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Caliban + 1

By Emmet Rosenfeld — November 12, 2006 2 min read

This Friday, my tenth graders presented final projects on the Tempest for an assignment I called “Caliban + 1.” Leading up to it, groups had taken notes on selected motifs during our reading of the play. Each group then had to select a single moment that involved Caliban and one or more other characters, and design a stage production around that scene to emphasize their assigned motif using costumes, lights and all the magic of the theater they could muster.

To show imprisonment, Jackie portrayed a doggish version of Caliban, with leaves and twigs in her “coat” and a collar from Prospero that she rips off her neck when she gets a new master. (Not to be confused with Blair, in the group on colonization. After a cue in the text describing Caliban’s appendages as fins, and maybe because the costume was lying around in his closet, he dressed like a shark.)

To demonstrate the escape afforded by sleep and dreams, Robby’s monster snoozed and imagined he was king of the island. Kami was a spirit who visited with sweet scents (a spray bottle) and tinkling tunes (a musical toy dinosaur), while both Caliban and the audience saw “untold riches” like succulent flowers and bags of gold projected on a white bed sheet hanging behind him.

To portray the theme of usurpation of a rightful ruler, Jessica’s Caliban crouched low to the ground and wore only black, proclaiming in a stentorian voice her intent to dethrone Prospero in stark contrast to the drunken antics of Stephano and Trinculo (who wore a red feather tucked into a rakish fedora made out of duct tape).

Dan’s group gave us a modern take on a “natural” Caliban uncorrupted by the “civilization” that turns Stephano and Trinculo into wannabe gangsters blinded by the bling of Prospero’s robes. As an added bonus, they somehow convinced the school’s principal to “shadow dance” on their video.

After the presentations, each group of students wrote responses to another group commenting on the selection of scenes, use of theatrical elements, and how effective they were in accentuating the selected motif.

I hope to use this project as one example of student work for Entry One, which asks for four responses each from two different students (two to writing assignments and two to reading assignments). For the reading assignments, one of the texts to which they respond must be written, and one needs to be non print, like a video or a piece of art. Also (if I’m reading the directions correctly) one of their responses to the reading must be written, and one of the responses must be in another form.

Anyway, I videotaped these presentations, and took digital pictures, and made notes. So one way or the other, I should be able to use them. But more important, I think the assignment worked: it showed the kids that a play is a vehicle for interpretation, and that the performance of it is what makes it come alive.

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