Beyond Summaries and Excerpts: Developing the 10MinSh Program

a presentation by Dr. Joachim Emilio "Joem" Antonio at the 2018 Asian Shakespeare Association

BEYOND SUMMARIES AND EXCERPTS - Developing the 10MinSh Program

What is 10MinSh? 10MinSh, or 10-Minute Shakespeare, is a program where students perform 10-minute abridgements of Shakespeare’s plays in front of the university community after a few weeks of rehearsal.

The abridgments that we use are strict abridgments made by myself and some students: we keep the main story arc of a Shakespearean play without replacing any of the Bard’s lines. The most that we do is shorten the lines through deletions.

Though we’ve been abridging these plays since 2008, we’ve only been staging these abridgments since 2014. I use this as a classroom activity in order to address two tiresome errors my students have about Shakespeare:

  1. that Shakespeare wrote novels; and
  2. that he did them in Old English.

I also found that these abridgments helped me solve these two problems: excerpts and soliloquies can easily be taken completely out of context and summaries miss out on two aspects of Shakespeare’s genius, his language and his theatricality.

Through 10MinSh, the students get to experience mounting a Shakespeare play without interfering too much in the schedules of their other subjects. Correcting the errors about the language and the literary form helps me in discussing the full plays.

I’ve put the following ground rules for myself and the students, as introducing this program alarmed some of my colleagues. I had to justify that the class requirement was going to be worth the time and resources spent.

Although it’s a classroom project, we make it open to the University community. Some students even invite family and friends from outside to watch. I give them free reign on their themes, and over the years, the only thing constant have been the abridgments that we’ve used. Here are a few samples of the posters from Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear.

Fun as 10MinSh is for me, though, some questions lingered. For example, was the 10MinSh Program simply reinventing the wheel? I checked Google for similar projects, and here are a few screenshots of the first results that came out.

To clarify, “Compact Shakespeare” is my website. And the YouTube video on screen is my students’ production diary.

I found some parodies, summaries, and excerpts of Shakespeare’s plays, but none was exactly what I was trying to do. The closest I found were the abridgments of Bill Tordoff, who has already abridged all of Shakespeare’s plays. However, the run-time of his plays are between 30-50 minutes. Given my circumstances, these plays as classroom requirements are still too long for me.

I have four influences for 10MinSh: Tom Stoppard’s Fifteen Minute Hamlet, Take Ten, and Short+Sweet, the latter two introducing me to the art of Ten-Minute plays. Then there’s St. Scholastica’s Shakesfest. The Shakesfest, too, was a class activity, like what I wanted to do for my classes, except that I wanted Shakespeare’s text throughout the performance.

I can go on and on talking about how 10MinSh worked for me. But last year, I decided to go a bit technical and tabulate actual data.

On screen are the steps I took in organizing my findings.

Here, I divide my students into groups and within each group are job designations. Each week I give each job designation a goal to aim for, brief the students on their goals, and spend the rest of the period observing and guiding the rehearsal process. My students, after all, are not taking up theatre as a specialization.

We spend the first three to five weeks of class time for this project. It’s a lot of time, but it helps me discuss the full Shakespearean text at a much faster rate after the 10MinSh program. The time balances out.

Part of the students’ requirement in this project is that they upload videos of their performances as well as their production diaries on YouTube. This also acts as reference for those who will also have to undergo 10MinSh. Aside from the performance and production diaries, I make the students fill up weekly progress reports and notes of experience through Google Forms. The following are the guide questions I provide them.

Here’s a table I’ve made of 103 students in my semester, categorizing themes and topics the students have brought up. Here are a few examples of what my students wrote in their progress reports and Notes of Experience:

“It is not only the audience who get something from watching the actors perform. The collaborators themselves understand the script better as they rehearse and as they act.”

Here’s an explicit example of someone appreciating the language itself in the context of theatre.

Of the different answers, this is one of my favorites. This student practically summarized what I was trying to achieve with 10MinSh.

The best part of 10MinSh for me is that my students and I start the semester getting them excited for Shakespeare and reading the full-length play. All while getting the lower batchmen also excited in taking up Renaissance Literature.

Currently, we’ve brought 10MinSh to newer challenges. We’ve made four-actor and one-actor versions that we perform in some high schools and bookstores. One of the best compliments I’ve received from these efforts is from one of the audiences, who said that she appreciated how we’ve made Shakespeare accessible to the youth without babying them. And this finally brings me back to one thing that I’ve mentioned earlier:

Compact Shakespeare. (Sorry for the shameless plug.) We’ve built this site for those who would like to go through the abridgments or even try the process in their own schools. The scripts are free of charge, and if anyone wants to contribute a 10-minute abridgment, please do let us know. Thank you.