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Experiencing Shakespeare: From Page to Stage

Experience Shakespeare’s plays from the other side of the stage with a rare peek behind the curtain to see how productions are brought to life for the modern audience.
Experiencing Shakespeare: From Page to Stage is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 19.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Thoughtful Approach AB is a beguiling presenter using all of her attributes as an actor/director to convey her points. Her attempts to synthesise the words in Shakespeare’s texts with the problems faced by modern actors are wholly absorbing. The first few lectures explore in detail how WS uses various aspects of the English language, and how plays in the late 1500s and early 1600s were performed in the daylight, ‘in the round’ giving intimate exposure to the audience, and could last up to three hours in duration. Having watched many WS plays over my long life, I just wish I had this course available sixty years ago ! I did not find the two lectures on rehearsals (#s 9 and 10) especially absorbing, although I can see why AB included them as part of the whole process of going from ‘page to stage’. On the downside, the introduction of most lessons/lectures is a person talking about their own experience with Shakespeare’s plays. In the later lectures the relevance of this prologue is not always obviously apposite to the forthcoming lesson. Moreover, the pulsating sound wave depiction below is not only totally irrelevant but is also hugely annoying. I applaud TTC’’s efforts to encompass new technology, but this is a total failure. These are the reasons I am only awarding four stars. All in all this - albeit short - Course is extremely valuable for those individuals who wish to appreciate more the next time they go to see one of WS’s plays.
Date published: 2024-02-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from good combination of literary and theatre insight This course is well presented and there is a nice combination of literary appreciation and acting tips. It's especially interesting to see the actors working together, trying out new ideas and developing their approach the characters and scenes. It's not super detailed but I found it a good introduction and I liked the sessions on costume and stage design.
Date published: 2023-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Engaging I really enjoyed this course and have a much greater appreciation for Shakespeare’s works and what goes on in putting together a production of one of his plays now, and in the past. Was so engaging I binged watched it over one afternoon / into the evening. Thank you.
Date published: 2023-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most excellent This is a wonderfully informative series that fills a large gap for us non-insider Shakespeare afficionados. I own all the Shakespeare Great Courses (and most of the Literature catalogue) plus many other resources on the texts, the period, the biographies, etc. and I still learnt a tremendous amount from this course. Getting from text to performance is a huge, multi-disciplinary undertaking and the course tackled this process in an ordered and logical fashion. Professor Branch is fabulous and her concision, diction and personability puts her in the top-tier of modern Great Courses presenters; I would compare her screen presence & performance with Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius i.e., elite. Everyone involved at Wondrium can be justifiably proud of this course. I would just add that the feedback provided by 'Eagle123etc' can be safely ignored; IMHO he wrote a "February review, full of frost, of storm, of cloudiness...."
Date published: 2023-09-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Didn't cut it for me..... First, a confession: I never liked Shakespeare, despite having to study various plays at school for English literature examinations. I hoped this course would show me what I was missing, maybe give me a new perspective. I hoped it might encourage me to go back and watch The Bard with new eyes. Sadly, it did not. It simply reinforced my opinion that despite his mastery of the English language Shakespeare is boring and verbose. The two young actors were fine, the professor bright and engaging, but I still fast forwarded through much of this. However, a review should try and be objective. If you want to see how actors prepare to make Shakespeare "come alive" (for some!) then this is a useful course, hence my three stars and "yes" to recommending it. It could also help anyone (professional or amateur) planning to perform in any of the plays. I have bought many Great Course in the past, but this is the first one I have returned because I simply cannot see myself ever wanting to watch it again.
Date published: 2023-08-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting perspective This is not the course to learn all about Shakespeare's plays, but it's valuable for what it does do. She begins by describing some history of the Elizabethan theater and features of the plays, notably the use of iambic pentameter, and emphasizes how, in the absence of elaborate staging (and, in the original, the paucity of stage directions), actors and directors can learn what was intended from the text itself. How useful this part is depends on the background of the individual viewer of the course; I knew much of it. There are brief cameo quotations from the instructor's mentor Jane Lapotiere, sometimes hard to hear and illustrated with a picture of sound waves which I could have done without. But what makes this course worthwhile are the last several lectures of the course, seeing the instructor and her two students progressively working their way through a variety of texts. They start with informal rehearsal, dressed in jeans and sitting on the floor. They read and discuss the text together. Then the actors (reading from a script) rehearse part of the scene with the instructor making comments, repeating this process with greater skill several times. We see how this process leads the actors to informed choices about how to move, what to highlight, what expressions to use. Then there is an interlude with a costume designer who discusses the history of the dress of the time the play is set. Finally we see the actors, in costume, perform short scenes – which are from Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet. I have recently performed in a major role in a community theater, and I thought that the way the instructor-as-director, the actors, and the costume designer collaborated in these mini-productions represented well the way modern theatrical performance deals with historical plays. I recommend it to those who have always wanted to know how the "from the page to the stage" happens.
Date published: 2023-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellet acting and commentary I enjoyed every moment of watching this course, but particularly loved the scenes in rehearsal and performance. It gives an authentic view into the directing and acting process. The course definitely meets its objective to demonstrate why Shakespeare's plays must be seen to be fully understood.
Date published: 2022-12-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring Conversations on Shakespeare This course is mostly an incoherent mush-mash. It is by far the worst of my 100+ Great Courses. So much of it appears to be in the basement of a high school student’s parents. Here the student and instructor sometimes just sit on the floor and talk. The students read Shakespeare directly from printed pages in a notebook. The acting is at best average. The instructor is less than professional in appearance. The previous Great Courses on Shakespeare were exciting and interesting. As a result, I wanted to learn more and watch more of Shakespeare. However, this course did the opposite, it turned me off on Shakespeare.
Date published: 2022-12-29
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Our 12-lesson series, Experiencing Shakespeare: From Page to Stage, gives you a rare insider’s peek behind the curtains of a Shakespeare production. Expert Alissa Branch will help you decode the tools Shakespeare embedded in his words for actors to understand his plays and bring them to life. With glimpses into Shakespeare's life and culture, you’ll get a richer appreciation for the genius behind his words.


