Monday, November 30, 2009

Henry: Life's a Casserole

April, 2009

The parents' booster club held a fund-raising auction in May. I attended this glorious and fun affair with its requisite Margarita bar and taco stand. Music played and everyone seemed in high spirits, bidding on restaurant gift certificates, spa treatments and sets of luggage.

I was told later the evening had been a tremendous success and much was raised to fill the school's coffers. This, of course, pleased me because those monies fund The Shakespeare Club.

The evening, however, also provided a jolt no amount of tequila could possibly numb.

Two mothers took me aside to tell me Henry's mother had taken seriously, dangerously and suddenly ill. She was in the ICU. Eight-year-old Henry and his four-year-old brother were being cared for by a set of grandparents and an aunt. The family had hunkered down in Henry's small house and the community was signing up to deliver food.

Henry would be playing Malvolio in our production of "Twelfth Night." A show, by the way, that was within weeks of performance. Henry lives, eats and breathes Malvolio, and my first thought was "He must continue; we cannot take this away from him."

Henry and his brother were only told "Mommy's sick and in the hospital, getting better."

Henry's mom is a young and golden woman, the picture of health. Only the day before, I had been in communication with her when she admired a group photo of The Shakespeare Club. Only the day before....

So much news....

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to Heaven.
All's Well That Ends Well Act I, Scene I

Yes, well, prayers nevertheless might help. Continuation, indeed, would serve. And, when left wondering and aching: mac and cheese.

I ran into Henry a few days later at school.

"Henry, how are you?"

"Good!" he answered, full of sun.

"So, just wondering...did you get the dinner I sent over to your house?"

"Yes, Ms. Ryane...mac and cheese."

"Well, I remember you telling me that was a favorite of yours, so I wanted to make sure it was especially good."

"It wasn't good, Ms. Ryane," Henry made this statement with a serious look.

"Really? Gosh, I'm so sorry."

"It was great!" and when he said this he bounced straight up in the air.

Once more, I was delivered the lesson. This was another way to handle difficulty, upheaval, fear and the unknown.

Henry's family made sure he attended all of our final rehearsals. Relatives flew in from across the country to see his performance. His mother was in the hospital for a long time, and upon release faced months of rehabilitation. After the performance, in the mad chaos of people and children, I hugged Henry — but I didn't know it would be the last hug. I didn't know I would not set eyes on the child again.

Henry was whisked away to a far part of the county to live with his grandparents and attend another school.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest Act IV, Scene I

I cannot and will not, ever again, look at a dish of mac and cheese without thinking of the littlest, bravest and funniest Malvolio.

My life in Illyria is a suvent. The food I eat is awesome. Do you know who I am? You don't. I am Malvoleo! It is fun being a survent. But Sir Toby and Sir Anderw and Festa are so anowing!
—Henry, 3rd grade

Thursday, November 26, 2009

In Thanksgiving

To you, who take leaps, because I ask;

Use words bigger than your shoes and reach for the sun.

To you, who share your stories, so large, the Greeks

Would drown in the drama of them

And risk acts of trust to each other, to language, to exposure —

To you, who gamble and gambol

I bow before you,

Enriched and delighted because of you.

To you, I say, go forward —

Gamble and gambol into that sun

Let no one take away what you know, no, know — about yourselves.

Clothed in the courage of soldiers

Your armor, the brave coats of daring

Go forward.

To you, on bended knee, I say

I am grateful to have known you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Theatre

For this story you may want to curl up with a mug of hot grog or some other Elizabethan juice of substance. I am going to tell you of how our humble auditorium transformed from a standard-issue school assembly hall into a kind of theatre.

Before I became I associated with the school, there was a first-grade teacher, Orlantha Ambrose, who was also a concert-level violinist. She started an after-school program called "Strings by the Sea," where she taught little kids to play the violin.

The program was a success and she was a great teacher, but Orlantha wanted to shake her life up and decided to return to the country of her parents' birth, Sri Lanka, to start a "Strings by the Sea" with other children.

