Best of the Week 2018-2019: Excellence in College Prep
IB ENGLISH LITERATURE CLASSES SIT IN ON FRANKENSTEIN TABLE READING
Last week, Mrs. Jessica Hilty's IB English Literature classes were able to sit in on a special table reading of Frankenstein by playwright Mr. Eric Schmiedl, father of Ezekiel Schmiedl '20, and a few of his professional acting colleagues. Mr. Schmiedl is readapting the story of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, which Mrs. Hilty's classes have currently been reading, for his new play and wanted our Edsmen to help him in the workshopping process. During the table reading, Mr. Schmiedl explained how playwrights oftentimes hold workshops with actors to read through a play's script aloud, which helps the playwright know where and when to make corrections, edits or additions to the script. "As I mentioned to the students, theatre is quite possibly the most collaborative art. It demands the participation of multiple groups and an audience is a key component," says Mr. Schmiedl. "Having the chance to read the script three times in a row for three different audiences with a talented group of actors helped us all get a better sense of the script's potential." This particular table read was intentionally set up as a cold reading for the actors, with the hopes of pulling more raw feedback from the live audience of students. "I really enjoyed seeing the process the actors took to know their characters and how they worked on portraying them over the course of the day," says Mrs. Hilty. "It felt like a really authentic experience for us because Mr. Schmiedl was genuinely seeking our students' input as part of the refining process for his play."
Mr. Schmiedl's adaptation of Frankenstein emphasizes Victor Frankenstein's youthful age, which correlates to the age of our students, and how his youth shapes his actions, motivations and decisions. Many of the themes throughout Frankenstein resonated with the students, particularly the theme of nature, our human interactions with it, and the desire for scientific advancement. Frankenstein also focuses on society's judgment toward those who are different from the norm, but redirects audiences to consider looking at life through different lenses. "In college, it's helpful to be able to look at literature in new and original ways," says Mrs. Hilty. "This experience helped my students understand the text from a different approach with a new angle, preparing them for that collegiate way of thinking." Unlike reading a first-person novel, Mrs. Hilty's students were able to better understand thematic references and the personalities of the supporting characters based on how the actors portrayed them during the table reading. "Based on the feedback that I got from the students afterward, hearing the actors convey the story live made it feel more real for them," says Mrs. Hilty. "For example, Elizabeth (Victor's love interest) was given more of a voice in Mr. Schmiedl's play. The relationship between Victor and his father was also much more complex and relatable for our students. The fact that the play is being rewritten today and performed by people who believe it is still relevant highlights how the story's themes still resonate today even though they were written in the 19th century."
One new addition that Mr. Schmiedl has made to his adaptation of Frankenstein is the inclusion of a large screen that will fall behind the actors, projecting images and phrases to enhance each scene. "I think the inclusion of the screen will make a key difference," says Mrs. Hilty. "The use of images can be very powerful. Mr. Schmiedl's addition of a projection screen emphasizes the symbolism of specific images and will contribute to the mood of the play, which can help convey emotions more fully to the audience. Even though our students only heard descriptions of the image projections, they still reacted very strongly to this concept. I think they were intrigued by this because it's a major departure from the novel in a unique way. Our students are inherently interested in technology and were surprised by and interested in this interaction between technology and literature." Mr. Schmiedl's adaptation of Frankenstein will now begin workshop rehearsals at The Repertory Theater of St. Louis tomorrow as part of the Ignite 2019 New Scripts Festival.