From the stage to all the world's a stage: Shakespeare focus
Los Angeles — An elementary school principal in California called upon Shakespeare to solve playground disputes:
''Oh, it is excellent to have a giant's strength,
But it is tyrannous to use it like a giant,''m
counseled Lyle Brown of Harding Elementary school, reading from the play ''Measure for Measure.''
Again, after the death of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, Mr. Brown turned to passages from scenes in ''Macbeth'' and ''Julius Caesar'' to give his students a Shakespearean perspective on assassination.
Mr. Brown, in fact, saturated his students for a whole year with the wit and wisdom of the great 17th-century English dramatist and poet, as did other classrooms in southern California, theaters,museums, and government offices. And people are calling for encores.
The idea was to have a year-long ''Shakespeare celebration'' - a unifying theme in the classroom and/or community. It was the idea of a Shakespeare scholar, Homer Swander of the University of California at Santa Barbara. He wanted to share his love of the Bard and his works in a new way.
Professor Swander and the Association for Creative Theater, Education, and Research (ACTER), of which he is director, planned the celebration to coincide with the arrival last year of a Washington-based exhibit of Shakespeare's works and maps, books, and curios of Elizabethan life.
The exhibit, organized by the Folger Shakespeare Library, had toured six US cities in two years. It was not scheduled to visit Los Angeles, but Professor Swander determined to change that. After some persuasion and a timely $150,000 grant from the Times-Mirror Foundation, the exhibit opened at the Los Angeles Museum of Science and Industry last October. It was seen by over 130,000 children.
''I felt the exhibit would be incomplete without a live theater and community response,'' said Professor Swander. The idea snowballed into a year-long cornucopia of plays, lectures, concerts, and fairs called ''Good Will.''
He also approached a language-arts consulting group for ten southern California counties with a proposal to integrate Shakespeare into every class. It was, he said, ''a rare opportunity to relate the different disciplines not only directly to one another but also back to some common origins.''
The consultants liked the idea enough to allocate $7,000 for special booklets , a newsletter, and a filmstrip to be organized into a program, ''Shakespeare Across the Curriculum.'' The materials were distributed to 4,500 schools.
''The consultants were concerned that cultural literacy was being neglected because of increased emphasis on functional literacy, the so-called three R's of reading, jump
writing, and arithmetic,'' said Gary Hoban, language-arts consultant in San Diego. ''We wanted to restore balance in the curriculum, and provide a good solid classical undergirding.''
Shakespeare was an ideal focal point, he added, because he is ''the visible symbol of English culture.''
The program showed how to integrate Shakespeare into almost every class from kindergarten to senior high school. Physical education classes held Cotswold Games (Elizabethan counterpart of the Olympics). A fourth-grade science class found the many references to the stars in Shakespeare's plays useful in their study of astronomy. Recipes such as Essex Harvest Bread soon filled home economics classes with Elizabethan aromas. In arts and crafts classes students made Renaissance banners and flags. Madrigals rang from music classes.
Gifted students could study Renaissance humor, costumes, folklore, and stagecraft. Art projects for and by handicapped students were showcased. By expanding ''Good Will'' into communities, more people were able to benefit from and enjoy the program.
Cooperation between schools and community was a goal of ''Good Will.'' ACTER encouraged art galleries, theaters, and universities to offer programs coordinated with the exhibit. ''We tapped a wellspring of interest out there,'' said Professor Swander.
* Theaters from San Diego to Solvang jumped on the ''bardwagon'' and produced 68 plays from Shakespeare and his era. Some provided discounted tickets to students.
* Museums and colleges gave lectures including ''The Elizabethan Lady: Her Cultural Role,'' ''l8th and l9th Century Art and Shakespeare,'' and ''Five Hamlets.'' Twenty-five early music and lute concerts were held around southern California.
* The Griffith Planetarium in Los Angeles had a special program, ''Shakespeare and the Skies,'' which drew ''an exceptional number'' of viewers, says a planetarium representative.
* To celebrate Shakespeare's birthday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills held a minimarathon of Shakespeare films and a symposium in which actors John Houseman and Michael York participated.
* Highlights included a marathon reading of all of the Bard's plays (with the major roles auctioned off), ''live'' appearances of Will himself (played by actor Phillip Ryder), a backstage touch tour for the blind, a Renaissance Ball, and an original musical, ''Something's Rockin' in Denmark.''
For other districts interested in a similar venture, Mr. Hoban suggests declaring Shakespeare a theme for the district and organizing activities that combine serious classroom study with outreach to the community. Or, he suggests, instead of Shakespeare consider someone local: Emerson or Thoreau for Boston, Steinbeck for northern California, Faulkner for Mississippi.
Shakespeare Year has officially ended, but requests continue to pour in for appearances of Will (Mr. Ryder). And Swander and friends are now planning their next project - ''Olympics Across the Curriculum,'' timed to coordinate with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. They are planning to emphasize Greek history, literature, music, and, of course, sports.