She succeeded with the program and her parents went to visit at Christmastime to hear her young students in concert. During their time together, Orlantha's father, Dr. Anton Ambrose, took his wife, Beulah, and daughter to the seaside for a holiday.

Dr. Ambrose woke one morning and, while discussing breakfast with Beulah, heard Orlantha in the next room shout, "Mom...Dad...water!"

The threesome ran from the tsunami. They made it out of their rooms, out of the lobby and out of the hotel. Across the street, Dr. Ambrose saw a truck that could get them further. He looked back to see Beulah tying her shoe and that was the last time he saw his wife alive. He lost his wife and daughter that day. Dr. Ambrose survived by clinging for hours to a tree.

I don't know what I would do with so much sorrow, but I will tell you what Dr. Anton Ambrose did. He renovated our worn auditorium into the Orlantha Ambrose Center for the Performing Arts. It was repainted and new floors and seats were installed. We now have a lighting board and a sound system. When the Shakespeare Club performed "Romeo and Juliet," we were the first group to be seen in the warmth of colored lights with amplified CD music to enhance the production.

I wrote Dr. Ambrose a thank you note and said, "Shakespeare gave these children the words but you gave them the magic."

Dr. Ambrose's nephew, Rohan Fernando, directed a documentary about the family's tragedy. "Blood and Water" tells the story of Dr. Ambrose returning to Sri Lanka a year after the tsunami. The film is enlightening, brave and encouraging. It can be located in its entirety, I'm told, at the National Film Board of Canada.

Thank you, Beulah, for your daughter. Thank you, Orlantha, for your legacy. Thank you, Anton, for continuing the good work of arts and children on days when you simply may have wanted to hide.

I learned that to be an actor you can’t be embarrassed.

My favorite part in the play was when both Viola and Sebastian where on the boat.

I loved learning my lines and learning them.

The day of the show I saw the audience I was scared but this year I learned to be brave.
—Meara, 5th grade

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hard News: The Name Game

New Yorker cartoon by William Haefeli

In the eighties there were Michaels and Jennifers; the nineties brought us Zacharys and Emilys; for this decade we have Jacobs and Hannahs.

Teachers call out: "Jeremy T. or Jeremy B." "Emma D. or Emma W." "Madison J. or Madison C."

For Gwyneth Paltrow's child, "Apple": end of story.

This year I had eight children in the club whose names started with the letter J.

As if there isn't enough in a classroom to make me sound like a blithering idiot, there's the name game. Let's do as the Chinese do and number the kids. So much easier.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Theresa: Drawing Out the Talent

April, 2009

In fourth grade, Theresa played Juliet's nurse. This year she would be our Sea Captain, with her big scene with Viola at the start of the play, after they land on the shores of Illyria.

As the nurse in "Romeo and Juliet," Theresa fought hard to give us what we needed. I pushed and pushed for Theresa to give volume and to slooooowww down as she sped through her speeches. Upon finding Juliet passed out on the floor, she had to run in, crying:

Get up!
Why, lamb! Why, lady! Why, love! Why, bride!
Dressed in your clothes and now back in bed?
Help! Help! My lady's dead!

Oh boy. This was a reach for Theresa. I worked with her alone. I asked her to shout, but she creaked it up only an itsy-bitsy bit louder. Theresa wanted to do it so badly but she couldn't find her actor courage or her actor voice.

A super-bright girl, this year she whipped through the "Twilight" books like a speed-reader. I'd see her during lunch breaks reading novels or studying her lines. She was off-book before anyone else, but Theresa is quite simply off-the-charts shy.

She lives with her sisters, dad and stepmom. Sometimes she would miss school and our meetings.

"Hey, Theresa, are you okay? You didn't come to school or Shakespeare Club."

"Oh, sorry," she'd whisper. My't wake up to drive me."

One day, going through Theresa's journal, I saw drawings she'd done to accompany her writing. Stick figures with cartoon symbols indicating emotional reactions. There was one of Theresa fighting with her sisters. Sweat drops flew, eyes popped in fury and jagged bolts speared from heads. The sketches were advanced and remarkable.

