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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Are You as Smart as a High Schooler? A Doll's House Edition

by Jessica Goldschmidt

BAM Education offers comprehensive study guides to the more than 220 schools that attend our live performances and film screenings every year (we quizzed you on Rime of the Ancient Mariner back in December). But what goes into the making of those guides? How do you approach inventive, multi-layered art and make it legible to a younger audience?

We asked Josh Cabat—BAM Education writer, Young Film Critics instructor, and chair of English for the Roslyn (NY) public schools—to talk a bit about what went into his study guide for the Young Vic's upcoming production of Ibsen's A Doll's House—and learned some fascinating things about the show in the process.

View/download the study guide for A Doll's House

What's the first question you ask yourself when starting to write a student study guide?

As someone who has been through a lot of bad professional development, I only have two things in mind when I undertake something like this:
1. Can a teacher use this tomorrow in a real classroom?
2. Have I set it up in such a way that it casts a net wide enough to encompass as broad a range of students as possible, based both on grade level and relative comfort with literary analysis?

Did you learn anything new/surprising about the play while researching this guide?

I was surprised to learn what great lengths Ibsen went to deflect attention from a purely feminist reading of the play. Although lauded at every turn by the Emma Goldmans of the day as feminist in a visionary way, Ibsen insisted that Nora's struggle was simply another manifestation of the grand theme of his work of that period, which was the oppression of the individual by the strictures of society. According to Ibsen, anyway, Nora is something of an accidental feminist.

What do you think will be the most exciting entry point for high schoolers (and/or general audiences) into this production?

Not having seen the production yet, I think it will be what it always is with this play, and a theme that for women and for many other groups is much on society's mind: the individual constrained by society.

Of all the thematic elements you list in your chart (see below to test yourself!), which do you personally think is most central to the play in the abstract and/or this particular production of it?

That's a tough one, but if I had to narrow it down, it would be Ibsen's focus on the institution of marriage. We live in a time where in many ways, the conception of a traditional marriage is evolving and coming under much public scrutiny. I'm curious to see whether Ibsen's rather dim view of the institution as being akin to a prison sentence, especially for women, still has an impact today. Or perhaps it is possible that we have evolved a very different view of marriage as a societal construct and that the play is little more than an interesting relic of views long since abandoned.

Are you planning on seeing the show? What moment are you most intrigued to see interpreted?

As I understand it, the production is coming to BAM with its revolving stage intact. Truly a revolutionary interpretation for a revolutionary play! Since so much of A Doll's House is about image versus reality, about the difference between the faces we put on for those outside our door and our true faces that we only reveal at home, it will be interesting to see how the revolving stage keeps that tension constantly in motion.

A Doll's House runs Feb 21 to Mar 16 at the BAM Harvey Theater. You can view and download the study here.

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