Last year, Charis’s high schoolers performed Twelfth Night, the first Shakespeare play we’ve ever produced. As you can imagine, taking on a play by Billy Shakes himself is a pretty monumental task. If reading his plays for understanding is hard enough, playing a Shakespeare part requires expert knowledge of every monologue, line, and even word so that an audience member who cannot look up the 16th century meanings of words can still understand the connotation of a scene.
The process all started in the classroom. My wife spent the first semester teaching a Shakespeare class for 9-12th graders that focused on the literary. Reading several plays, they looked at plot structures and parallelism, scansion and soliloquies, and how Shakespeare used such devices to tell his tales. Students delved deep into these texts to write essays and character analyses that stretched their intellect and instilled in them a knowledge of great theatrical works.
Their last assignment was to actually adapt the full text of Twelfth Night, a play which they had studied already, from a three hour play into a more performable 90-100 minute production. This required not only knowledge of the plot, characters, etc., but also an imagination for how the components of a story work an a stage. Editing an uncut scene, students had to ask, “If I take out this line, will the audience lose an important piece of this character?” or “Will this joke still land after 500 years?”
These same students walked into my theater class in the second semester with a clear understanding of the play, and an ownership of the script. After auditions, as they memorized scenes and monologues, the head knowledge of the play they had worked so hard to download in the classroom took on a whole new dimension. They saw if 500 year old jokes could land! They embodied the plights of their characters and, with their classmates’ characters, they shook hands, looked them in the eye, even crossed swords with them. They encountered the characters that had once been on a page, and then opened the doors for an audience to encounter them. Even the odd songs scattered throughout Twelfth Night when you read it came alive and made sense, like when the play finishes with, not a page saying to a reader, but actors saying to audience: “That’s all one our play is done, and we’ll strive to please you everyday.”
Every day of school at Charis, this happens: head knowledge comes alive through imagination, and imagination expands our capacity to lead and to serve. “Experiential learning,” is bandied about at lots of schools. It aims for experience to cement learning. Incarnational living is our goal, cultivating whole lives that pour themselves out for the love of others, just as Jesus entered our world, redeemed it by his blood, and revives us through bodily resurrection. Academics are important at Charis, but living incarnationally requires that what happens in our minds be in harmony with who God made us to be and what he calls us to do in body in the world. Twelfth Night was simply one macro example of what happens when we educate in light of the Incarnation. This is what our teachers aim for in every lesson at every age. The way we educate at Charis is a picture of and a participation in God’s redemption and transformation the whole person. It is an honor to see him working through our classes, community, even theatrical processes to continually unfold the depth of the Gospel in our midst.