Guest Author - Lorel Shea
In 2008, the Standard Deviants product line was purchased by the Cerebellum Corporation. One of the first changes Cerebellum made was to repackage products into smaller, more specialized units. This allows the consumer to buy exactly what they need at a lower price, but it also makes it more expensive to own the entire collection in a given subject. So the “old” set of three dvds packaged under the title, “Shakespeare Tragedies” is now broken up into 12 shorter discs. My three old format discs are individually labeled as, “Origins and Style”, “Titus Andronicus-Romeo and Juliet-Hamlet”, and “Othello-MacBeth-King Lear”. Each of these old discs takes several hours to view, as they contain between 21- 29 lessons. The newer format may be timed to better fit classroom use. An instructor may choose to purchase and show students Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, or Othello alone, and not have to worry about stopping or starting at a particular point.
The information in my origins and style dvd appears to have morphed into the new “teaching systems” Shakespeare, which is available in two parts: “Module 1 - intro to Shakespeare”, and Module 2- What is Tragedy?” These teaching systems have built in quizzes and lots of great overview of the Bard and his life and times. Reformatting aside, the Standard Deviants have terrific products which are informative and fun for kids and adults alike. The Shakespeare dvds are very well made and crammed with worthwhile information.
Who are these Standard Deviants, anyway? You might recognize the term from test deviations. A gifted person is usually one who is assessed as being about two standard deviations from the norm. The Standard Deviants who took their oxymoronic name from this are a crew of bright, energetic, mostly college aged actors who do short lectures, spoofs and skits intended to entertain as well as educate. Think of it as an educational variety show with focus on a particular topic. In these dvds, the Standard Deviant speakers may be dressed as the Globe Theater's infamous “groundlings” or as elderly, pipe smoking professors. Others will appear in full Shakespearean costume or dressed in jeans and tee shirt to discuss the playwright's works. Key scenes may be acted out, and silly Monty Python style puppets fill in for actors on occasion. Attention is paid to the plot, major and minor characters, tragic figures, variations in interpretation, poetic expression, and the social and cultural expectations of the period. These lessons are best learned after the play has been seen or read, as they review but do not attempt to recreate the whole work.
My kids and I had great fun viewing the full Shakespearean catalog from the Standard Deviants. My tween-age son was so engaged that he refused to break for lunch until we finished an entire disc. They really are “that” good! My hope is that they will produce sets on Shakespeare's comedies and histories as well.