Friday, January 29, 2010


November, 2009

As a mere fourth-grader, Dominick had already earned a tough reputation. In third grade, he'd been accused of bullying and was asked to leave the Props Crew. I was aware of Dominick but I didn't know him. I watched our principal give Dominick hugs or sit on a bench next to him for a chat. She doled out empathy in a calm voice where others appeared to throw up their hands in frustration.

"I wanna be in Shakespeare Club!" Dominick shouted every time he saw me.

I shuddered a little because if even half of what I was hearing about the boy was true, I sensed it might not be a good mix.

"Well, you have to audition, Dominick," I'd answer on the tail of a hasty exit.

I learned Dominick had been moved around in foster care. From birth, his little body had indirectly ingested chemicals no baby should be exposed to. Dominick was fighting for direction, to find his balance and sometimes he stumbled, badly.

Oh dear. Dominick signed up to audition for the club and handed me his application form, completely filled out by parents who had been raising him and his sister for the last seven years.

"Do you want to read your material or did you learn it by heart, Dominick?"

"I learned it," he answered with hands tucked deep into his hoodie pockets.

"Okay, here's what we do first, kiddo. Come and sit in this chair next to me."

Dominick strode across the room with a kind of forced braggadocio. He sat across from me and gave me a wary look.

"I'm looking for actors who can be in charge of their own bodies. Actors with the sort of brain that can tell their body what to do or not do. Here's how we start our meetings in the Shakespeare Club."

I talked Dominick through a short meditation, as I did with every child who auditioned. One of the biggest challenges for kids is to close their eyes. The act requires trust. I ask them to sit very still and picture a red sun setting over the ocean. Then I talk them through deep breathing.

Dominick did it. Easily. He went somewhere else and his shoulders fell into a relaxed place.

"Okay, sir, well done. Now let's have you stand over here and imagine that this rack of books is a tree filled with all the critters in the forest that you're going to command to stay away from the fairy queen. Go for it, Dominick. You get to be the boss of them."

    Weaving spiders, come not here;
    Hence, you long-legg'd spinners, hence!
    Beetles black, approach not near;
    Worm nor snail, do no offense.

Dominick attacked the speech hard and fast in a big voice.

"That was good, Dominick. I'd like you to try one thing for me."


"Let's see what happens if you do it with your hands out of your pockets. Just an experiment."

When any actor, large or small, courageously steps up to audition and suffer the terrifying prospect of judgment, it is a stirring thing to witness. When it is a young boy who has already suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and does his best to still his shaking body, it could make a person weep.

Dominick wanted this so very much. I later found out that he downplayed the whole enterprise to his parents.

"I don't know...I might audition...I might not....Maybe I'll do props or something else...."

All the while he secretly worked on his audition material. I saw right through to his heart, so full of desire, that every warning I'd received about Dominick evaporated from my brain as easily as if I'd punched delete on a keyboard.

"Dominick, here's the deal with Shakespeare Club: The actors need to have control over themselves. They have to take direction and sometimes wait for long periods of boring time until it's their turn to act. You and I both know you've had some troubled days at school so I'm going to ask you straight up: Do you think you would be up for this?"

"Yes, Ms. Ryane, I would."

"I can't take everyone, Dominick, but I'll be deciding soon and you'll get a letter by Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I want you to know, you did a fine audition today. Good work, sir."

"Thank you, Ms. Ryane."


I want to be in Shakespeare club because it was my first step of being an actor. Also I wanted to become a real actor when I am older. Today I learend about William Shakespeare's childhood.

When he was born his parents said he will be a writeing prodigy. His life as a child was not so grate because he had to wear, a dress, from three years old to seven years old.

When he had to go to the bathroom go and do his buisness and the throw it out the window.
—Dominick, 4th grade

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Recess: The Littlest Hamlet

Many of us weren't exposed to Shakespeare until we reached high school. My recollection was of a dry take on the Bard delivered by a droning teacher. Then we were shuffled en masse into the auditorium to watch a black-and-white version of "Julius Caesar," starring Marlon Brando. Even my inexperienced eye told me this guy was sorely miscast, wooden and boring.

