Friday, December 11, 2009

Hard News: Interview, Part II

I was recently interviewed by Vibrant Nation about The Shakespeare Club. This was the second question:

2. What do you love most about the cause you support?

I love seeing kids discover their capabilities as they stretch to the highest bars of language and bravely perform in front of audiences. Most of these children have never seen a play, let alone acted in one and certainly not Shakespeare. And yet Shakespeare's plays are a great fit for them. Look at Shakespeare's themes: power, revenge, love. On every playground in every elementary school, children are fighting for the same things.

I remember one boy in the very first year of Shakespeare Club. He was struggling to learn English and feeling a lot of pressure from his parents, who not only forced him to join the club but also made him attend cultural dance classes. He was a nightmare. When he played Hamlet the following year, I told him, "You know, the cool thing about acting is, you get to do things on stage that you can't do in real life." Watching him as Hamlet talk back to his "mom" onstage was fantastic, a real breakthrough. This boy expressed all the rage and frustration he really felt - and instead of being punished, he was embraced and empowered and applauded. That's one of the most valuable things about the craft of acting. There's something rebellious about it but it also legitimizes your feelings. It's just what children need: to have their feelings taken seriously.

We had another boy who joined the club as a third grader. He wrote in his club journal, "I want to learn to read." Well, this boy became a writer and showed himself to be a comic genius. On stage, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He was coming up with his own bits. By the time he played Benvolio in
Romeo and Juliet, he was saying, "Ms. Ryane, what play are we doing next year? Is it a comedy? Because I think I'm much better at comedies." A week after the play ended, he was still thinking of bits. "I should have done this at the curtain call - I don't know why I didn't think of it!" Just like a real actor.

I am so glad I am Hamlet the main character. I am the leader of the play!
—Miles, 5th grade (Year Two)

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