At age 18, Mary Shelley was challenged to write a horror story, and the novel “Frankenstein” was the final product. Over the past two weeks, 13 teachers—four from New York City—and 13 local high school students tackled a challenge of their own: rethinking Shelley’s work to create an original multi-media performance.
Run through Performance at the Center, an initiative of Columbia University’s Teachers College, the project aims to show that creativity and academics can be “completely fused,” according to director Erick Gordon. Gordon hopes teachers will take this message back to their classrooms; they will spend the week following Thursday evening’s performance designing their own curriculums based on their experiences with “Frankenstein” to pilot in their schools.
At a dress rehearsal Thursday afternoon, a player, barefoot and dressed in black, recited portions of Shelley’s introduction, which describes the “wet, ungenial summer” when Lord Byron decided that his weekend guests should write horror stories to entertain themselves. The other players chimed in with sound effects and then took the stage as a screen lit up with images of cell divisions, a stormy sky, and a stained glass window.
Gordon said the project has allowed students and teachers to study “Frankenstein” from multiple angles and connect it to other literary, audio, and visual works.
“Kids are reading more deeply in this program than they ever have in their lives,” he said.
Nathan Blom, a facilitator on the project who also teaches English at LaGuardia High School, has already organized similar multi-media “remixes” in his classroom, such as an annotated “King Lear,” and hopes the “Frankenstein” experience will help other teachers.
“This is not something they can lift verbatim and plop into their classroom,” Blom cautioned. “They’re going to take what works for them, adapt it, make it fit their unique classrooms.”