"Teaching Shakespeare Through Exercises on Acting and on the Basic Emotions"
This structured sequence of exercises began when I asked students to list, individually what they considered to be the basic emotions.
I put them in groups of four or five and asked them to read their lists to each other, then combine them into a master list.
Each group read its master list to the rest of the class.
In small groups again, each student was asked to choose one emotion and prepare a gesture that expresses it, following this procedure:
(1) Present your gesture to the rest of the group.
(2) Other members of the group imitate the gesture as accurately as they can, and
(3) try to feel the emotion as it arises from the experience of the gesture.
(4) They then try to guess and name the emotion.
Each group then prepared one emotional gesture for the whole class to imitate, name, and discuss.
One group offered this one: The leader leaned back in his chair, plopped his feet heavily on the table, crossed his arms, gave a heavy, tired sigh, and tilted his head off into oblivion. The entire class then imitated this action.
Just as we were giving (all 28 of us) the sigh, some lost student wandered into the room, looked around as if she had not quite waked up, blinked, and asked with consternation, "Is this a class?" (The emotion, by the way, was "apathy." You may debate whether this is an emotion, but the students thought it was and recognized it with delight.)
Repeat the gesture exercise above, this time using a different emotion, which you express in a gesture plus a non-verbal sound. (Some groups finished quickly; I asked them to repeat the exercise, this time using the opposite emotion.)
Repeat the gesture-plus-sound exercise, choosing a different emotion, now adding a single word or short phrase to the gesture and sound.
From the master list, I chose seven emotions and assigned each group
in the class to represent the emotion with a sound or short series of sounds.
The list was, from left to right, Hate, Anger, Surprise, Frustration (in
the middle), Laughter, Passion, and Joy. Acting as conductor, I first rehearsed
and "tuned" the group, then conducted them through various combinations,
changes, dynamics, and rhythms. Student volunteers also took a hand at conducting.
This is a superb exercise for mobilizing energy in a class. It puts students in energetic, physical, vocal contact with strong emotions, yet the context is quite safe. No one is personally threatened. After ten minutes, the class was wide awake and delighted to be there.
I assigned journals in which students were asked to observe the basic emotions in themselves and others, describe what they saw and felt, as well as gestures, intonations, and words used. Some of the journal descriptions were marvellous. (Besides leading to Shakespeare, I think this kind of exercise has intrinsic value in increasing students' perceptions of themselves and others. During the act of describing states of depression, for example, a few students reported that their depressions changed for the better. The verve and sparkle of these journals indicated to me that the exercise was a good one.)
To ground these exercises in the text, we chose a scene from Romeo and Juliet (I.v), divided into groups, divided up the scene, and made a catalogue of the basic emotions present in the scene. I was surprised how well this worked--how much careful attention the scene received, and how vigorously students reached and defended their conclusions. As a first approach to a Shakespeare play, this worked better than anything I had ever tried.