Eighth-grade students at John Muir Middle School participated in the fourteenth-annual Shrew Day festivities on Thursday, February 2. Sponsored by the PTSA, Muir Shrew Day was the culmination of four weeks of English class study of William Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew for all 150 students.
Muir Shrew Day began with a shortened performance of The Taming of the Shrew, produced by Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, a professional theatre group located in Topanga Canyon.
The students then split into groups and 15 actors from the troupe led them through Shakespearian-related workshops on juggling, fencing, scansion (metered poetry typical of the time), Elizabethan song and dance and commedia dell’arte characters (stock characters like the fool, an old man, a peasant.)
Each eighth-grader was able to rotate through three workshops in the morning before breaking for lunch. Then students enjoyed original Shakespeare-related songs played by the Shrew Band.
The two-hour student production of The Taming of the Shrew was a group effort by all eighth-grade students, several PTSA parent volunteers and eighth-grade English teachers Justin Riner, Rod Rothacher, Ted DeVirgilis, Mark Norberg and Steven Moos.
In preparation for the performance, each English class worked on one of the 17 scenes of the play during class time in the weeks preceding Muir Shrew Day, explained DeVirgilis.
“Students either acted in the scene – complete with costumes by costume/foods teacher, Donna Collier – or help to direct it,” DeVirigilis added. “Language learners and special needs students also acted in the student performance of The Taming of the Shrew.”
“The complex play, in which a domineering Petruchio ‘tames’ a shrewish (read: wild) woman, is also an opportunity for teachers to discuss how the roles of men and women have changed over the centuries,” DeVirgilis went on to say.
“Although the play has been called misogynistic by a few critics, Kate, the shrew, delivers the most powerful lines of the play: ‘My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart, concealing it, will break. I will be free as I please in words.'”
“Students are better for analyzing and reciting the words of William Shakespeare,” he said.
“Students had a blast speaking the words of ‘The Bard’ and seeing their friends dressed up in Elizabethan garb,” DeVirigilis added. “Following the performance, students had a chance to ‘Win Dr. Miller’s Money’ if they could answer trivia questions on Shakespeare and Elizabethan life.”
The John Muir PTSA supplied all the funding to bring in the Will Geer professional and teaching artists.
“The eighth grade English teachers at Muir are proud that the thousands of students who have gone through our school over the past fourteen years have had a positive first experience with Shakespeare,” DeVirgilis said.
“The Taming of the Shrew is successful at Muir because the only way to truly appreciate and understand the greatest English playwright is to ‘speak the speech…trippingly on the tongue,’ as Hamlet, from another Shakespearean classic, once said.”