Posts Tagged Charles Dickens
When most people think about Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, they land on Miss Havisham and her creepy old mansion full of spider webs, or on the adult Pip’s aspirations for greatness, or on his unrequieted love for Estella. But what I like best about the novel are those chapters focusing on Pip as a child. Maybe it has something to do with why I’m an elementary school teacher, or maybe it’s because there’s something Roald Dahl-like about Pip (no doubt Dahl was heavily inspired by Dickens), or maybe it’s just the marvelous way Dickens penned young Pip’s encounter with the escaped convict (How terrifying for a little kid—and an orphan, too—to encounter such a “wretched varmint,” and in a graveyard yet!). Whatever the case, I’ve long wanted to craft a play focusing on those early chapters of Great Expectations and am very pleased to introduce it here.
“Pip & The Prisoner” is an original script based on the first five chapters of the Dickens’ masterpiece. The script endeavors to introduce the main character, Pip, in such a way as to motivate students to want to read the full novel (presumably when assigned to them in high school), but whether Great Expectations is in one’s curriculum or not, I think you’ll find “Pip & the Prisoner” to be a lovely stand-alone bit of literature. It’s aimed at 6th through 8th graders, but could potentially be used with students in other grades (I intend to use it with my 5th graders). The story is full of irony, anxiety, and engaging dialect as Dickens successfully captures Pip’s innocence and fears while weaving in marvelously subtle humor. The play seeks to capitalize on that humor.
Great Expectations, incidentally, was published in 1860 in Dickens’ own weekly periodical, All Year Round. Because it was published serially—or one exciting section at a time—it reminds many readers of a modern soap opera, or perhaps a binge-worthy television series with a ton of twists, turns, and suspenseful cliffhangers.
The 20-minute play includes parts for ten students and numerous non-speaking “soldiers.” It was written with the stage in mind, but it can also be presented as reader’s theater or a pod-casted radio drama. The script comes with embedded discussion prompts, a standards-based comprehension and essay writing activity, teacher’s notes, answer key, and a printable of the novel’s first five chapters for easy comparing and contrasting.
Consider pairing with my other Dickens’ plays including “Gabriel Grub” and “A Christmas Carol.” Though it isn’t indicated in the play, the story take place on Christmas Eve, so all three plays could be presented as a holiday event.
A couple of my fifth grade girls showed up at school today wearing Santa hats. “Santa hats?” I said. “We haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet!” They giggled and told me they didn’t care, to which the Scrooge in me growled , “No Christmas stuff until after Black Friday!” Of course, three hours later they were still wearing them.
It reminded me that Christmas really is just around the corner, and a great way to celebrate it is with a trio of holiday plays. You can pick up a class set of Ebenezer Scrooge for just three bucks at my TeachersPayTeachers store. This play originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 1998 issue of Storyworks and has been republished in several other Scholastic venues. It’s a succinct version developmentally-suited to upper elementary kids. Another holiday classic is O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi. It’s appeared in Storyworks, Scope, and Scholastic News, and today is available in my book, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories. You can often snag a PDF for just a few bucks at Teacher Express and download it immediately.
Before devising Scrooge, Charles Dickens was experimenting with the same theme in Gabriel Grub. Grub is a foul-tempered gravedigger who on Christmas Eve gets haunted by a troop of maniacal goblins. The goblins put him on trial and find him guilty of being without the Christmas spirit. It’s wildly funny and eerily spooky at the same time. Suitable for 5th through 8th graders, it’s a great play for that last chaotic day before vacation.
Especially if a few of those goblins are wearing Santa hats.
I was recently contacted by a theater company in Maryland which wants to add my adaption of “The Gift of the Magi” to its annual Victorian Christmas Collection. They wanted to know how much I charge for performance rights. Normally, when you perform a play from publishing companies, you’re required to pay a substantial licensing fee. The Samuel French Company, for example, owns the rights to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. If you want your students to perform it for the annual PTO bazaar, it’ll set you back $100 or 10% of the gate receipts, whichever is greater—and that’s often in addition to buying the scripts themselves (which run $8 or $9 each).
I craft my plays so that teachers can use them to build strong readers, self-confident speakers, and engaged learners. I don’t charge schools to perform my plays. Your three bucks gives you license to photocopy as many scripts as you need for your class AND the rights to perform the play in your school. Three bucks sounds like a pretty good deal compared to traditional publishers.
I’m pleased the Gift of the Magi is getting some love in Maryland, but I’m even happier that my holiday plays are finding their way into classrooms all over the country. It isn’t too late to work in a reading or even quick performance of one of my Halloween plays into yours. The Birth-mark, which is based on the short story masterpiece by Hawthorne, is a good place to start. Says one purchaser of The Birth-mark:
“My students love Reader’s Theater. They loved reading this. They said that they were able to express the ‘darker side of themselves.’”
Also consider The Monkey’s Paw, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and the Tell-Tale Heart. The Monkey’s Paw originally appeared in Scholastic’s Scope magazine, while the latter two are available in my book, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories (Scholastic). You can purchase it as an e-book and have it ready for your students right away.
“My 8th grade students LOVED this assignment. I let them use their cell phones and make the ring tone noises while reading. It kept them engaged and we read it three different times during the class so they could read different parts. Highly recommend.”
Finally, I have a handful of engaging Christmas plays, too. Gabriel Grub–from Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers—is my newest script, and it’s as eerie as any Halloween tale. I also have two versions of A Christmas Carol. For a limited time, you can download my traditional version from TpT–or you can re-imagine Scrooge as a woman by using my Classic Short Stories version (which also includes Magi, by the way).
Here’s both a holiday treat and an example of how Read Aloud Plays can be adapted to be recorded as short films. This one, developed and enacted by my 5th graders from 2012-13, is based on my Christmas Carol play from Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories, but with a little creative thought (and, admittedly, a lot of logistics), nearly any of my plays can be adapted for film. Happy Directing!
Merry Christmas! For a look at how much can be done with read aloud plays, a Flip camera, and simple Movie Maker software, check out this sixteen minute movie based on A Christmas Carol. The script comes from the book, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories, while the actors include all thirty kids from my 5th grade classroom in southern Oregon. It’s just one more example of the great things that can be accomplished with read aloud plays. Enjoy!