I asked Theresa if she would consider contributing drawings to go along with some journal excerpts for display at our performance. She blushed and said, "Okay."

I set her up in the library with pens, pencils and colored markers. She drew Shakespeare as a "waterboy," balancing a tray with glasses of water and more tumblers perched on his head. She drew Queen Elizabeth powdering her face, with white fluffs floating around her worried look. She had Shakespeare under a family portrait, writing home as he wept over his letter.

I wish I could show you what Theresa came up with, but I returned the work to her after the performance. When I knew I would be writing a blog piece about her, I sent Theresa a letter with a pen, paper and a self-addressed stamped envelope asking her to copy some of her drawings to put on this site. I didn't hear back. A few weeks later I called her house and left a message. Nothing.

All I have are a few tidbits she drew for our program.

Before the performances of "Twelfth Night," I spoke to the audience and told of how exciting it was for me to see talents emerge in The Shakespeare Club. We see actors, writers, singers, musicians and, this year, a visual artist.

"My advice," I said, "would be to get this girl's autograph now....She's going to be famous. Theresa, please stand."

This impossibly shy talent bravely stood and accepted her due.

In The Shakespeare Club I hope to learn more about Shakespeare and learn to a better actor and be less shy so I can act better.
—Theresa, 5th grade

Friday, November 20, 2009

Recess: Be Careful What You Don't Wish For

I was a teenager when I started my professional acting career in the theatre. I knew two things for sure:

My life, forever, would be on the boards; but never writing on one.

I would never, ever be someone so ordinary as a teacher.

I would like to say this arrogance of youth ended in my youth, but I cannot say that. I kept it up for many years until traveling from theatre to theatre and waiting around for some supporting film role turned me into an angry creep, and I had to walk away.

When we start a new year in The Shakespeare Club and spend time exploring the Elizabethan period, I tell the girls that, in those days, women could neither go to school nor ever become actresses. I use this as an opportunity to introduce the idea of irony.

Shakespeare's plays have more male characters than female. Our club usually has more girls than boys. Thus: Girls often play boys' parts, and they learn irony.

The lesson is not lost on me either. Fortunately, I'm as capable of learning as I want my young wards to be.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Geoffrey & Kate: Not-Twins

It's not difficult to notice the twins phenomenon of this generation. In the four years of Shakespeare Club, there has only been one year without twins.

This year I had twins, Polly and Ethan, playing the twins in "Twelfth Night."

Now I have a story of not-twins acting like twins.

Geoffrey first came to my attention as a third-grader auditioning for the club. Geoffrey is a top-notch little actor who can also rip out the blues on his harmonica. I noticed his family when he played Horatio in "Hamlet." His mom, dad and a darling little girl dressed in a pink dress, with bows in her hair: This was Geoffrey's sister, Kate. The next year when Geoffrey played Romeo, the family again attended and Kate said, "Hello, Ms. Ryane," and asked if she could hand out programs.

"Of course," I responded. "Good idea and thank you so much."

I later found out those first two years of Geoffrey's success were due in no small part to Kate helping her brother with his lines...over and over and over.

When "Romeo and Juliet" ended and the club held their wrap party, I made sure Kate was included. I was already thinking ahead to the next year's casting and decided that Geoffrey would be perfect as Sir Toby Belch.

At the party, however, Kate told me the family was moving away.

I was heartsick at the idea of losing Geoffrey, but so it goes. I met privately with both children to say good-bye. I gave Geoffrey his journal and a copy of "Romeo and Juliet."

Then I sat in the sun with Kate.

"Kate, I'm curious. In the two years that you helped Geoffrey with his lines and helped The Shakespeare Club in other ways, why didn't you ever audition and join us?"

"Oh," she said shyly, "I just...well...I just didn't think I'd be good enough to get, I didn't and now...." She looked sad. "Now it's too late and we're moving and everything."

I had a special red velvet journal for Kate as a going-away gift and handed it to her.

