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A Hit, A Very Palpable Hit

January 27, 2011

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Learning about Shakespeare and engaging in stage combat training – with swords – were highlights for students who participated in a new Winter Term course this year, Will Power: Shakespeare Fun and Pedagogy.

The course was designed and taught by Andrew M. Hayes, associate professor of communication and theatre, director of theatre and pre-law adviser. He developed it to complement a Shakespeare seminar offered this spring – both inspired by a $15,000 grant that DePauw recently received.

The 2010 Ball Brothers Foundation Venture Fund grant was awarded to DePauw for a campus start-up initiative aimed at stimulating creativity and innovation as well as fostering competition and collaboration among the state's 31 independent campuses.

Specifically, DePauw’s project is to develop and implement Shakespeare in the Schools, a semester-long program in Putnam County high schools that will focus on the works of William Shakespeare.

“It is a multi-year grant that is enabling us to build a program. Going into the county high schools – on a regular annual basis – is the target philosophy,” Hayes says.90223

The Winter Term course provided opportunity for students to explore the world of Shakespeare through script analysis, film viewings, performances of scenes –including stage combat training with swords – and acting exercises. The course also began the training for students who plan to participate in the spring course.

There is an obvious challenge for today’s students to understand Shakespeare, who wrote for an Elizabethan audience that lived more than four centuries ago. Hayes began the class with basic Shakespeare literacy but was surprised by how many plays students felt very familiar with.

“I focused on immersion just to get them to hear this language on a daily basis and to think about it. We moved into a very specific sequence of exercises looking at how the meter associates with a motion and what words are stressed and un-stressed.

“To keep students engaged, I introduced a little stage combat,” he says. It was a successful strategy, according to his students.

“This Winter Term definitely re-awakened my love of Shakespeare,” Teresa C. Mazzini ’14 says. “The stage combat was really fun, too. Who wouldn’t love fighting with swords and learning how to fake-fight someone?"

Kristina R. Mulry ’14 says she chose the Winter Term course mostly because of Professor Hayes. “I worked with him last fall in the theatre production, Much Ado About Nothing, which he directed, and I was eager to take a class taught by him. Stage combat was amazing. Learning to crack whips, pull hair and sword fight was the most exciting part of the class,” Mulry says.

Hayes is a member of the Society of American Fight Directors, an international organization primarily designed to help theatre practitioners train actors to do acts of violence without hurting themselves or anybody else. He is a certified teacher and well known for his stage combat theatre choreography.

90222“We have special styles that we teach with different kinds of weapons. Occasionally, I get to teach a full course of stage combat or an abbreviated version like this Winter Term course. It takes a lot of physical preparation on my part, but it’s a very dynamic thing,” he says.

“Making contact with a person is an advanced technique. Think about how many plays you read where someone slaps someone else. So in my choreography, I usually change it to a push or something that’s safer.”

Hayes plans to work with DePauw students during the spring to introduce stage combat to local high school students. He’s enthusiastic about the possibilities that the grant could provide. “If the Shakespeare in the Schools program does catch on and continues, then there is a strong possibility of turning it into a spring Shakespeare festival, which would be very exciting,” Hayes says.

Winter Term takes place each January between fall and spring semesters. It reflects DePauw's serious commitment to non-traditional, experiential learning. Winter Term is a time of adventurous, intellectual exploration.

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