Beyond Summaries and Excerpts: Developing the 10MinSh Program
Joachim Emilio B. Antonio, PhD.
What is 10-Minute Shakespeare? 10-Minute Shakespeare, or 10MinSh, is a program where students perform 10-minute abridgments of Shakespeare’s plays in front of the university community after a few weeks of rehearsal. Within the context of the subject, Renaissance Literature, at the end of the 10MinSh program, the students are expected to:
- Learn the implications of Drama as Imperative Literature and Theatre as Collaborative Art
- Deal with the explicit and implicit challenges demanded by a Shakespearean script, such as line delivery and blocking among others.
- Recognize the challenge of drama to reach out towards two kinds of recipients: the collaborators and audience.
10MinSh has been a program I've been running since 2014 as part of my Renaissance Literature class. In this program, the lessons are taught in a span of three to five weeks through the rehearsal and performance of 10-minute abridgments of Shakespearean plays.
The abridgments used for 10MinSh are strict abridgments—pared down to a play performable within 10 minutes while keeping the overarching story as well as retaining the original Shakespearean text. No lines have been replaced. The 10MinSh scripts have either been abridged by myself or a few other students who have immersed themselves in the material well enough.
Having watched eight batches of 10MinSh produce various Macbeths, Julius Caesars, and Romeo and Juliets without any two productions looking the same, I believe in the developmental benefit that 10MinSh has for my students. Nonetheless, it’s important to demonstrate what they do learn from the activity to justify the time spent on it. Furthermore, it is also important to demonstrate what they can learn only through 10MinSh.
At the start of each semester, I ask my students a series of questions regarding their exposure to Shakespeare prior to my class. Many times, the impressions boil down to two categories: the unfamiliarity with Shakespeare’s language and the unfamiliarity of the unique qualities of drama as a medium. Their answers would refer to Shakespeare’s language as “Old English” or his published works as “novels”; impressions are misconceptions, as Shakespeare’s language is Modern English and his published works are plays and poetry.
The primary challenge I face is to get students to overcome these two misconceptions within the following considerations:
- That they learn how Shakespeare’s language and drama works before diving into Shakespeare's full text. This means that 10MinSh should not take up most of the semester.
- That these students have classes and requirements other than Renaissance Literature. 10MinSh must not render the students incapable of fulfilling their other duties, academic and otherwise.
- That 10MinSh should serve more than just teach students about Shakespeare.
Whereas many teachers also face this challenge, the solutions generally range from providing the students summaries of the plays, the “updated text” such as the No Fear Shakespeare series, or having the students stage excerpts. 10MinSh addresses the challenge differently: the 10-minute abridgments allow the students the whole story arc of the play through performance, while also allowing them to wrestle with the challenges of the actual language, instead of relying on someone to “translate” Shakespeare for them. This way, students are not only introduced to Shakespeare as poet and storyteller, but they also get to experience him as a dramatist. Knowing Shakespeare as poet, storyteller, and dramatist is key to a rich appreciation of his plays.
Significant prior research
As mentioned earlier, introducing Shakespeare as poet, storyteller, and dramatist has long been a challenge for numerous teachers over the decades. Quite frankly, I will not be surprised if someone has decided to come up with something like 10MinSh.
Since I have made my 10MinSh abridgments available online for other teachers and students to use, it is apt to use the Google Search engine to look for anything close to the 10MinSh program.
The results featured more of 10-minute guides, skits, and excerpts, rather than abridgments, significantly decreasing the chances of finding a program similar to mine in the later pages.
The closest I’ve found was Bill Tordoff's abridgment of Shakespeare's 32 plays. They are, like 10MinSh, strict abridgments in the sense that they only use the Bard’s text. However, their approximate running time is 30 minutes to an hour, far from the 10-minute play format that 10MinSh aims for. In this sense, 10MinSh has something fresh to offer.
