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Educational Resources for "Imogen in the Wild": Interview with Isabella Camfield

By Cymbeline in The Anthropocene on Oct 06, 2021 at 02:05 PM in Project News

Cymbeline in the Anthropocene interviewed Isabella Camfield, a high school teacher in Los Angeles, about her co-ordination of a freely accessible website of educational resources for students and teachers to accompany the release of the Shakespeare in Yosemite feature film, Imogen in the Wild. Click here to access Isabella's educational site, and read on to find out more about her teaching!

Educational Resources for "Imogen in the Wild": Interview with Isabella Camfield

Cymbeline in the Anthropocene Thanks for joining me, Isabella. How are you in California? Are you currently in Merced?

Isabella Camfield No, I'm actually in Los Angeles. My my parents live in Merced and I've known Katie [Brokaw, co-director of Imogen in the Wild] for a bunch of years because [like her] they also work at the UC, but I've been teaching in LA for the past three years. Because of the nature of this production [as a feature film] I was able to collaborate even though I’m not in the same space.

CA There are a few advantages to this online zoom life.

IC Totally, hopefully we can take the positives and use them in the future, but I hope we’re able to connect more normally soon.

CA We still need the in-person stuff, don’t we?

IC Yes, that was something I became keenly aware of when I was seeing my students for the first time in person. It was just such a reinvigorating experience after not seeing some of their faces for the whole year.

CA And what level are you teaching?

IC I teach seniors English, and government, and economics. Our school is a relatively middle and high school, 6th through 12th grade. We combine our social science and English classes, and I try to blend the two subjects together as much as I can. I studied both theatre and English in my undergrad, and I actually wrote my senior thesis on Shakespeare, so I was very excited to get to work on this project, and to give my insights as a high school teacher about what might be useful for students.

CA Yes, there are so many wonderful dimensions to this Yosemite production, and the number of people working on it is incredible. The educational aspect is something unique and contributes to the whole outreach aspect of the project. And it's wonderful that Cymbeline in the Anthropocene gets to be part of it a small way. There are wonderful reciprocities between the two projects, and that's so important, especially in the current world that is connected in electronically in many ways but sometimes feels very unconnected.  

IC Yes, definitely, and it was really a pleasure to get to work with the UC Merced students. What you see on the website is really just their research and their work, and I just tried to create a space for them to share all their ideas, and gave a little bit of an outline for the different sections that they could put their research into. But everything there was written by them.

CA The website looks fantastic! It very approachable and accessible. Could I walk you back a step or two? How did the idea for this webpage start, and how did you conceive it?

IC For sure. So we weren’t sure how we were going to compile all of the information that we were gathering, and we talked about creating packets, or having a flyer that had links on it. But what really got me thinking about the website as a resource and as a medium was reflecting back on an experience I had when I was in my master’s program. I had to do a project finding community resources in the area of the school site where I was located and compile a bunch of different resources, like mental health-care resources, and the local libraries, to a Google site that could be attached to the school’s website for our school community to access if they needed it. And I just remember thinking back to that, and then realizing, oh, that would be an effective way to gather all of our disparate sources that we have onto one link that can be easily shared and added to the main Shakespeare in Yosemite website. What’s nice about Google sites is that they’re pretty easy to use. So I created the template and added some pictures, and then I just took all the information that the UC Merced students had gathered on different Google Docs, put it all together and published it.

CA Clever! It sounds as if it was relatively straightforward because you had some of the format resources already there, and you just had to be the impresario, as it were, to put it all together. Did you ask for volunteers at UC Merced?

IC Yeah, so the students that were working on the education team were actually a group of students that were in [Imogen in the Wild co-director] Billy Wolfgang’s Intro to Shakespeare class [at UC Merced]. They were doing it as their midterm project. He had asked his whole class who would be interested, and those were the students that were working with me. It was a group of about five or six students, and so we just had a list of a bunch of different directions that they could go in with their research.

In our first meeting we talked about who was most interested in what. And what was exciting about it was that it was very diverse group of students. We had some STEM majors, and a lot of folks were taking the class as an arts requirement for graduation but weren’t necessarily theatre people. So they were coming with very different levels of experience of Shakespeare and the theatre in general. This was really exciting then to see what they found most important to share with secondary students in terms of giving students the “why?” behind Shakespeare in production.

