Sanborn Regional High School’s Drama Troupe isn’t only tackling one of the most popular and challenging dramas of all time, MacBeth: the students are setting it in modern-day Aleppo, Syria. They’ve taken charge of everything, from re-imaging the plot’s context, to costume and staging, right down to the Arabic writing on the set’s store fronts. The students did it all–and they’re learning and sharing their work with their peers.
Sanborn’s performance assessment this year will focus on MacBeth as part of New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program. PACE replaces end-of-the-year standardized tests with performance-based assessments created by and given by teachers. Evan Czyzowski, an English teacher at Sanborn and the school’s theater director, chose the play as their fall production to bring the classroom curriculum to life.
While students learn about the drama in class, they’ll watch their peers’ performance on Monday during school:
“There is more to life than just reading a text in the classroom and then walking away. It gets them to think about the text beyond the four walls of the classroom,” says Czyzowski.
In many schools, students would likely read MacBeth and answer questions on a written test or write an essay reflecting on the reading. With PACE performance-based assessments, students have the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge through an active literary analysis like the one at Sanborn Regional. Through this live assessment, students draw parallels between literature, current and historical events, and informational text. Students make connections across many subject areas. They have to incorporate critical thinking, reading and writing skills, the arts, social studies and history into a project to show their deep understanding of this piece of literature.
By incorporating extracurricular activities like theater into the mix, students are living the text. For the actors, quite literally, and for the rest of the school, this is a valuable and meaningful way to better understand Shakespeare. The cast and crew took it upon themselves to make it their own. They saw an opportunity in setting it in modern-day Syria. MacBeth is a violent drama, but they wanted the audience and other students to learn from it and be able to relate to it:
“We’re doing this on the Syrian conflict so we can educate people about it — an awareness type of thing — so everyone knows that violence didn’t just happen four hundred years ago in ‘Macbeth,’ it’s happening currently,” she added.
17 year-old Koran Sherman, the play’s assistant director, said the cast and crew had to do quite a bit of research to get the props, costumes, and stage direction just right. What they learned goes far beyond the play, the classroom, and even the school:
In pointing out the parallels between then and now, between fiction and today’s facts, this production might make young actors, like the lead Michael Giordano, more willing to have their voices heard.
“This is not just something that happened during Shakespeare’s time,” he says. “This is something that should we not speak up, and prevent it, and confront it head on, it could continue to happen.”