These presented, I should mention the work that inspired me to do 10MinSh: Tom Stoppard's 15-Minute Hamlet, first published in 1976. Strictly speaking, Stoppard’s comedic abridgment only runs for 13 minutes, with an even shorter abridgment of 2 minutes, for additional comedic effect.
Then I was exposed to another theatrical form called the 10-minute play, through the Take Ten Anthologies edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold, as well as the Short + Sweet ten-minute play festival, founded by Mark Cleary. It is from their work that I learned about the emerging role the 10-minute play format has in the 21st century and what constitutes a 10-minute play. Thus, what began as a joke for Stoppard, I pushed to a more serious take, and for a more academic purpose.
Possible research approach or methodology
As I have been doing 10MinSh since February of 2014, February 2018 will mark the fourth year of running the program. By this time, I can assume that I have ironed out some of its major kinks. Also, by this time, majority of the first batch of 10MinSh students have already graduated, somewhat reassuring me that 10MinSh is unlikely to be detrimental.
My sample batch are the sections I taught in 2017, totaling around 105 students, predominantly sophomores. This should be more than enough data for the purposes of this study.
Here is how I’ll present my process and results:
- I will discuss the activities and goals set for each week. What am I expecting them to experience and learn on a weekly basis?
- I will summarize the results of my students’ Weekly Progress Reports, and their individual Notes of Experience. The answers they will provide are in sentence/paragraph form, to avoid influencing their answers through multiple choice.
- Juxtaposing Steps 1 and 2 with Step 3 will provide a sound answer to my question that may either support or refute my hypotheses regarding 10MinSh.
Activities and Weekly Goals in the 10MinSh Project
All the following activities happen within the first three to five weeks of the semester, while the other subjects are not as demanding yet. The rationale is that by the midterms, the students can be given some time to focus on their other classes. Each week has three hours of class work, divided into two 1½ hour sessions.
At the end of each rehearsal week, the students fill out a Progress Report. After the Performance Week, the students fill out Notes of Experience and develop a Production Diary. For this action research, I will only use the Progress Reports and the Notes of Experience, as these are individually filled out.
Questions in the Progress Reports and Notes of Experience
There were only three key questions I asked my students for each Progress Report:
- What is the group’s progress during the week?
- What is the student’s individual progress during the week?
- What growth/insight have they had so far during the project?
The questions are deliberately broad so that the students write what they do undergo and learn in the project rather than try to provide me only with the data I am looking for.
Notes of Experience
With the Notes of Experience, I am explicit with my questions, as their answers culminate with the main lesson of the 10MinSh project. The students’ Progress Reports serve as their personal data for this step. Here, I ask:
- What was their initial understanding of the 10MinSh Program?
- What difficulties did they face in the program and how did they overcome these difficulties?
- What did they observe about their group’s performance?
- What did they observe about the performance of the other groups?
- Given their observations and answers, what is their understanding of the relationship between the script and collaborator, between collaborator and audience. They may also refer to their progress reports for instances and evidences.
The questions in the Notes of Experience are significantly more as the first four questions prepare the students in answering the fifth question.
Results and Tabulations
Family members, friends, some faculty, and some of the older 10MinSh batches attend to watch the current 10MinSh batches. While one will not expect a professional production, the reception is warm due to the students performing within their immediate community, as well as the surprising innovations the students come up with and the professional deportment the groups exercise during the event. As the performance week allows two performances for each group, the students make improvements on their second performance.
Since the questions of the weekly Progress Reports were broad, I categorized the answers according to what the students talk about in their answers. My basis for categorization are either explicit keywords or indirect descriptions of their experiences. The Notes of Experience is given a similar approach, although one must consider that the questions are different and a lot more direct as compared to the Progress Reports.
I have categorized my students’ answers into topics, based on the experience they describe and some explicit key terms they use. Given this, some answers will fit more than just one category at a time, such someone feeling out of the comfort zone due to being a performer.
Analysis and Interpretation of Data
When asked explicitly in their Notes of Experience, almost all students are able to answer questions pertaining to the main lessons. Majority even mention their insights on the dynamic as early as their progress reports. Students focus most on the need to collaborate with each other.
