Friday, December 31, 2010

Ringin' Out the Old

When 2010 began, I called our Shakespeare Club year "The Season of the Witch" without any idea how prescient that title would be.

A Yale University librarian has announced that the best quote of the year is:

"I am not a witch."

2010 has also been a busy year filled with all kinds of Macbethian behavior.

I recommend "The Social Network" as an excellent example of friendship betrayed, รก la Macbeth and Banquo.

For a hero gone bonkers, I think Tiger Woods takes the cake.

For a heroic act in the vein of Macduff, how about New York City's Carlos Flores, who saved a stranger who had fallen onto a subway track?

Shakespeare endures because people endure in their very human needs for power, love and revenge.

So, here's to 2011 and all that it will bring us, and all that we bring to it.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Thing

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens....

Over the course of our "Macbeth," whenever a character was murdered or died, a witch would place a white half-mask over that actor's eyes.

Here how our production of "Macbeth" ended: All of the actors retreated to their chairs except for the dead characters. Those actors stood still and faced front in their white masks. An audible "Ohhhhh..." could be heard from the audience during this moment in the six o'clock show.

Then Bob Dylan's voice rang out through the auditorium:

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

The lights dimmed to black and rose again while the music continued, and we were into the curtain call.

Before the final performance I took Oliver aside for a private chat.

"So, Oliver, it's a tradition in the theatre that at the curtain call of the last show, the leading man gives a flower to his leading lady. Under your chair I've hidden a red rose with a ribbon on it, and when you and Phoebe take your bows, you can hand it to her."

Oliver erupted with a secretive smile and I knew the moment would be as special for the giver as for the receiver.

At the appointed time, the twosome stepped forward to cheers and a standing ovation. Oliver kept one hand behind his back, turned to his Lady Macbeth and surprised her with the rose. Lovely. it is: the number-one moment of my time with The Shakespeare Club in 2010:

After the kids had taken their bows and right before they were embraced by their fans, I raced from the back of the auditorium onto the stage — and in a spontaneous gesture, the entire cast came together and we had a group hug.

This is family.

When the dog bites,
When the bee stings,
When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

My goll happen. I got on the honeroll list. I was so happy.

I will miss our family in Shakespear. I will miss the snak.
Natalie, 4th grade

Monday, December 27, 2010

All Aboard: Performance Number Four

Over my years as an actor, writer and director, I've had to learn there is a point where the work is done. The point of standing back, letting go and imagining a future project.

I'm married to a film editor and am reminded of a common phrase from his angle: Films are never finished, just abandoned.

By the time six o'clock rolled around on May 27, 2010, I was toast and ready to just stand back and watch. No more notes.

"But why, Ms. Ryane? You mean really, no notes?"

"That's a good thing, Ellie. It's all yours now; this is your final performance. Go for it."

"But where are you going?"

"I'll be at the back watching and glowing. Believe me, there'll be lots of glowing because I'm so proud of you all."

I attempted to erase the mood of abandonment creeping around the stage, where the kids battled jittery nerves for the final big show. I recognized the feeling. It also happens with adult actors when the director steps away and releases the kite string.

Mariah (sound operator) and Celia (stage manager).

I pulled a chair up to the table at the rear of the auditorium, where our stage manager ruled over her light and sound operators. I relaxed, waited and beamed as cues were called and a powerful blast of music gripped the audience's attention.

My dream of the actors being heard happened because of the microphones placed in three spots on the stage floor. After four unheard years of hard work, I was thrilled as the kids' words ricocheted and filled the space in this, our fifth year.

The actors swelled in confident performances. All of the lines were remembered and when they spoke they meant what they said or demanded or railed on.

I think of Performance Day as a celebration of The Shakespeare Club. In other words, it's not for the shows that we work hard, it's for the exploration of Shakespeare's world, work and genius. It's the journey of young people finding power in their voices and imaginations.

The day they tell the story publicly is the triumph of all they have discovered over our five months together in a classroom every Wednesday afternoon.

Well done, I thought as I watched them. Well, well done.

This is my first year in Shakespear club. My favorite part of Shakespear club was at our 3:00 show is when my mom and dad bring a friend and her son, who is two and in the bigging when there was music, he was not paying attention then people came on stage and started talking, Then my moms friends son went to play with my brother then came and listened to the play. Then my least favorite part was at 4:30 on Wensday when we have to leave.

I will miss Mrs. Rachel, Mrs. Ryan, the fifth graders, some of the people moving away, studying lines 24/7, being in room 42 on Wensdays. I will miss acting, I will also miss being on stage on May 27, and I will miss our family.
—Ellie, 4th grade

Friday, December 24, 2010

At This Time of Year

At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows.
Love's Labor's Lost, Act I, Scene I

At this time of year I am jittery with anticipation and tingly with ideas because a new season of Shakespeare Club begins in only a few weeks.