Most adults express surprise that I'm tackling Shakespeare with elementary school children, but I gotta hand it to the actor Brian Cox as he introduces Hamlet to this tot.

Have a look. It's riotously hopeful.

Monday, January 25, 2010


November, 2009

A record thirty-seven children showed up to audition for Year Five of The Shakespeare Club — compared to the first year, when I had to convince ten kids to try this experiment. I think we can officially consider The Shakespeare Club a success.

However. I cannot take thirty-seven. There will be seventeen rejection letters sent out. My husband suggested those not accepted this year could form their own group: The Marlowe Club.

My first task was to find a stage manager. A third-grader, Lucinda, approached me in the schoolyard after seeing "Twelfth Night."

"Ms. Ryane?"


"I wanted to say that I really liked 'Twelfth Night' and I was thinking you must be very tired after doing all that work."

I plopped down on a wooden bench, ready to disclose my exhausted state to this sympathetic ear, when I stopped myself. She was awfully small to be listening to the chit-chat and gripes of an adult.

"What's your name?"


"Hmmm. Lucinda, why didn't you audition for The Shakespeare Club this year?"

Lucinda's long shiny dark hair was pulled into two braids. She studied me with serious eyes from behind her eyeglasses. She gave careful thought to her answer and I had the odd sensation of looking at my own eight-year-old self — with one gigantic difference.

"I don't really think I would like being up front of people....I don't think so."

I would not have said that.

"Would you have any interest in learning about William Shakespeare and studying the plays?"

"Yes, Ms. Ryane, that might be good. But not the other stuff."

"Lucinda, you should be our stage manager."

"What's that?"

"You would be my helper in the meetings and rehearsals. When we do the show you would be in charge of the crew operating the lights and sound. You would take notes about the actors' performances."

Lucinda nodded and thought hard.

"We'll talk more about it and then you can talk to your mom or dad and decide."

We continued our conversation over the next few days. I assured her that she would not have to audition or perform. Lucinda has the careful, thoughtful temperament for a stage manager and she agreed that she would like the job.

So here we were, a week before Thanksgiving, ready to hold auditions. Lucinda went to each classroom, collected the candidates like a mother hen and lined them up on a bench outside the library. Nervous, jittery and peeping like a flock of chicks, they waited to be called in to see me.

They each had a fairy speech from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as audition material. One for the boys and another for the girls. I also required an application form filled out and signed by a guardian. I managed to see all thirty-seven kids before lunch.

At recess, I talked to Lucinda.

"Lucinda, I'd like your thoughts. You had the outside experience with the children while I met with them inside. Also, you know a lot of these kids from your own classroom."

"Well, I'm not so sure about Beth," Lucinda said. "She might be good but sometimes she kinda pushes other kids around."

Of course, I was very familiar with Beth. She was in the club last year and never cracked a smile. Beth comes from a rough home and has trouble containing her anger. She auditioned that morning but did not have her application form.

"Okay. What's your feeling about Dominick?"

"I think Dominick would be really good. He sometimes has trouble but, Ms. Ryane, if Dominick does something to another kid he always writes a note and says he's sorry and I think he would be really good as an actor. He tries really hard at stuff."

This was interesting. When I shared the audition list to a few teachers, their eyebrows immediately raised at seeing Dominick's name on the list. Then a firm head shake. "No, not that boy."

But here, from a nine-year-old classmate, I was getting just the opposite.

"So, what you're saying, Lucinda, is that Dominick takes responsibility for his actions."


"I'll keep that in mind when he comes in to audition. Thank you, Lucinda, for your input. Go on and take your recess break."

Interesting, indeed.


