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Romeo and Juliet: In Classroom Workshops, On Stage, and Behind the Scenes

November 14, 2017

Above: Southwest High School students attend a field trip to Romeo and Juliet with Project Success.

For 24 years, we have brought students to experience live theater, and it is still a thrill to see students engage with a challenging text in a new way as it comes to life on stage.

As part of a partnership between Project Success and the Guthrie Theater, more than 3,000 students attended Romeo and Juliet at the Guthrie with Project Success over six field trips and six additional evening/weekend performances this fall. At our partner high schools, reading Romeo and Juliet is a foundational part of the ninth grade English curriculum, and Project Success worked with our partner English teachers to enhance this curriculum in our own workshops.

“What if the ending tragedy never happened? Imagine an alternative future for Juliet’s life,” is just one of the prompts Project Success used this year in its Romeo and Juliet curriculum for 9th graders, designed to help students reflect on seeing the Guthrie’s version of the show and tie the story back to their own lives. As one of our students said in a decision-making workshop at Longfellow, “I feel like we can all relate to this story.”

Khary Jackson, Project Success theater curriculum associate, designed workshop activities to aid students in thinking critically about the story of Romeo and Juliet, especially as it relates to themes of decision making — a topic that is already woven into Project Success in-class workshops. Then, Project Success facilitators brought that curriculum to life for their students in nine different Minneapolis high schools.

“The age the young people are in the show, there are parallels with our students, but we wanted to add in that critical analysis to give them some way to separate themselves from the show, too,” said Khary.

Facilitators used the curriculum to foster discussions around different Romeo-and-Juliet-based scenarios: What were different options for characters in the play? Did things need to happen the way they did? What can we take away from this about what we will do in an intense situation, when it’s hard to think about long term consequences?

In-class workshops are a key way for Project Success to use theater as a springboard for discussion and tie its themes into students’ own lives. At our 19 partner schools in Minneapolis, Project Success’ professional facilitators conduct monthly workshops in students English classes, where they spend a portion of their time focused on local theater opportunities (offered to students cost-free thanks to our 40 local theater partners). According to research, school groups assigned to go see a live play report greater social tolerance and a greater ability to see a situation from different people’s perspectives.*

In addition to in-class discussion, Project Success collaborated with the Guthrie Theater’s education department to bring actors from the performance to speak in students’ English classes — providing a holistic view of the story, the performance and the production behind-the-scenes. Students loved the opportunity to discuss the play and ask questions of the actors.

* Greene, J. P., Erickson, H. H., Watson, A., & Beck, M. (2017). The Plays the Thing: Experimentally Examining the Social and Cognitive Effects of School Field Trips to Live Theater Performances. SSRN Electronic Journal.