At this time of year I eat extra goodies because I know I will burn calories running hither and yon for props, fabric, and errant tissues for drippy noses.

At this time of year I sleep fitfully because I'm certain this time I will blow it.

At this time of year I wish you peace, goodwill and sweetness.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hard News: To Quit or Not to Quit

(Not really!)

During my first year of this enterprise known as The Shakespeare Club, I wrestled on a weekly basis whether to pursue it or whether to throw in the proverbial towel.

I wasn't alone. The children of that first season also battled me and themselves. They quit, they came back, they quit and they stayed away as I juggled their roles up, down and sideways.

Quitting anything is big decision. Sometimes it's the right and only thing to do, but more often it can lead us onto a road of habitual running. Staying put, sticking it out and trying again can result in our owning a basket of rich fruit we might otherwise have missed.

But how to do it, how to persevere when it's so damn hard? This is a tricky thing.

Here is an article addressing this very question.

Some people just won’t quit (Heather Summerhayes Cariou, Troy Media)

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's in the Air

Stay! Speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!

This text is taken from the opening scene of "Hamlet." In the castle fortress, Horatio and a few guards have the unsettling experience of seeing a ghost bearing a remarkable resemblance to Hamlet's dead father, the King.

A few years ago, when The Shakespeare Club performed Hamlet, eight-year-old Geoffrey played Hamlet's best buddy, Horatio. Geoffrey is an actor through and through. The kind of kid that you simply know was born for center stage.

It's not that Geoffrey clamored for attention or cracked jokes or hammed it up. It was his ability to absorb text, to question a character's motive, and his desire to take an audience on a ride that led me to this conclusion.

"Hamlet" is a tragedy defined by a stage littered with dead bodies at curtain's fall. There are a few laughs in the play, but it's not a comedy defined by marriages at curtain's fall.

I watched Geoffrey rehearse the opening scene of the play, where the ghost appears and scares the willies out of the tough guys.

"Okay, fellas," I directed. "Keep in mind that in Denmark winters are way cold and snowy. And remember this scene takes place at night. It's up to you to convince the audience of the atmosphere."

Luis, as Marcellus, hugged himself and pretended to shiver. The other boys followed his lead by exhaling imaginary wisps of air and chattering their teeth until Mr. Ghost arrived, when they widened their eyes and stared.

Geoffrey made a choice to point his sword toward the ghost, letting it quiver and shake. Riotous. His actor mates crowed with glee and copied him. They added knocking knees to their repertoire of stage business.

I had three actors onstage facing a scary ghost as if we were staging a Bugs Bunny version of "Hamlet."

And I let it go. I let their choices stay in for weeks. I didn't mention it, they got lots of laughs from the other kids while they rehearsed and they bathed in the glory of what they believed was inspired. And it was inspired. It wasn't right for the play but it was inspired.

In the club we have a small library of Shakespeare movies on DVD which the kids can check out. One weekend Geoffrey borrowed a film version of "Hamlet."

The next rehearsal the funny, quivering sword bit was gone.

"Oh, I noticed that you made a change, Geoffrey, in that opening scene. It's good, what you're doing, but I just wondered how you came to it?"

"Well, Ms. Ryane, I saw that movie of 'Hamlet' and that guy being Horatio, he was really good and he didn't act kind of, like you know, kind of like funny....He was kind of like, you know, more freaked I wanted to do that."

"Good. I think it works."

Air. Actors need air and space and room for discovery. Who doesn't?

Stephen Dillane as Horatio.

I allways wanted power because my little sister ceeps on taking stuff from me.

I wanted revenge when Dominick keeps on making fun of my name. I waanted to make fun of his name but I just walked away and he cept saying it and I got relly mad.
Lizzie, 4th grade

snow picture by Flickr user MMMR

Friday, December 17, 2010

We've Been What?

On Performance Day I give a chit-chat to the audience before each show. I have motives, and they're not altruistic.

"I'd like to direct your attention over here to my left to what I like to call 'The Shakespeare Club Museum'."

Atop tables I've set up photo displays of the five years of Shakespeare Club. The pictures are mostly candid shots of the kids rehearsing, doing warm-ups, making props or goofing off.

"Along with the photo collage there is an Honor Roll of club members who earned special mention for acting or writing. Some have made Honor Roll because they went out of their way to live up to our mottos: We help each other and we share with each other."

Parents and relatives like to take pictures of the Honor Roll when they see a familiar name on it. And the kids, both current and from years past, love to pore over images of their younger selves. The museum is popular and draws crowds.

"There is also a board with excerpts of the children's journal writing. And finally, I'd like to point out our Shakespeare Club donation box. If you have an extra nickel or dime we could use it to feed the actors and fund the props."

