Our 12-lesson series, Experiencing Shakespeare: From Page to Stage, gives you a rare insider’s peek behind the curtains of a Shakespeare production. Expert Alissa Branch will help you decode the tools Shakespeare embedded in his words for actors to understand his plays and bring them to life. With glimpses into Shakespeare's life and culture, you’ll get a richer appreciation for the genius behind his words.
Experiencing Shakespeare: From Page to Stage
Alissa Branch is an Associate Professor of Acting in the Helmerich School of Drama at the University of Oklahoma, where she created an advanced Shakespeare performance curriculum. She is also an actor and director whose productions have won multiple Kennedy Center awards. Her directorial credits include Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Twelfth Night, among other plays. She has studied acting at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and Shakespeare’s Globe, and she earned her MA in Drama from Washington University in St. Louis.
01: Reading versus Watching Shakespeare
Because so little is known about him, the written words of Shakespeare are our ultimate guide to performing his plays. Join Professor Alissa Branch and dive behind the scenes to find out why, more than 400 years after his death, his plays persist in being among the most staged.
02: Plays in the Elizabethan Age
Shakespeare may have been a genius, but he was no god pouring out sacred texts. He was a hustling playwright working hard to please commoners, aristocracy, and royalty, all at once. Learn about theater culture in the Elizabethan era to get a deeper, humanized understanding of his texts for performance purposes.
03: Secrets of Shakespeare’s Verse
Is there a secret to decoding Shakespeare's verse to bring it to life on a stage? Learn the brilliant tricks that Shakespeare used to give clues and hints to actors, including his use of iambic pentameter—a rhythm that is embedded into our bodies and translates naturally into the flow of the English language—as well as tools like antithesis within the words themselves.
04: Discovering Shakespeare’s Characters
The modern actor uses newer psychological tools to decide how to play their roles, yet human troubles remain the same through the ages. Because Shakespeare's characters say exactly what they want, the key for actors is to pay attention to Shakespeare’s words when deciding how to emote and move.
05: Shakespearean Rhetoric and Wordplay
Because Shakespeare's words are his characters, it is vital to examine how he makes use of rhetoric to inform actors on how to make the characters come alive. There is a myriad of ways this rhetoric is used, such as prose vs. verse, emotional arguments vs. logical reasoning, and banter.
06: What Soliloquies Reveal
Should soliloquies be performed by addressing the audience directly or having the character muse to themselves? Learn from Professor Branch how Shakespeare writes his soliloquies in a way conducive to breaking the “fourth wall” and granting the audience access to the inner workings of the characters' minds.
07: How Shakespeare Uses Prose
Turn your attention from verse, which looks like poetry on a page, to prose. The rules of when and why Shakespeare switches between verse and prose aren't always consistent, but a closer examination of the shifts provides instruction on characters' feelings and behavior toward each other, thus informing the actors' choices.
08: Shakespeare’s Creative Imagery
How many different words would you guess Shakespeare used in his body of writing? Not only did he utilize 17,677 words, but he also invented new ones and innovated how they were used—in fact, scientists assert that his work alters the way our brains respond to written words!
09: Rehearsing the Role: Shakespeare’s Tragedies
Now, take a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsal process, beginning with an initial read-through, called "table work"; then blocking movement; and, finally, scene repetition. It's worthwhile to note that the illusion of spontaneity that audiences experience during the best onstage performances is actually a result of weeks of practice.
10: Rehearsing the Role: Shakespeare’s Comedies
Shakespearean comedy relies on well-known comic devices that he used in numerous plays, for example, "mistaken identity." As you will see, Shakespeare repeatedly used the device of letting female characters dress up as boys in order to grant them more social agency and cause merry plot misunderstandings.
11: Designing and Directing Shakespeare’s Plays
So far, we have focused mainly on the actors' preparation. Now, we will expand our look into the many behind-the-scenes jobs required for a production of this level, from set builders and prop managers to producers and choreographers, with special attention to the costume designer and stage manager.
12: To the Stage!
By the time the actors are ready to embody the characters they've been studying, the illusion of the characters' spontaneous thoughts being spoken for the very first time is complete. Enjoy as the team brings this study to culmination by skillfully performing scenes from Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet.