From Beckett to the BBC to Hitler to the Cookie Monster

Here’s what I love about teaching at LiHigh School.

Earlier this morning, I led the students through a discussion of Waiting for Godot. We’d read Beckett’s masterpiece as part of our weekly book club, and last week we finished watching a fantastic version of the play. To conclude the section, I’ve asked the students to film a trailer for a fictional version of the play (i.e., we’ll perform just enough to make the trailer, while not actually performing the whole play).  The idea is to have them communicate the tone and themes of the play while also working on their technological skills (i.e., working a video camera, building/scouting sets, developing  a script, editing footage on a computer, uploading to YouTube, etc.).

To prepare them for the assignment, I showed them a bunch of YouTube clips of  various performances and commercials for performances. I also wanted them to see how Godot has influenced playwriting and scriptwriting throughout the 20th century, in case they want to do a trailer for a more creative interpretation of the play.

One of the influences we discussed was Beckett’s use of language, the way he sets the language free, allowing it to take command of his characters rather than the other way around (see Lucky’s monologue for the prime example of this). To get to this point, I showed the students a clip from the BBC sketch show, A Bit from Fry and Laurie, where Fry and Laurie, in a very funny way, discuss this very thing.

In the sketch, Stephen Fry makes a hilarious yet intelligent argument about various elements of the English language, and wonders whether English would even allow such a thing as demagoguery. Fry imagines that, had Hitler been speaking in English to an English audience, the people wouldn’t have been riled up by his words, but rather would have laughed at them. This led me to ask the students if they knew what demagoguery is, which then led to me asking whether they’d ever seen Hitler speak.

And it turns out they hadn’t (they’re only sixteen years old, after all). To help rectify this, and to better illustrate demagoguery, off we went again to YouTube, where we found a Hitler speech that included English subtitles.

Once we finished discussing demagoguery, we returned to the clips of Beckett, ending with a unique adaptation performed as part of “Monsterpiece Theatre” for Sesame Street.

And that’s what I love about teaching here. Over the course of 75 minutes, inspired by the conversation and freed from the constraints of “standards,” we can cover a wide range of ground that takes us from Samuel Beckett to a BBC sketch show to Hitler to the Cookie Monster.

Now I can’t wait to see the trailer the students actually produce. You can be sure we’ll share it here for your viewing pleasure.