The donation box is an empty square tissue box covered in tin foil and with SHAKESPEARE CLUB DONATION BOX printed on all four sides. Highly unprofessional, but I figure we're an elementary school with a small-town feel.

At the one o'clock performance, a parent stuck a hundred-dollar bill in my hand and said, "I don't want to put this in the box."

"Sure, no problem," I answered...and twigged, problem. But I had so many other problems that I didn't think about it again.

I did, however, go to the box and emptied out some donated bills totaling thirty-six dollars. I left six dollars to encourage other donors.

Nothing comes amiss, so money comes withal.
The Taming of the Shrew Act I, Scene II

After the three o'clock performance, I was busy with dinner and a movie for the kids.

At the end of the night, I got the shock. The box was empty. Even the lousy six dollars was gone.

But, but, but...we're an elementary school with a small-town feel.

Lesson learned, Ms. Ryane. Get a professional box with a professional lock on it. I have no idea who did it and I don't want to know. I only hope they really, really needed it.

So, the Shakespeare Club this year made $136 in donations.


Adventure is a wonderfull life. I will tell you one of my adventures.

One day I was hikeing in the woods, I found a large black cave. I was scared to go in at first. But I remembered I had a flashlight. So I went in …splash! I fell into a underwater lake. I swam to the edge. I looked for a exit. The ground fell! I was falling fast. It was so scary. I saw a dino. I ran so fast. It chased me to a mountan. I climed it to where it was snowing. I found some shushi. I thought, "Why would shushi?" I ate it. I was transported back! But I fell down in the cave again. And started all over. But this time I brought a gun.
Henry, 4th grade

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cutting the Cheesy

In the two days before performances, when I have the auditorium and the kids walk the stage for the first time, we have protocol to cover.

"See those microphones taped to the floor? That's a no-go zone. Those are expensive and could be easily damaged. So, only actors and crew are allowed onstage from this point friends."

Oh, they love that part. Only us, no one else. No. One. Else.

Means we're special. And let's face it, they are.

Another popular ritual they love more than almost anything (except saying the mottos and eating) is "Let's get cheesy out of our systems."

I stand on the floor in front of the stage while they sit in their chairs onstage. I jump up and down and pretend to be a parent, grandparent or sibling.

"Oh, Henry, hi!" and I wave my hands while calling out. "Henry, over here, it's Auntie Betty!"

What does Henry do? Nothing, absolutely nothing, because he's been trained.

"See that, guys? Henry is not going to be cheesy and wave back or call out 'Here I am....Oooh look, I'm getting my crown on and here comes my big speech!' "

"Me, me, Ms. Ryane, do me!"

"Wendy, Wendy, over here! We came to see you! Hey, Wendy!"

I run back and forth and leap up and down, and Wendy, all cool as a cucumber, shines me on.

"That's how it's done, kids. It's not done. You're real actors and you're acting professional and readying yourselves to work. You're not just little kids anymore."

So, that was fun and they understood. I had a teensy rush of pride at their deportment until the six o'clock performance — when all those adult relatives arrived.

The grown-ups did exactly as I'd rehearsed, then got ticked off because their offspring did not respond in kind.

I had to run around before the show, explaining my head off.

"They're not being rude, they're just not going to be cheesy and wave back. They're acting like professionals right now."

Wendy told me a couple of days later that her granny was still royally mad " 'cause she thought I was giving her the bird."

I'm training the wrong crowd.

What I will miss about Shakespeare Club. I will miss every body in Shakespeare even my director because I mite go to Miami Florida with my family I will miss my friend and people in thierd grade.
—Wendy, 3rd grade

boy jumping from Grrraphics

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Oh, I Was...'

When I tell people what I do with my time in Los Angeles, I inevitably get this response:

"Oh, I was Bottom in 'Midsummer Night's Dream'!"


"Oh, I was Lady Macbeth in high school!"

or, from our current principal,

"Oh, I was a witch in 'Macbeth'!"

Perhaps to prove the veracity of the statements, or because they loved their experience, they go on to quote lines from the play. Words that have remained inside their heads for lo, these many years....

I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream; past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream.


Out, damn'd spot! out, I say! — One; two: why, then 'tis time to do't. Hell is murky. — Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our pow'r to accompt? — Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?

When I watch the performances of The Shakespeare Club I sit either to the far right or far left of the audience and take notes. It's also a great perspective for me to view reactions.

A theatre director told me that during previews and on opening night he liked to stand on the side of the house in order to study the audience's movements. When they sat back for too long a time he felt he was in trouble and had more work to do. When they leaned forward, he breathed a sigh. We've got 'em.

At our one o'clock performance, our principal curled upon the floor of the front row with a kindergartner in her lap. I had a perfect vantage of her profile and smiled as she leaned forward and mouthed along with the witches:

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

Our principal was with us, in the auditorium and watching, but she was also somewhere else. Somewhere in her younger self. Somewhere when she discovered she was capable, had power and potential.