CA That's very interesting, that disciplinary diversity. It’s very visible in some of the resources that you’ve researched and presented on the website. Before I come back to that and leave the process stage, could I ask, did you have certain goals in mind – we’ve already touched on this a bit -- for setting up a page of resources for the production and this play? And I suppose my second question, related to that, would be how did you decide on those goals?

IC I think we talked a lot about how we could make Shakespeare accessible for all students and connect it to their own communities, especially from the environmental justice angle of this production. So, [our goals were] thinking about different aspects of environmental justice in students' own communities, and then giving them an understanding of why Shakespeare is relevant to make commentary on these issues that are important to us today. Those were the two main things that we thought about, giving them the sense of the relevance and the urgency of this production in this present moment.

What was actually also really great was, we had one of the students who was working with us who was part of a liaison program with UC Merced and Yosemite where UC Merced students can be trained as Park rangers, and also do outreach work with local elementary schools in Merced, teaching them about Yosemite [National Park] and resources in their backyard. So a lot of the information about Yosemite specifically, and about the history of Indigenous peoples in the area, was from those student who works with the park as well.

CA I think it's very impressive, and you’re to be commended, that you put that the environmental justice perspective very much upfront in this project. It's very prominent on your website, and immediately contemporizes Shakespeare in a timely and necessary way. That was a strategic move on your part.

CA Do you want to talk little bit about the relevancy of the community aspect of the project – how you're trying to make it a locally and regionally focused production?

IC Yes, it’s an educational journey. I wanted to use this website in my own class; and when viewing this production with my own students, I would want them to do some reflective writing before viewing, thinking about what they've been noticing in terms of environmental justice issues. Because we are in Los Angeles, this past summer we could look up at the mountains right next to us and see the mountains on fire. My school is located in Southeast Los Angeles close to a very industrial area. I have to drive through factories and pass all these semi-trucks to get to school every day. And so a lot of my students are already interested in the effects that has on the soil in their yards and the air that they're breathing. I think that's what I would try to open up with if I was going to teach this as a unit before going into Shakespeare at all.

I think another thing that would be exciting to explore with students is thinking about adaptation, and looking at excerpts of the original text of Cymbeline, and then looking at Katie, Billy, and Paul [Prescott]’s adaptation [Imogen in the Wild], thinking about the choices that were made. So that's why we also included the California education standards on the webpage, because one of the standards is specifically talking about adaptations of plays, and I believe it mentions Shakespeare specifically, and for them to think about the artistic choices that were made, and what effect they have on the audience.

CA Which is another aspect of contemporizing Shakespeare, working creatively with those things that might connect with present conditions today. I’m sure one of the things you discovered is that Shakespeare is malleable in that open way. Your school, is that down through Southeast LA where the Metro line goes?

IC The metro is fairly close. We are not too far from downtown LA. The name of the actual city we are in is Huntington Park. But a lot of my students live in the downtown area or work or in Southeast LA. So yes, lots of factories. There’s a big Farmer Johns meat-packing factory a few blocks from the school itself that has huge clouds coming out of it. There are some days in a year where the smell gets into our air-conditioning in our school, and it's not great. It definitely makes it hard to ignore as an issue that's facing our community. So a lot of my students are very passionate about it already.

CA I think it great that you're not staging Shakespeare as this nostalgic world where, if there were problems, they were problems way back then. But you're saying these issues are going to be part of what this production is, and what Shakespeare is now.

IC Yes, it’s more a call to action!

CA Definitely! And giving students the resources upfront to act. Could I come back to the diversity aspect of your team, and the knowledge they brought to the website? One of the things that struck me was that you have a page on colour theory, which is related to the fact that this is going to be a feature film rather than a stage production. I wonder if you could talk about that, whether you felt that had an environmental angle to it as well.

IC That was somewhat of a later addition to our team. Riley, the student who had worked on the colour theory, was actually part of the editing team, and she loves colour theory -- it's a hobby of hers -- she was just super excited to be able to be involved on our team. Our intention was that this will be a film not necessarily just for English classes but that art classes could be viewing the film as well. And then, thinking about the state [educational] standards for art, colour theory could tie into art classes, the different layers of meaning that all of the colours have in the film. And we also were thinking about the environmental justice issues and the ecological side of the website, [and how the film] could potentially be useful in science classes. We wanted to be interdisciplinary both because of the people who were on the team and with the intention of this being a film which could be used in multiple disciplines in schools.

