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A Day with Brooklyn Technical High School Students

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He wrote this stuff 400 years ago. Do you find it relevant?

[All the women say “yes”]

PAMELA: It’s definitely relevant.

How? Where is Shakespeare happening in your lives, other than what you’re doing here? Do you see it happening in the halls at all?

SHAKELA: He writes things that everyone goes through. Like in our play, there are these lovers and two guys want to have the same girl. That happens every day, that’s not abnormal. Yeah, it’s like magic potions and there aren’t really fairies running around. But as a teenager, I think the relationship of the lovers is very common among my friends. And there’s also how Oberon is kind of messing with his wife, Titania. I feel like that’s just natural to me.

PAMELA: Yeah, it’s like Hermia, my character. Both of the guys love her and then this spell makes them stop loving her and she’s vulnerable to feeling that now the guys don’t want her and they don’t care, and she has to pretend she’s angry but really she’s sad about it. I, as a girl, can relate to it. It sounds a little superficial but, yeah, it can really show teenage problems, so it is believable.

Been there, done that, huh?

PAMELA: Yeah, that kind of thing.

Without the potion.

PAMELA: Yeah.

Sumyia, you’re playing Desdemona.

SUMYIA: I do think that Othello is very relevant to today’s society. I come from an immigrant family so my parents were strict, so I see how Brabantio feels, and I see how Desdemona feels. This is like my summer repeating itself. It doesn’t have to be about the color of someone’s skin, but there’s always a difference between two people that maybe a parent will not like. There’s always something.

[Turning to Shakela] I’m interested that you found Titania so revelatory,

SHAKELA: I think Titania and Oberon’s relationship is relevant because they have the typical husband-wife rivalry relationship. They are arguing and having this huge fight and it's funny and so credible.

How do you want to approach Shakespeare? Do you want to read him, do you want to act him, do you want to see him?

SUMYIA: Acting and seeing them is better. I think acting helps you understand each character and seeing them might help you see a different side of the character. But when reading it, I don’t get as in-depth with it as I did this time when I acted it out. Now I understand the play to a different level.

PAMELA: Yeah, I definitely agree. Acting is so much better. I’m not an actor but I do perform in musicals in school and I do prefer acting as a choice because I can build the character better and I understand things better when I perform things. And seeing things because I’m a visual learner, so that’s probably my best bet.

Anybody else want to jump in here?

SHAKELA: I’d like to see more comedies by Shakespeare because I really, really like Midsummer, and I want to see all that he has to offer. It’s just interesting.

SHAUNTAI: I like to act it just because reading it, like Sumyia said, you’re not forced to feel anything, you just have to understand it. But then, when you’re acting it, you want to relate to the audience as much as you can so you’re forced to feel the emotion of that character.

Does it have to be acting or can you read it out loud? Does that help?

PAMELA: It’s not the same.

TIFFANY: When you’re forced to play a character or just forced to be in a play you really try to understand. Like, you may be trying to understand from one person’s point of view, but that helps you understand the play as a whole because maybe you only have one line but that one line affects something in the play and you have to be aware of what it does to the play and how it’s relevant no matter how big or small your part is. And when you read it, it’s just words on a page. You don’t have to really understand why a character thinks this way, what’s going through the character’s mind, or what’s really the driving force behind the character.

Justin?

JUSTIN: Like I said, I don’t really care about Shakespeare, so…

But if you could watch it, does it help at all?

JUSTIN: Uhhh, yeah, I guess. If I were to watch other people act out the books then maybe I could enjoy it more than just not enjoying it at all from reading it.

Have you seen any movies or have you seen Shakespeare before?

JUSTIN: [long pause] No. Well I did see part of a modern take on Othello. I forgot what it was called, though.

[Everybody else says O.]

JUSTIN: Yeah.

And how was that?

JUSTIN: Well, I only saw like five to 10 minutes of it so I still have no idea what was going on.

Shauntai, he just brought up O, and there’s a lot of Othellos out there on the screen. Did you do any research?

SHAUNTAI: I actually watched the 1995 version with Laurence Fishburne as Othello.

That’s a good one.

SHAUNTAI: Yeah. That one I really liked because, although we did watch a piece of O in class, that was more of a modern take, and I wanted to see how Shakespeare wanted it to be, that was more in his time. Since I’m acting a woman—since I am a woman—and seeing a man’s take with Laurence Fishburne, seeing a man actually kill himself and how he would walk around and how he would talk to his wife kind of helped me realize how I would talk to my wife and how I would walk around and how I would kill myself.

Ms. Tuckman was telling me, don’t be just “Ah, Oh, I’m dead,” but have the gore and have the anguish on your face to let the audience know I’m in pain, I’m killing myself. And Laurence Fishburne helped me in Othello.

Othello, and I take it Othella, is a warrior.

SHAUNTAI: Yes.

Where’d you get that from.

SHAUNTAI: We settled on moving from just a military general to I am gay and I am a woman, so it was more of a—

TIFFANY: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

SHAUNTAI: —Yeah, that kind of thing. People knew, but…

Is it a modern take?

SHAUNTAI: 1990s.

Ooh, cool.

JUSTIN: On the other hand, my setting is just hippies, oh god. [Laughter] I don’t know how my class came to the conclusion that they wanted a hippy feel to it.

I’ve seen a hippy version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the rude mechanicals came in on a VW bus colored in flower power.

PAMELA: I think that’s what Mrs. Tuckman wanted, like, she showed us Across the Universe.

TIFFANY: I love that movie.

JUSTIN: Actually, my class wanted a mystery machine.

PAMELA: Like Scooby-Doo?

JUSTIN: Yeah, Scooby-Doo because it was a hippy-like thing.

So where are you setting A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

SHAKELA: Oh, we’re doing it just like in the play. It’s in the forest and the castle.

So at that time frame?

SHAKELA: Yeah, it’s awesome. [Laughter]

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