For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

It's in moments like this that I know we're on to something. Something far-reaching and full of possibility.

What I will miss about Shakespear club I will mess everything about Shakespeare even the bad times and good times exepacally the show. I might go to another school but I will be doing acting in Hollywood and doing commercials on T.V.
Krystal, 3rd grade

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gettin' Nervy

"Okay, who here is a teensy bit more nervous about tonight's performance?"

I had stopped the hilarious movie "A Bug's Life" near, but not at, the end because we needed to prepare for our final "Macbeth."

Sometimes when I ask questions of a confessional nature, the kids share glances to see who will go first.

"Well, I'm not so nervous but maybe I'm sorta sad 'cause then it will be over," Oliver offered.

"Yup, I get that and we'll spend some time talking about that at our wrap party next week. Have any of you wrestled with butterflies today?"

Hands went up. Butterflies in the tum — we all get that.

"Here's what I want you to know about being an actor and being nervous. It means that you care."

Blink, blink.

"Nervousness is a sign that you care about giving your best. I would be nervous if you weren't nervous. And seriously, very famous actors get nervous. I knew an actress once who won an Academy Award — the Oscar — and when she did a Shakespeare play she threw up every night before going onstage."

"She lost her cookies?!" Mark cried out.

"Yes she did, but that won't be happening here because we're going to take a few minutes to focus and remember that even though you may be a little scared, you know what you're doing, you know your job onstage, and all you have to do is look at each other, talk for real to each other...and the nerves will not win."

"She lost her cookies." This made a few more rounds with gales of giggles because Mark liked saying it over and over.

"Hands on your lap, feet on the floor and eyes closed. Big breath...hold it, hold it, hold and let it go....Again...."

We took a few big breaths together.

"Keep your eyes closed and repeat after me: My mind is calm."

My mind is calm.

"My body is ready."

My body is ready.

"I know what to do."

I know what to do.

"Everything is fine."

Everything is fine.

We said that three times.

"Open your eyes."

They did.

"You're going to follow me in a line into the auditorium. You're going to go onstage and take your places. And I promise you'll have your best show. Ever. Enjoy it."

They lined up, they followed and when we entered the auditorium, where pre-show music rocked, folks chatted and empty seats were few, I had an enormous rush of pride.

The looks on those adult faces...astonishment.

I loved Shakespeare Club because I found out I'm good at acting. I think.

I will miss is Shakespeare Club is, acting, Ms. Rachel and Ms. Ryane. I will miss doing shows. But…..the good part is I can adition! It is hard to leave everyone and being on stage. I wish every Wednesday in my whole life…Ms. Ryane and Ms. Rachel and everybody in Shakespeare Club to do more and more plays till I grow up. When I grow up I want to do grown up Shakespeare plays. I will do camp and it will be the same thing. I was insulted when my cusin said, "I hate Shakespeare." That day I punched him in the nose.
Millie, 3rd grade

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An Interview: Darby

mel: Tell us who you are, please.

darby: name is Darby, I'm ten years old and this was my third year in Shakespeare Club.

And what did you play in "Macbeth"?

I played Narrator Two.

Tell me why you first thought you wanted to be in Shakespeare Club and why you wanted to continue with it.

I always really had a passion for acting and when I saw the play "Hamlet" I told my mom to sign me up and I really liked it.

What did you learn about yourself in these last three years of doing Shakespeare Club?

That acting can really build friendships and that it's also really fun and rewarding.

What was your favorite thing about Thursday, the performance day?

I just liked the whole thing and the curtain call.

Did you learn anything about yourself this year, Darby?

[Darby's hair hangs halfway over her face, she shrugs, pauses and answers] Yeah, I guess.

What did you learn?

[bursting out] That I wish I could be in Shakespeare Club next year!

How do you feel about moving on to middle school?


What are you scared of?


What did you like best about Shakespeare Club?

Well...having to get lines and learning about a character and getting to be with friends in a really great production.

And what about the writing part? You're quite a good writer.

I really like the journal part because it does give the other actors a chance to express themselves and how they felt about the play.

What do you think you're going to be when you grow up?

A writer and an actress, those are just two of the things out of three.

What's number three?

A medical research scientist. I want to do that because I want to know how to cure fatal diseases like cancer and leukemia.

Have you ever known anyone with cancer or leukemia?

Yeah. My grandmother died on February 5, 2008, of cancer.

I wish to have a life of purpose because I want to help others. I would write and buy some books to give to charity. I would raise money to help hospitals reaserch diseases like cancer and landerhans cell histocylosis which is a rare blood diseases that is very much like cancer. I would help animal shelters feed the animals there. A life of purpose suits me very well in my opinion.
—Darby, 5th grade