain how your collection fits in with your interpretation of the character you chose.
*NOTE: If students are showing their presentations on computers, I have a Mac laptop they can use if their work is compatible with Mac. They will also be performing their Hamlet dumbshow scenes for the class. Make sure music has been selected and brought with you along with any props that were discussed to be used. I have a little "home" speaker they can plug into for their music.
Reminder: Be sure students bring their Hamlet scripts with them to class -- if they've lost them, let me know, so I can email a copy or bring one with me to class.
Have a great week!
The Harris Family sends its best to all Mosaic students and families!
The Texas wildflowers are in bloom and are quite the sight!
We think of you all often. Have a great rest-of-semester!
-- Mrs. H