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South Jefferson teacher adapts Shakespeare for the masses

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ADAMS — When David J. Andalora talks about Shakespeare, he speaks with the passion of a character out of one of the Bard of Avon’s dramas.

Between classes in his classroom at South Jefferson Central High School, he held up one of his five Shakespeare adaptations.

“In 1603, if you went to the Globe Theatre, even the lowest class of people — the groundlings on the dirt floor, the ‘not-so-smart individuals’ — they understood all of this!” he said. “They understood every word! There’s no way it can’t be the same way for people today.”

Mr. Andalora has been a teacher of students with learning and developmental disabilities for 25 years. He has opened new horizons in literature for his students, who now not only understand Shakespeare but beg him to give them more. His Shakespeare adaptations are also being used at Copenhagen and Indian River central school districts.

Lori Griffin, an English teacher at Copenhagen Central and a former co-worker of Mr. Andalora, said his “Romeo and Juliet” adaptation was an “instant hit” in her mixed-level classes.

“Students could understand and discuss pieces that had eluded them before,” she said.

As a supplement, Mrs. Griffin still uses the original Shakespeare works for specific quotation analysis and literary allusion references of the most famous scenes.

“Dave brought Shakespeare to the modern generation without insulting their intellect while keeping the rhythm and style intact,” she said.

Two of Mr. Andalora’s students, ninth-graders Erin E. Peters and Casey L. Stevens, weren’t looking forward to the Shakespeare unit this school year and the task of reading and analyzing “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I thought it would be confusing and hard to understand,” Erin said.

“I said, ‘Uh-oh. Here comes more stuff that’s going to make me upset because I can’t understand it,’” Casey said. “I got proven wrong.”

Mr. Andalora’s adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” and his four other adaptations have been called better than anything else on the market by his co-workers.

“When he rewrites it in modern language, the kids can understand it,” said South Jefferson resource room teacher Annie O. Williams. “They perform better and can now write their essays and take tests.”

Although Mr. Andalora teaches special education students, his goal is to make Shakespeare accessible to all. The major stumbling block for that understanding is the Elizabethan dialect of Shakespeare’s time.

When people read Shakespeare, he said, they regularly encounter words that they have to look up or pass over.

“For most people, that’s why Shakespeare isn’t their cup of tea,” Mr. Andalora said. “It takes too much concentration to understand what’s going on. I had a kid say to me one time, ‘You know, I’d like Shakespeare a heck of a lot better if he just spoke English.’”

So, based on a challenge, that’s what Mr. Andalora did.

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It was during the 2004-05 school year, when he was teaching at Copenhagen Central, that Mr. Andalora accepted the challenge. He and an English teacher were scheduled to teach special education students a chapter on “Julius Caesar.” At that time, those students were not mainstreamed at the district.

“She wanted to teach them basically the same as what the regular class was doing,” Mr. Andalora said. “She realized we would need an adaptive version of Shakespeare because the regular would be too tough.”

Three different adaptations of “Julius Caesar” were purchased. Mr. Andalora was asked to select one.

“All three of them were awful! Just terrible,” Mr. Andalora said. “They didn’t make it easier. They changed the really hard vocabulary words, but two out of three didn’t change the syntax or the way Shakespeare is laid out.”

When he told his co-worker what he thought of the three selections, he sensed some annoyance on her part.

“She said, ‘I suppose you could write a better one?’” he said.

He responded, “I know I can write a better one.”

He began it that night.

Mr. Andalora’s adaptation of “Julius Caesar” debuted after Christmas break that school year. It was eventually used by his students and by the general education students of the English teacher who challenged him.

“Those kids ate it up,” he said. “They could understand what was going on. The language was easy enough to where I could give each of those kids a part and they could read it fluently.”

Once his students were done with “Julius Caesar,” they pleaded for more. Mr. Andalora then began work on “Macbeth.” It was even better received than “Julius Caesar.” Another English teacher then asked him if he would consider doing “Romeo and Juliet.” That was followed by “Hamlet.” “Othello” was released in March.

Mr. Andalora’s adaptations were originally kept in binders. He began to self-published them in 2011 through CreateSpace, and all five are available on amazon.com.

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Mr. Andalora, who started teaching at Copenhagen Central in 1988 and at South Jefferson in 2006, said he is not “dumbing down” Shakespeare. He said except for Elizabethan language, the element of the original plays have been maintained. If it rhymed in pentameter in the original, it rhymes in pentameter in the adaptation.

“The books are not abridged,” he said. “The only thing that’s been changed is the syntax and vocabulary. The only thing you can’t teach out of these books is if you are looking to teach Shakesperian vocabulary and Elizabethan sentence structure.”

Mr. Andalora, who received his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Geneseo and a master’s degree from SUNY Plattsburgh, described himself as “a fan of literature in general.” At his high school, Wheatland-Chili Central in Monroe County, he was one of the few students who didn’t “totally hate” Shakespeare.

“I think kids today have less patience than they did 30 years ago,” he said. “I think that’s part of the reason some of them find Shakespeare more frustrating than students in the past.”

Mrs. Williams, resource room teacher at South Jefferson, teaches juniors and seniors. Her students got their first taste of Mr. Andalora’s adaptations this year when they were assigned “Hamlet.”

“They were so excited,” she said. “They took it home. It makes them feel more independent and successful. They are so used to giving up and not understanding these things.”

Mrs. Williams said she previously relied on SparkNotes to teach Shakespeare.

“That just summarizes it,” she said. “I like (Mr. Andalora’s adaptations) in that they keep the form of the play. It still has characters speaking and it’s more genuine.”

Mrs. Williams, a former co-worker of Mr. Andalora at Copenhagen, called him her mentor.

“He helped me develop my attitude toward teaching,” she said. “It wasn’t a matter of having kids coming in to do their homework and you show them. He showed them how to think, how to learn.”

Mr. Andalora seems to be following the advice of Hamlet, particularly in Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s play: “Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.”

His translation: “But don’t be dull and boring either. Let your best judgment be your guide. The action you’re doing should match the words you’re saying, and the words you’re saying should be accompanied by matching actions.”

the details
WHAT: David Andalora’s adaptations of five works by William Shakespeare
WHERE: The works — “Hamlet,” “Julius Caesar,” “Macbeth,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello” — are available on amazon.com. Prices are $6.99 except for “Othello” and “Hamlet,” which are $8.49.
ON THE NET: http://tinyurl.com/ctqh9x2
OF NOTE: Mr. Andalora will be one of the local authors attending a book signing at 6:30 p.m. June 7 at Lowville Free Library, 5387 Dayan St.
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