"You know, Kate, I'm sorry too that you didn't audition, but you've learned something that many adults never, ever learn. You've learned to listen to your instincts and take a chance even if it's scary. Deep inside you is a place, Kate, where everything you need to know sits like your own private library. Listen to your heart and you'll always come out fine."

"Okay, Ms. Ryane," she whispered, and we hugged good-bye.

Geoffrey and Kate were in the same grade and helped and supported each other, but they weren't twins. I later found out their parents had held Kate back so that she would always be close to her brother. I'm uneasy at such an idea, but that's the most I'll comment on it.

November rolled around and it was time to set up auditions. I stepped onto the campus and heard two young voices shouting, "Ms. Ryane!"

They came running toward me, faces shining, out of breath and both ready to sign up. The house move didn't happen but another more profound move had.

"Ah, Kate...stepping up. Taking a chance?"


My life in Illyria is just bumbin' MAN! All I get to eat in board is (obiesly) fish! & MAN! Don’t you get tired , if all you have to do is catch some fish & eat some fish & be a sailor & eat some fish. Oh! Did I mention I was tempted to eat chinese, but well…I guess fish souffle was already, my house is a small boat (that had everything inside like a house!) I hate my job!
—Kate, 5th grade

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Terrible Run-Throughs

April, 2009

We had spring break, a birthday party and then:

A terrible, wicked, hopeless run-through. I stared aghast at the room full of actors NOT off-book, laughing as if it didn't matter, missing cues, missing meetings —

Oh, I wanted to scream. All the private sessions, all the hours, all the props waiting to be used, all the T-shirts ordered — AAGGGHHHHH!!!

At the end of our stumble-bumble-through of "Twelfth Night," which started to feel like "Twelve Hundred Nights," I sat quietly and didn't speak for twelve long seconds.

"So, what did you guys think of that?" I asked. Nicely, I might add.

They shifted their bums on the chairs, looked at each other and shrugged, and then Geoffrey spoke for the group. "That was pretty terrible, I guess."

"Yeah, pretty bad," I answered quietly. Because when they get it, my heart trembles and I want to hug them.

These children have never seen a play. Other than the few who have been in the club for a couple of years, they have no idea what they're in for in May, onstage and in front of a crowd.

"Okay, here's the thing: You have three weeks left. Only three weeks. This is the time, right now, that you have to step up and do the work. You need to track each other down at lunches and at recess to run your lines. You need to practice those swordfights, just using your hands, over and over. You need to follow along with your scripts and not miss cues."

"Kate forgot to move the bench," Darby pipes up.

"And you never, never blame another actor. Remember I'm not going to be up there with you when you do this. You have to count on each other. You're like soldiers in a war, taking care of each other."

"Yeah, my dad was in a war," offers Geoffrey.

"Another thing: When you leave big the theatre we say that's a pause you could drive a truck through....If you do that, you'll lose your audience. They'll think it's all over, get up and go home."

After beating them up this much I thought some extra incentive might help. I pulled out a canvas bag.

"I have a surprise for you."

They scream.

"Only because I think you will now take this work seriously. Am I right about that?"

More screams and bobbing heads.

"Look what I brought home from New Orleans for you to wear in the play."

I opened the bag and revealed the colorful beads.


Kids like noise, no two ways about that.

I learned that I can do anything I like I can be anyone I want I learned that I can do Shakspear..
—Rosa, 4th grade (Year Three)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hard News: A Room of Their Own

Dodger manager Joe Torre and his wife, Ali, have started a foundation called Safe at Home, with a plan to install "safe rooms" in Los Angeles schools. The safe room will be a place for students to meet with counselors trained in domestic violence, or simply a haven for kids to read or play.

Joe Torre grew up in a home with a violent dad. I meet kids all the time in similar situations. Thank you, Joe, for bravely sharing your story. Thank you, Ali, for creating the foundation. And thank you, T.J. Simers, for writing it down.

