Romeo and Juliet Tableaux Vivants

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SWBAT highlight key scenes in Romeo and Juliet by recreating a series of silent tableaux.

Big Idea

Swift and Silent Shakespeare Showcases Students' Superior Scene-making Skills

Introducing the Activity

10 minutes

I would like to preface this activity's description by stating that we did this on the last day before Winter Break.  Yes, I have done it before and it has worked well every time, but I recommend that you "save" it for one of those days on which calm is not reigning, if you get my drift.

What the heck is "tableaux vivants?"  Well, if you want an in-depth description, you can check it out here.  I learned this nice little technique in grad school, and I am sure that 1) I probably do a version that is very different than the one I learned; and 2) there are tons of different ways to approach it.

"Tableaux vivants" is French for "living pictures."  Think of freeze frames.  In my version, students perform an entire work (it can be a story, a play, a novel, whatever) in a set number of silent, frozen pictures.  No movement is allowed, except for transitions, and the only sound is the clap or bell that indicates that the actors should change position.

I adore this activity because it requires the kids to really think about what is important in a piece of literature, and it forces them to be smart and economical in their decision-making.  It is also a great time to clarify their thinking and understanding about the events of the play.  In choosing a particular way of presenting, or interpreting, a scene, the students are highlighting their understanding of its content.  I also love the fact that every kid participates.  My rule is, everyone acts. But you can be an inanimate object, like a table, if the scene calls for it.

In this particular instance, I gave the students a rough time limit (no more than 90 seconds, but I don't use a clock) and they need to boil the play down to around six tableaux.  My expectation is that they will choose key scenes that get to the "essence" of the play.  What I am hoping is that some groups will focus on the romance, while others will highlight the violence.  It is the marriage of these two elements that makes the play really powerful.


20 minutes

The students get together in groups (I assigned them by counting off), and they planned their tableaux.  The groups jotted notes on a single piece of scratch paper, just to document decisions, but this is a paperless activity.

For a silent activity, the planning portion can be pretty loud.  We worked in my classroom, but this would be a great lesson to teach outside, if you have access to some space (and good weather.)

In my experience, the kids are really focused on this task, because it feels like a game.  However, I circulate (as always) to just make sure that everyone is taking part.


20 minutes

Here is a video montage of some of the tableaux.  I hope you can see how much fun this was!

The kids really loved it!

See the video montage here.

So, how did I evaluate them?  Well, I really didn' least, not formally.  The students received a process grade for their active participation (These make up 30% of our grades; product is 70%.)  In an activity like this, the students are able to evaluate themselves and each other, through the process of performing and watching each other's performances.  The strongest performances received the biggest peer reactions.  If you wanted to formalize this activity more, you could prescribe the number of scenes and have students explain their choices on paper.  This wasn't that kind of day :).