Alissa Branch

The word 'play' implies an action, and experiencing a play is meant to be an active, playful experience, not a passive one—for both the performers and the audience.


University of Oklahoma

Alissa Branch is an Associate Professor of Acting in the Helmerich School of Drama at the University of Oklahoma, where she created an advanced Shakespeare performance curriculum. She is also an actor and director whose productions have won multiple Kennedy Center awards. Her directorial credits include Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Twelfth Night, among other plays. She has studied acting at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and Shakespeare’s Globe, and she earned her MA in Drama from Washington University in St. Louis.

By This Professor

Experiencing Shakespeare: From Page to Stage
Experiencing Shakespeare: From Page to Stage


Reading versus Watching Shakespeare

01: Reading versus Watching Shakespeare

Because so little is known about him, the written words of Shakespeare are our ultimate guide to performing his plays. Join Professor Alissa Branch and dive behind the scenes to find out why, more than 400 years after his death, his plays persist in being among the most staged.

26 min
Plays in the Elizabethan Age

02: Plays in the Elizabethan Age

Shakespeare may have been a genius, but he was no god pouring out sacred texts. He was a hustling playwright working hard to please commoners, aristocracy, and royalty, all at once. Learn about theater culture in the Elizabethan era to get a deeper, humanized understanding of his texts for performance purposes.

25 min
Secrets of Shakespeare’s Verse

03: Secrets of Shakespeare’s Verse

Is there a secret to decoding Shakespeare's verse to bring it to life on a stage? Learn the brilliant tricks that Shakespeare used to give clues and hints to actors, including his use of iambic pentameter—a rhythm that is embedded into our bodies and translates naturally into the flow of the English language—as well as tools like antithesis within the words themselves.

23 min
Discovering Shakespeare’s Characters

04: Discovering Shakespeare’s Characters

The modern actor uses newer psychological tools to decide how to play their roles, yet human troubles remain the same through the ages. Because Shakespeare's characters say exactly what they want, the key for actors is to pay attention to Shakespeare’s words when deciding how to emote and move.

30 min
Shakespearean Rhetoric and Wordplay

05: Shakespearean Rhetoric and Wordplay

Because Shakespeare's words are his characters, it is vital to examine how he makes use of rhetoric to inform actors on how to make the characters come alive. There is a myriad of ways this rhetoric is used, such as prose vs. verse, emotional arguments vs. logical reasoning, and banter.

21 min
What Soliloquies Reveal

06: What Soliloquies Reveal

Should soliloquies be performed by addressing the audience directly or having the character muse to themselves? Learn from Professor Branch how Shakespeare writes his soliloquies in a way conducive to breaking the “fourth wall” and granting the audience access to the inner workings of the characters' minds.

36 min
How Shakespeare Uses Prose

07: How Shakespeare Uses Prose

Turn your attention from verse, which looks like poetry on a page, to prose. The rules of when and why Shakespeare switches between verse and prose aren't always consistent, but a closer examination of the shifts provides instruction on characters' feelings and behavior toward each other, thus informing the actors' choices.

19 min
Shakespeare’s Creative Imagery

08: Shakespeare’s Creative Imagery

How many different words would you guess Shakespeare used in his body of writing? Not only did he utilize 17,677 words, but he also invented new ones and innovated how they were used—in fact, scientists assert that his work alters the way our brains respond to written words!

18 min
Rehearsing the Role: Shakespeare’s Tragedies

09: Rehearsing the Role: Shakespeare’s Tragedies

Now, take a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsal process, beginning with an initial read-through, called "table work"; then blocking movement; and, finally, scene repetition. It's worthwhile to note that the illusion of spontaneity that audiences experience during the best onstage performances is actually a result of weeks of practice.

29 min
Rehearsing the Role: Shakespeare’s Comedies

10: Rehearsing the Role: Shakespeare’s Comedies

Shakespearean comedy relies on well-known comic devices that he used in numerous plays, for example, "mistaken identity." As you will see, Shakespeare repeatedly used the device of letting female characters dress up as boys in order to grant them more social agency and cause merry plot misunderstandings.

30 min
Designing and Directing Shakespeare’s Plays

11: Designing and Directing Shakespeare’s Plays

So far, we have focused mainly on the actors' preparation. Now, we will expand our look into the many behind-the-scenes jobs required for a production of this level, from set builders and prop managers to producers and choreographers, with special attention to the costume designer and stage manager.

30 min
To the Stage!

12: To the Stage!

By the time the actors are ready to embody the characters they've been studying, the illusion of the characters' spontaneous thoughts being spoken for the very first time is complete. Enjoy as the team brings this study to culmination by skillfully performing scenes from Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet.

22 min