CA That's brilliant. I think that's -- pardon the pun – visionary! Because you're connecting Shakespeare to these different theories and approaches from different disciplines. That’s groundbreaking. You're not approaching it just from the usual lit-crit angles of plot and character etc, even though you've got that wonderful character tree [https://sites.google.com/aspirepublicschools.org/yosemiteshakes-ed-imogen/cymbeline-information/character-map?authuser=0] which I thought was so inventive as a way of thinking about the play’s relationships. It’s a perfect organic metaphor for a play that is taking an environmentally oriented approach.

IC Thank you! And we talked a lot about accessibility for Shakespeare's plays. There's so many names and so many characters. So the tree was something they could keep handy as they're viewing just to remind themselves of who is who.  

CA We haven't seen the whole film yet, although there are some wonderful trailers available [click here to watch!]. Are there particular scenes you would have in mind that would be directly applicable to some of the things that your website is doing? (This is not to put you on the spot!)

IC I think from the trailers that have been released, we have Lee Stetson’s beautiful speech [click here to watch Stetson's speech as Belarius], and I think that would be definitely something that I would want to do a close reading of with students. I think also looking at the juxtaposition of both the costuming and the sets when they're in the town versus in the wild [scenes]. Those are the top things that are coming to mind. And I also think, because I’ve been part of the music team, looking at some of the music in the film and the way that they have combined some of Shakespeare's language with original song-writing to make it feel very contemporary. That would be something a lot of students would be excited by.

CA Yes, the music videos and the musical moments in the film are something that make it distinctive. It feels at times very like much musical theatre, and it’s a signature adaptation approach of Shakespeare in Yosemite. It opens the circle wider in terms of performer creativity and viewer engagement, and it’s another way into this relatively unknown play for most people. That's partly why I chose it I chose it, to be unfamiliar, so that people wouldn't feel inhibited artistically by it.

IC Yeah, you don't have the pressure of, how are we going to make the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet fresh!"

CA Exactly! And your education page has this theoretical framing for the play. That’s another unusual aspect that goes beyond the conventional school focus on plot and character. Those are mature and conceptually expansive ways of thinking about the play, and making it accessible through theory, which some people perhaps wouldn't think would be the way of making it accessible, but you're showing how that can be done.

IC Thank you. Yes, I think a lot of it, at least for me, is inspired by my experience in the classroom, always trying to be culturally responsive and then also interdisciplinary, combining English and Social Science. I'm already having to be kind of creative about the ways in which those intersect, and so I think this was just a natural extension of that, like, let’s bring all these disciplines together! We don't have maths in there but other than that – ha ha!

CA Well, if you expanded colour theory a bit you’d have some math coming in there.

IC Yeah, just give us a little more time!

CA Shakespeare in Yosemite is lucky to have a person like you thinking in such imaginative and creative ways about educational resources.

IC I was thrilled to be able to work on it because I have seen their productions [in Yosemite National Park] before, and I've always lamented that I live far away and haven’t been able to be a part of it. It’s really lovely that I get to have my own small part of the production.

CA And of course even though you're not close to Merced, you’ll be able to watch this film, as the whole world will, and that's so wonderful.

IC Well, you’re in for a treat!

CA I’m sure! Is there anything else you want to add about your hopes for the website as it goes forward? Are you continuing to update and evolve it?

IC I believe Katie wants to add more of the trailers to it as more things are released, and then eventually the link to the entire film. Another thing that I would like to add at some point would be some discussion questions. Originally I was thinking when it was going to be in episodes in which we could write pre-and post-discussion questions for each episode. But now that we are working with it as an entire film, we could add some natural stopping-points for teachers to add in discussion. I also think there is a little bit more we could add to the colour palette page with some guiding questions for discussion or for writing. I’m very excited to see how classes get to use [the webpage] and the film.

CA I’m so glad to hear the website will be an ongoing project. Just like ours, it's supposed to be an interactive resource for people approaching this play and thinking about ecodramaturgy and environmental Shakespeare in general. The whole spirit of your project is collaborative, and we are so grateful to you for offering your time and resources in becoming part of our project, because contributions are all voluntary. It's wonderful to have the sense of altruism that runs throughout the whole project.

IC Well, any chance I get to talk about Shakespearean and theatre more generally I jump at it! So I’m very happy to be a part of it, and thank you for including me.

CA Thank you. And congratulations again on a website that is really well done and fun, and is going to be tremendously useful.

Educational Resources for "Imogen in the Wild": Interview with Isabella Camfield