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Janet Field-Pickering; Folger Library Official

By Louie Estrada
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page B08

Janet Field-Pickering, 51, the Folger Shakespeare Library's head of education who developed programs and resources to help teachers and students gain a better understanding of the works of the Elizabethan Age playwright, died of cancer March 21 at her home in Silver Spring.

A former high school English and drama teacher, Ms. Field-Pickering was for the past 10 years the coordinator and guiding force behind the library's extensive educational outreach programs. Those included docent tours, teacher workshops, educational materials, online resources and the annual elementary and secondary school Shakespeare festivals, during which students perform excerpts from Shakespeare's plays on the Folger stage.

Janet Field-Pickering pushed children to act out Shakespeare's plays. (Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library)

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She updated classroom lesson plans available on the library's Web site, www.folger.edu, started a program for underserved D.C. public school elementary students and created educational materials for media outlets.

Most of the programs emphasized Ms. Field-Pickering's preference for "performance-based" learning of Shakespeare, in which students speak the dramatic verses aloud and act out the plays rather than listen to lectures.

"Janet brought a unique blend of magnificent gifts to the work -- the skill set of a master teacher, the enthusiasm of someone who really loves kids, the energy and vision of a leader," said Werner L. Gundersheimer, who as former director of the Folger Shakespeare Library hired Ms. Field-Pickering in 1995.

Ms. Field-Pickering was born in Boston and grew up in Scituate, Mass. She graduated from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania with a degree in English and received a master's in English from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in 2003.

She joined the faculty at Chambersburg Area Senior High School in Pennsylvania in 1979 and taught there until 1995, specializing in advance placement English and drama. She directed student theatrical productions as the faculty adviser for the drama program.

She also performed in productions at the Summer Theatre at Gettysburg College.

In 1994, she participated in a four-week summer teaching program at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The next year, she applied for the position of head of education, which became vacant when the first person to hold that job, Peggy O'Brien, stepped down.

In 1998, Ms. Field-Pickering published "Discovering Shakespeare's Language" with Shakespearean scholar Rex Gibson.

"I think that elementary students are such in a mode of learning new words all the time that they don't get concerned about a word that they don't understand," Ms. Field-Pickering once said about challenge of Shakespeare's prose. "They start to revel in the sounds of the words and the rhythm of the words -- words like rabbit sucker, and boisterous, and cudgel and peevish, words that Shakespeare coined, or at least wrote down for the first time in the English language, and they really enjoy them."

Survivors include her husband, David Pickering, and their two sons, Andrew Pickering and Benjamin Field-Pickering, all of Silver Spring; her parents, Charles and Florita Field of Boca Grande, Fla., and Scituate; two sisters; and a brother.

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