Every year, PHS’s Drama Seminar class kicks off the first of four annual drama performances with the fall play. This year, the play will be Jane Eyre, an adaptation of the 1847 book written by Charlotte Brontë.
Drama teacher Patricia Wray hopes that PHS students will be drawn to the play because it has a well-known story and also may provide some benefits in the classroom. “Last year, we did William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, and it was based on a movie—so I wanted to get as far away from that as possible,” she said. “[Jane Eyre is] something different, something that students would want to see because it’s like live Sparknotes.”
English teachers agree that the play has potential to teach students about the book, and not in the way that Sparknotes does; this is especially relevant because Jane Eyre is part of the English II curriculum. “[The play is] going to highlight different features of the text that you wouldn’t necessarily see in Sparknotes or not pay attention to much when reading the text,” said English II teacher Christian Gonzalez. “When seeing it visually, it changes the meaning.”
To teachers, the concepts of a play and of Sparknotes are very different. “When I think of Sparknotes, I think of a summary, and a play would not be a summary,” said Greta Muça, another English II teacher. “I would expect a play to give an interpretation of the text, [but very few] sections of Sparknotes … attempt to give an interpretation of scenes.”
“Students who have yet to read Jane Eyre could benefit from watching the Drama Seminar production,” said Lydia Duff ’16, who will play the title character. Duff read Jane Eyre as a sophomore last year. “I think that it will be very interesting, a little intro to the story,” she said. “It will get them invested in the story. It’s a very dense book—I loved it, but it was at times difficult to read.”
Sophomores who have not read Jane Eyre acknowledged that the play could provide valuable insight into the story. “I know that it’s an older book, and some people have trouble following the language of older books, so [the play] is kind of like a plot summary, which would be helpful,” said Maddy Troilo ’17.
The play can even act as a first opportunity for students to see what they don’t catch onto immediately about the characters, and storyline. Eddie Cai ’17 said, “The book is probably harder to read and harder to understand, so if you go see the play … you know what it’s going to be about, and … you can see what you don’t understand.”
Teachers could also use the play as a tool to get students to become more interested in the text, said Duff. “Any way to get [students] enthused about [the book] and invested in the characters will make everything easier,” she said.
Because the play will give a basic summary of the book, Wray thinks that English teachers will take advantage of the opportunity to support PHS performing arts while enhancing students’ understanding of the plot. “I would think that they would encourage it—if I were [an English] teacher, I would give kids extra credit to come to see the play,” she said.
However, teachers may prefer to have their students see the play only after reading the text. “The English teachers would probably want us to read the book first,” Cai said. “[They] wouldn’t want us to think we know everything about the book, and not take the book as seriously as if we were reading it first.”
Gonzalez also said that the order is not as important as long as students manage to keep the play and book separate when formulating ideas about the text. “It’s important to evaluate [the play] critically, not necessarily negatively, but critically in relation to the text,” said Gonzalez. “So if they see [the play] first, sure, they might have a certain idea of what it’s going to be, but they should keep an open and critical mind when they actually read the text, so they can see the … differences and evaluate how those differences change one’s interpretation of it.”
Because the play involves actors and sets, it somewhat limits the ability of the viewers’ imagination. “It can be [a problem to see the play first] … It can make it so that you have a difficult time imagining the story for yourself, which is a very important process,” said Bryan Hoffman, who also teaches English II. “But I think that there are ways to help the students avoid that. That can be undone, especially because the play can’t possibly take as long as it does to read the novel.”
Wray also noted that there is value in seeing the play even after having read the book. “Don’t you go see movies like Harry Potter after you read the book? We did Pride and Prejudice here a few years ago, and everyone wanted to come see it because they just like the story and they want to see what it looks like,” she said. “You have an image of what Jane looks like or what Rochester looks like, and that’s why you want to see … a play—because you want to see it live.”