Performance Essay

Creating analysis-based performances of Romeo and Juliet


Key Staff

Classroom Teacher

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Communication and Collaboration
Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques, Producing, Executing and Performing


Plays were meant to be performed. By investigating Shakespeare through both an analytical and theatrical lens, students achieve a much deeper understanding of his work. While this lesson was originally intended for a study of Romeo and Juliet, teachers can adapt it for any of Shakespeare's works, as well as for other dramatic works.

Students will read the play, paying particular attention to character motivation and Shakespeare's use of language. Students will perform daily in small groups, leading up to the culminating activity: a performance essay in which groups (6-7 students each) create a script that analyzes an aspect of the play (theme, character development, imagery, or other language usage).

In these productions, students will act out the scenes that serve as "evidence" for their thesis, as well as student-written scenes that serve as a frame story for the essay as a whole.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn to annotate passages in order to discover the meaning behind Shakespeare's language.
  • Actively participate in all aspects of theater: acting, directing, script writing, stage directions, blocking, set and costume design, etc...
  • Think analytically, creating an overall thesis statement and using text to support that thesis.
  • Understand iambic pentameter and its uses.
  • Discuss universal themes and connections to contemporary lives.
  • Make connections between Shakespeare and other works studied throughout the year.
  • Identify, analyze, and create allusions.

Teaching Approach

  • Arts Integration
  • Project-Based Learning

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Role Playing

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • DVD Player
  • Television
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should have knowledge of Romeo and Juliet (or whichever play is being studied) and Shakespeare in general.

Teachers should familiarize themselves with the performance aspects of Shakespeare (i.e. Lack of stage directions, iambic pentameter, etc...)

Prior Student Knowledge

Students will most likely be familiar with Romeo and Juliet; some may have even studied it in previous years.

Physical Space



Large Group Instruction


Regular classroom space is sufficient. For the performances, a "stage" should be created by moving desks/tables into an audience friendly formation. If the school's stage is available, reserving that space for performances adds authenticity to the production.

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual disabilities may need modified handouts or texts. For film clips, it is helpful for all students to show film clips with closed captions enabled.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1) Students should view the Zeffirelli version of the play prior to study. Some teachers may find this an unusual first step to studying the play, but many teachers believe that a play is meant to be performed, and thus it makes sense to view the play before reading it. For younger students, this helps tremendously with studying the language of the play as they read, as well as with their analysis.

2) Teacher should print a copy of Performance Essay Final for each student.  It will be referenced throughout the lesson. 


1) Before reading begins, the teacher will introduce the acting mini-project (see pages 7-8 of "Performance Essay Final"). In order to begin preparing for the performance, students will be put into small groups for acting "mini-projects." Students will sign up for scenes to perform.

2) At the beginning of each class period, 1-2 groups will perform their mini-project. The performances will correspond to the previous reading assignment. Students should pay attention to motivation, interaction between characters, pronunciation, and blocking in preparation for this assignment. They do not have to have their scenes memorized for this performance.

3) After each performance, the audience will act as the "director." Audience members will watch the performance and, based on their own understanding of the night's reading, give the actors suggestions on blocking, delivery of lines, and motivations.

4) Throughout the unit, teachers have the freedom to teach lessons specific to their individual school's curriculum in addition to these acting projects to further students' understanding of the play.

NOTE) These steps are one way of studying a play. This lesson is built around what to do to unpack a work after your stduents have studied a play. Use your own methods of teaching the play to your students.


1) Once students have finished studying the play, the teacher should explain the final assignment: the Shakespeare Performance Essay (see pages 1-3 of "Peformance Essay Final"). Teachers can either give the students information during the acting projects, or during the explanation of the culminating performance.

2) Students will put themselves into groups of 5-7 students. In groups larger than seven, many students feel that there is not enough to do. Each student will then choose a specific troupe responsibillity to complete in addition to their acting.  These responsibillities are: script editor, director, property manager, set designer, and costumer (see pages 2-3 of "Performance Essay Final").

3) In these groups, students will create a thesis statement based on the play. This thesis can be based on character development, theme, Shakespeare's style, or any other idea that can be supported by evidence from the text. Teachers can use "Thesis Models" in the "Performance Essay Final" packet, the Thesis Deciding Day worksheet, or a combination of the two.

4) Following teacher approval of the thesis, students will create an outline for an essay revolving around that thesis. Students will not actually write the essay; instead, they will find scenes in the text that support their thesis and with bullet points, explain WHY these scenes can be used as supports (see "Outline" resource). This ensures that students are selecting meaningful scenes to perform.

5) Once the outline has been approved, students begin writing a script for their performance. This script (see "Script" resource) should be crafted in the form of a frame story. For example, the scenes should not be performed one after another, but rather as a play within a play. See videos for samples.

6) Students will complete troupe specific assignments.  While each of the assignments will be somewhat collaborative, individual students will be in charge of completing a prompt book, a costumes list, a props list, a final script, and a set design (worksheets and further instructions available in "Resources").

7) Students will spend five class periods in rehearsal. Students may use this rehearsal time to revise the script, build sets, put costumes together, memorize lines, or anything else that needs to be completed for the final performance.



1) Both prior to and following the final performance, students will complete a peer evaluation and a self-evaluation. These evaluations (see page 5 of "Performance Essay Final") will serve as one part of the students' final performance grade. Students will complete a pre- and post-performance evaluation to ensure fairness. Often times someone can work more than anyone in their group, but forget their lines; all the group seems to remember in that instance is that this particular member forgot his or her lines.



Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 8: Understanding context by analyzing the role of theatre, film, television, and electronic media in the past and the present

Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 6: Comparing and integrating art forms by analyzing traditional theatre, dance, music, visual arts, and new art forms

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Language Arts Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Language Arts Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Language Arts Standard 6: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes



Erinn Harris

Editors & Producers


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