Students also share what they’ve learned over the preparation period, which are not part of the main lessons but are nevertheless good: stepping out of the comfort zone, teamwork, managing time and resources. Out of these themes, rehearsal-related lessons stand out, as insights on the activity increase, especially during Week 4, where the rehearsals are discussed more than the three lessons I want the students to learn.
Some students mention me in their Notes of Experience, regarding some of the rehearsals I’ve sat in.
The students also mention inconveniences, such as tensions among group members or going home late after rehearsals. But they are usually very few.
A few students claim to have no insights from the rehearsals or fail to submit reports. But as the rehearsals progress, such incidents become less and less.
Answers to Research Questions
Given the wide range of my students’ answers, I can say that 10MinSh provides students firsthand experience in interacting with the script as intended by Shakespeare; not mere armchair reading, but as a blueprint for performance in front of a live audience. Unlike simply reading summaries, students go through the text repeatedly discovering nuances and contexts as they solve challenges like entrances and exits, blocking, and effective delivery of lines.
Furthermore, keeping Shakespeare’s original language challenges the students to wrestle with the language. They usually appreciate the language even after 10MinSh, when they occasionally quote each others' lines very casually. It helps, too, that the abridgments provide a complete arc, letting students appreciate ironies set up in Act I and culminate in Act V.
Lastly, 10MinSh makes the students aware of a nuance that distinguishes Drama from Fiction: that drama, particularly during Shakespeare’s time, caters to two kinds of audiences- those who experience the script directly and repeatedly through rehearsals, and those who don’t read the script but see the performance instead.
It’s one thing to just explain all these to students and another to process the firsthand experience. The firsthand experience tends to stick to students more.
Even after 10MinSh, I still explain a lot to my students when it comes to Shakespearean language and theatricality. However, I have a lot of anecdotes to draw from based on their experience during 10MinSh, allowing me to explain concepts a lot faster. Students understand the concept of stageability and theatricality rather well, and imagining the drama as a play rather than as a novel or film.
10MinSh is worth the extra effort, tensions, and inconveniences that come along with the program.
From a purely academic perspective, this three-to-five-week activity allows for a richer discussion of the full text without being bogged down by repeatedly explaining theatricality and Shakespeare’s language. And because the different groups perform the assigned plays in front of each other, the students become more familiar with Shakespeare’s plays other than the one discussed in class. This is a more immersive than just having groups report on assigned plays. Ultimately, 10MinSh develops the students’ confidence in reading Shakespeare, builds camaraderie, and solidifies their trust in me to guide them through the text.
Beyond academic benefits, students undergo character formation in 10MinSh: they learn how to analyze and solve problems, to manage schedules, deal with teammates, cater to audiences, cope with inconveniences, and so on. All while, through performance, they share the lessons learned to people outside their class.
However, as the students freely explore the shortened scripts, I am still on the lookout for occasions wherein I must intervene: be it confusions, tensions, and other concerns. These are great opportunities for students to remember what I teach them because of the immersive nature of the 10MinSh program.
Further Areas for Exploration
There’s more worth exploring in the whole 10MinSh Program as this current study is a general overview of the program itself. Studies on how the crowd responds to the public performances, or the long-term effects of 10MinSh in other class requirements.
A study can also be made on the process of abridging a Shakespearean play to 10 minutes. As I have been doing 10MinSh since 2014, I’ve had other experiments with these abridgments such as the four-actor great tragedies (Shoestring Shakespeare) and one-actor great tragedies (Mono Shakespeare), I have noticed how each abridgment can highlight a theme from the many themes within the full Shakespearean text. This just goes to show how the Bard's plays remain rich despite being reduced to 10 minutes.
Lane, E. and N. Shengold. (2003) Introduction. Take ten II: More ten-minute plays. New York: Vintage Books.
Stoppard, Tom. (1976) Fifteen-Minute Hamlet. New York: Samuel French.