Joe Torre, witness to domestic abuse, helps others to manage (T.J. Simers, LA Times)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare

April, 2009

Every year in The Shakespeare Club we spend one of our meetings celebrating the Bard's birthdate of April 23, 1564.

This year, we gathered in the school library to play games, watch DVDs and eat way, way too much sugar. With only four rehearsals left, I was reluctant to waste time partying, but it's a tradition and sometimes goofing off can be as productive as hard work.

Rachel made forty cupcakes, each topped with white frosting and "SC" written in blue. Young Kate also brought forty cupcakes. To complete the menu, we had oranges and juice boxes. The library bounced big time.

They love: The Insult Game.

Each child took a card with an Elizabethan insult written on it, chose another kid to insult, marched to the victim and in a BIG Shakespearean voice shouted something like:

"Thou gorbellied reeling-ripe maggot pie!"


"May thy lips rot off!"


"Thou beslubbering flap-mouthed strumpet!"

They loved being the insulter as much as the insultee. "Pick me! Pick me!" they screamed.

I offer this the next time you need a witty poke:

"I do desire that we be better strangers."

I've used it myself to great effect.

They also love the Dictionary Game. One child chooses a word out of the dictionary and everyone makes up a definition. I read six definitions aloud, including the correct one, and they vote.

Many kids chose Luis' definition of "minx": a dotor suss carchater.

No one voted for: A flirtatious girl and Lyndon won for stumping the group.

I closed the blinds, turned on the television and we watched the Simpsons' hysterical version of "Hamlet" and a second funny episode where Marge tells the story of Henry VIII. They clamored to see these twice and I hoped their laughter might whip the sugar through their systems lickety-split before the comas set in.

We ended our party with juice boxes raised in a toast to William Shakespeare. As a member once said, "Without him, we wouldn't be here together!"

Hear, hear!

I want to be in the Shakespeare club because it is going to in courage my bravery in the future and help get a better job in the future..
—Miles, 5th grade (Year Two)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Recess: Give Them Your Word

I started my volunteer work at the school in a program called Wonder of Reading, a non-profit organization with a mandate to refurbish public school libraries and recruit reading mentors for children.

I had to take a three-hour training session where I learned to put aside old techniques many of us grew up with. For example, no more sounding out words. Studies show that simply telling the child the word has them learning it faster without the tension of a pop quiz.

I met my reading buddy, Charley, when he was in first grade, and we read together until he left the school after fifth grade. We worked our way through Curious George and the Berenstain Bears and all the way up to Captain Underpants without a single sounding-out.

If he had trouble with a word, he asked and I told him. The next time that word showed up, usually on the next page, he knew it.

I found this same system worked when Luis needed spelling help with his journal writing. He asked, I spelled the word and, when encouraged to use it again, he remembered.

I wish someone had taught me math that way and eliminated the painful humiliation of, "What do you think the answer is, Mel?" in that cloying, know-it-all voice.

I think the answer is, "GRRRRR!" And I would have been correct.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Every year in Shakespeare Club, I think, "This is it. The last. The end."

And then when I see the performance, I think, "Well okay, maybe one more year."

It's a slippery slope, this business of falling in love with children as they fall in love with themselves. The other hazard is the constant scouting I find myself doing. I notice little kids in stores and in libraries...and then it's Halloween and they come right up to the front door — in costume — like miniature actors showing up for an audition.

We had 150 trick-or-treaters this year. Raggedy Annes, Transformers, princess after princess, and a kid dressed as a UPS delivery guy, carrying a brown parcel for his treats.

A pair of brothers arrived, surrounded by a gang of ghosts, witches and Spider-Mans. I kneeled down to the three-year-old on my left and the five-year-old to my right. The younger held a small green lightsaber.

"Well hello, fellas, and what are you?'"

"I Yoda," the smallest announced in a big voice.

"Oh, I love Yoda," I said.

"He's not really Yoda," the older pointed out. "He doesn't have the head."

"And who are you?" I asked him.

"Jedi warrior." And he was because he had the outfit, but our conversation was interrupted by the little guy, quite put-out.

