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The goal of the Interactive Shakespeare Project is to create a dynamic learning environment for students. As educators, we must strive to transcend passive educational experiences where information is doled out, and instead, force our students to become engaged actively with texts. The creators of the Interactive Shakespeare Project believe that performance analysis combined with textual hermeneutics provides a compelling pedagogical strategy for engaging student interest and in conveying the power of the text in an immediate and compelling fashion.

In the 1970s, a refreshed scholarly interest in the notion that dynamics of stage (and film) performance constitute acts of criticism began to direct more attention toward scrutinizing and chronicling the interpretive messages reflected in production details. New trends in performance-oriented scholarship emerged and generated questions about how Shakespeare could be presented in the classroom employing teaching/learning approaches that reach beyond conventions of textual hermeneutics. Access to performance on video and recent developments in electronic media resources have influenced changes in pedagogical practice. Resurgent regard for heuristic methods and cries for "active learning" have also made an impact on the profile of Shakespeare course syllabi.

Attentive to the changing complexion of Shakespeare studies and new pressures in educational systems, The National Endowment for the Humanities has, particularly over the past decade, apportioned funds to support program initiatives to advance new techniques of teaching Shakespeare. The Folger Shakespeare Library, with its history of involvement in educational concerns, has been an instrumental agency in developing programs that endeavor to foster excitement, knowledge, and skill among those engaged in teaching/learning about Shakespeare.

The 1995-96 institute for college teachers of Shakespeare, sponsored by the NEH and organized by the Folger, was entitled "Shakespeare Examined Through Performance." The aim of this institute was to stimulate interaction among English and theatre professors from sixteen different colleges and universities in order to improve the pedagogical effectiveness of educators from both fields. The institute, led by Audrey Stanley and Alan C. Dessen, sought to provide practical resources for developing a performance understanding of Shakespeare in the undergraduate classroom. Stanley, a founder of the Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival and a noted theatrical director, worked in tandem with Dessen, an eminent historian of Shakespearean performance. The two facilitators employed both scholarly and performative models to explore and elucidate texts.

Stanley and Dessen brought their individual strengths to bear. They required all members to function as scholarly artists--as actors, critics, teachers, and scholars. Participants prepared for sessions by reading pertinent essays and texts while memorizing and analyzing selected scenes for later performance. Stanley taught the rudiments of Shakespearean performance and led the group in voice and acting exercises culminating in performance of individual scenes. Dessen stressed the integral relationship between choices in performance and cruxes requiring critical judgment. He encouraged a close textual analysis and awareness of editorial and artistic intercession while fostering an open-minded attitude about artistic interpretation. Dessen and Stanley employed numerous heuristic exercises where participants were assigned the same scene to interpret diversely. Early inhibitions experienced by participants about "acting" were soon displaced by active engagement focused on playing interpretive choices. Participants quickly learned to examine scenes in terms of the substantive cruxes reflected in presentation: the qualities of performative interpretation, rather than matters of refined performance aesthetics, became the object of concern. For participants, the value of having to make performance choices--even in exercises where scenes were crudely rehearsed and presented with scripts in hand--opened new perspectives on possibilities of the text.

Pragmatic concerns about the classroom time it takes to carry out performance exercises were carefully weighed, as were pedagogical worries that acknowledged risks of losing some control over the structure of course lessons. The consensus of the group advocated employing performance exercises as a trade-off that could lead to more gain than loss. Participants at the institute who had used these collaborative exercises in courses they were currently teaching reported positive results in raising student appreciation of interpretive/analytical processes.

Dessen and Stanley sought to bridge the gap between textual and performance analysis. Since most of the institute's participants were academics broadly familiar with techniques of conventional textual exegesis, the leaders emphasized discursive skills related to studies of performance viewed on stage or screen.

At all times, the institute was geared toward implementation of ideas in the classroom. Dessen and Stanley kept the practical needs of teachers and students in the forefront. Pedagogical strategies dealt with specific issues encountered by institute participants: the problem of time limitation, the need to survey a large segment of the canon, issues of cultural diversity, lack of student exposure to performance, the use of scene work in class, and the needs of diverse student populations. Participants were encouraged to share their own classroom experiences and approaches.

The Shakespeare Interactive Project is an attempt to continue and amplify work begun at the Folger Institute. We acknowledge and thank the National Endowment of the Humanities for sponsoring the Institute; the Folger Shakespeare Library for organizing and hosting it; and the College of the Holy Cross for embracing, supporting, and underwriting this technological initiative. Finally, we owe our greatest debt to Audrey Stanley and Alan Dessen for being our teachers and mentors.

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