"I YODA!!!" he cried in an even bigger voice.

"No, you don't have the head!" His brother was adamant on this point.

The Harry Potter and Yankees baseball player were getting impatient waiting for the argument to end.

"Of course you are, I can clearly see you're a perfect Yoda," I answered, slipping packets of Doritos and Cheetos into all the bags thrust forward.

The boys ran down the driveway to meet their dad and I had to stop myself from calling out, "What school are you considering for your sons?"

I want that Yoda. The kid's recruitable. Imagine hearing:

"I Hamlet!"

"I Romeo!"

"I Macbeth!"

I have to stop this.

The end.

In The Shakespeare Club I hope to learn more about Shakespeare and learn to a better actor and be less shy so I can act better.
—Theresa, 5th grade

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lizzie: Act III

[Dramatis Personae
    Lizzie, a nine-year-old girl
    Ms. Ryane, a school volunteer
    Various nine-year-old Girls and Boys; one Teacher

    Scene: Inside a portable school classroom on an ordinary public school campus]



   Ms. Ryane.   [Addressing the classroom.]   Who here has ever been bullied?

[Hands fly up.]

   Ms. Ryane.   And who here has ever been so angry that they wanted to bully?

[A few hands go up.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Truth?

[A few more hands go up.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Good. In The Shakespeare Club we learn things about acting. Lizzie was in the club last year and she's learned about acting, so she's going to help me teach you how to use acting with bullies. Lizzie, why don't you come up here with me?

[Lizzie, self-conscious but pleased, joins Ms. Ryane up front.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Lizzie is going to play the part of the bully.

[Ms. Ryane whispers to Lizzie.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Okay Lizzie, you first.

   Lizzie. are so silly....   [ Ms. Ryane nods to Lizzie, giving her encouragement.]   Nobody likes you!

[Ms. Ryane looks shocked and crumples.]

   Lizzie.   And you don't have any friends! And you suck!

[Ms. Ryane covers her face with her hands. The class reacts.]

   Ms. Ryane.   [Recovered.]   Okay, what mistake did I make?

   Boy One.   You shoulda cried more!

   Ms. Ryane.   That's the mistake you think I made? That I should have cried more? Not sure I agree....Anyone else?

   Boy Two.   You listened to the bully!

   Ms. Ryane.   There we go.

   Boy Two.   And you believed the bully!

   Ms. Ryane.   Bingo. I listened and I believed. That's what bullies want because bullies lie. Just because someone says crummy stuff to you doesn't make it true. Okay, we're going to switch roles. I'll be the bully.

[Lizzie sits up tall.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Lizzie, you're so du—

[Lizzie stands. The hand comes up. She crosses her arms and walks off.]

   Ms. Ryane.   See that? If the bully doesn't have a target, the bully is weak. And when Lizzie acts strong, she is strong. Now, what happens if the bully follows behind to keep up the jabbering? Watch this. Lizzie, follow me.

[Ms. Ryane walks. Lizzie follows. Ms. Ryane stops beside the classroom teacher, who is sitting to the side.]

   Ms. Ryane.   See that? I don't have to say a thing...not one word....All I do is go and stand beside an adult and we make a team. Bullies don't like teams.

   Boy Three.   But what if that bully grabs you and kicks your head in?

   Ms. Ryane.   Go to an adult, go to your principal and talk.

   Boy Three.   But what if that bully sneaks up after school and punches your face in?

   Ms. Ryane.   Again, make a team, find an adult and tell the adult.

   Boy Three.   But what if the bully chases you and hits—

   Ms. Ryane.   I'm going to suggest that you stop with the "what ifs" and stick to "what is"....That would be my recommendation for you, my friend.

[The kids laugh.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Here's my last thing: What do you do when you see some kid being bullied?

   Girl One.   You go up and tell that bully to stop it or else!

   Ms. Ryane.   In my experience, bullies don't listen. I don't think those words really work. Bullies want to make you afraid. Here's a plan for when you see someone being bullied. Lizzie, you be you. And I need four volunteers up here.

[Three girls and a boy jump up.]

   Ms. Ryane.   [Bully voice.]   "Lizzie, you're so dumb and no one likes you and—"   [Lizzie stomps off.]   Now, watch what happens if you kids surround Lizzie. Encircle her.

[They do and the audience kids oooh and aahh.]

   Ms. Ryane.   You made a bigger team and the bully can't beat that. Lizzie, take a bow.


Lizzie: Act I
Lizzie: Act II

Dear sailor,

My qest was to go on a ship to a ilind but beh a storem and the ship was falling to pesis and I was fer it in because now fier cot oh   ҉   the ship is the   ҉   was going to   ҉   up I got to saty but it was to late.
—Danny, 3rd grade

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hard News: Going the Distance

"Ballard Street" by Jerry Van Amerongen.

I was recently asked this question:

What can others do to support your cause?

I answered:

Support my cause by starting your own.

It doesn't have to be a Shakespeare Club, though I must say those popping up all over the country would delight me.

It could be reading one-on-one with a kid every week. It could be teaching a child to make a birdhouse or bake a cake or solve long division (while you're at it, help me!).

I promise you this: It'll change your life.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lizzie: Act II

[Dramatis Personae
    Lizzie, a nine-year-old girl
    Ms. Ryane, a school volunteer

    Scene: A bench outside a portable school classroom on an ordinary public school campus]



   Ms. Ryane.   All right, Lizzie, I'm going to be the bully and you're going to be you.

   Lizzie.   [Nodding.]   Okay.

   Ms. Ryane.   [Holding her arm out straight with her hand raised flat.]   See how I'm doing this? This means: Talk to the hand! Got that?

[Lizzie giggles and nods.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Good. As soon as I start, you give me the hand, cross your arms, turn your back and walk away. Got it?

[Lizzie nods more.]

   Ms. Ryane.   [In a bully voice.]   Lizzie you suck! You're so lame, Lizzie! You don't have any friends and nobody likes you!

[Lizzie stares, frozen in place.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Lizzie, you are way letting me win....You can't let me get this stuff out. Let's see you stand with that hand up. Go on.

[Lizzie slowly stands and kind of holds her hand up.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Nope, 'fraid not. That's a spaghetti hand. Show me your strongest hand.

[Lizzie tries again.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Like this.   [Showing a strong arm and flat hand.]   Here we go: "Lizzie you are so one likes you!"   [Lizzie doesn't move.]   As soon as I speak, show me that hand. Try again: "Lizzie you suuu—"

[Lizzie's arm comes up, her hand in Ms. Ryane's face.]

   Ms. Ryane.   That's it! Good girl...that's it. Now, after you give me the hand, cross those arms. When you cross the arms you're pulling all your power back. You're saying, "Bully-boy, this conversation is over and I have no time for you!" Try the whole thing. Ready?

[Lizzie nods happily.]

   Ms. Ryane.   [Bully voice.]   Hey, Lizzie—

[Lizzie flashes the hand, crosses her arms and slumps off.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Whoa! No way on the walk....You have to stand super-straight and march....March, me.   [Bully voice.]   "Lizzie, you're so stu—"

[Lizzie ties all the pieces together and stomps away.]

   Ms. Ryane.   Excellent! Notice how strong you feel inside when you make your body strong? Did you feel that?

   Lizzie.   I did...I really did.

   Ms. Ryane.   Lizzie, I talked to your grandma about the boy and here's what you need to know: there's a team around you. You have your grandma, your grandpa, your mom, your teacher and me. We're your team but you're the team leader, so you have to keep us in the loop and let us know what's happening. One word from this boy or anyone who ever tries to bully you and give 'em the hand. Good?

   Lizzie.   Yeah.

   Ms. Ryane.   Back to class.   [Lizzie turns to leave.]   Except one thing. Hug.

[They hug.]


Lizzie: Act I
Lizzie: Act III

Dear Olivia

I love you with all they heart will you mary thy for you are thy only one for me my soul mate!
—Russell, 3rd grade