I want to be in shakespeare club because I wanted to go when I was in first grad but I coudint know I can be the club because I am older I am so happy this is like my wish come ture today because I never got to. Today we learned about the story was shakespear it was about a boy that name was will his father was mean or nice then he was the smartiest boy in his class when he grow up he needed a girl so he found a girl and got maried to her then she had two childreen and her name was suzanna and she had twins and he got made so he went some where eals.
—Krystal, 3rd grade

Friday, January 22, 2010

In Her Own Words: Ending Year Four

In the last few days of school, Belinda told her teacher, Sydney, that her dad "prob'ly wasn't moving back" to re-marry her mom.

It is a courageous act for anyone to let go of an aspiration. Imagine if you were a nine-year-old and your head had been pumped with aphorisms like:

"You can get whatever you want!"
"No dream is too small!"
"Never give up on your dream!"

Sometimes the hard lesson is that we do have to let go. I'm going to let Belinda put the final word on Year Four of The Shakespeare Club in her own writing. Pay attention to the metaphors upon metaphors in her story.

I believe this talented, brave and charismatic spirit will be recognized and rise to claim our attention. I believe we will hear from Belinda in a startling fashion. I know we all wish her well...wherever she is.


(Click on each page to enlarge.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where Do They Go?

It's a disorienting thing when a relationship ends. Most of us have experienced losing a love, dumping a love or misplacing a love. What I find more unsettling is the end of a friendship. A change of some sort is usually at work when this happens. A move of the heart or of priorities, or simply moving on...and we're left with a bewildered sense of: What was that?

Every year, teachers become attached to their students. For good teachers, there is no way around it. In order to motivate that little brain, a meaningful relationship has to happen and then — whoosh — gone. Moving on.

This is the element I don't have down. I will always be lousy at good-byes.

For three days after The Shakespeare Club ends, I wander around the house weeping. Piles of plastic crowns and swords sit on the dining table, waiting to be stored. Scripts and paperwork litter my desk and all I do is blubber. On the fourth day, I start to muse about the music I might use for the next year's production. By the fifth day, I'm blocking the actors in my head. By the sixth, I'm negotiating a rehearsal space. It is the only way to stop blowing my way through boxes of tissues. Moving on.

This year I called a cheerful "so long" and "see ya later" to nineteen friends, including my mentor, the fourth-grade teacher Sydney. Here's what I know:

Fifth-graders off to middle school:

Fourth graders:

  • Nathan (enrolled in a school for gifted students)
  • Belinda (enrolled at our school, never showed up; we all hope she is somewhere good)

Third graders:

" 'Tis better to have loved and lost"...and all that. Yup, I know.

*If you have any ideas on how to reach Mr. Richards, please let me know.

Dear Mr. Richards,

I like the way you act on "Seinfeld." I like the way you come in the door.

I am a fifth grader and this is my last year. I came out on a play "Twelfth Night" and I played the prat of Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Watching Seinfeld helped me on my physical comedy. When the people would laugh it felt like a big wave of warm water falling on me.

I would love it if you could send my a signed picture of your self. Thank you for all the laughs you gave me.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Wrapping It Up

June, 2009

Meara's dad made a fruit platter. Rows of sliced pineapple lay side by side with cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries and oranges. Blueberries were sprinkled over the top. Meara's dad had taken great care with the "plate appeal" of his healthy contribution to our wrap party. Nothing else in our banquet came close to the nutritious value of the fruit platter but what the heck, we were ready to party with games and sugar.

A library table laden with tortilla chips, salsa, fruit drinks, bags and bags of Doritos and Cheetos and a cake waited for eager fingers. A week before, they had performed "Twelfth Night" four times to acclaim and this would be our final meeting of the year. Sadly, a few of our members missed this celebration.

Belinda was not present.

Lyndon also was unable to attend our party. I studied the rehearsal notes in his stage manager binder. Lyndon used lots of exclamation points when he wrote how well an actor handled a speech or, contrarily, how an actor messed up and "NEEDS TO DO BETTER!!!!"

Through our four performances Lyndon called the light and sound cues, keeping his crew up to task. When I asked for a timing adjustment on a light cue, Lyndon handled the request with confidence. No family member witnessed Lyndon perform in his role as stage manager.

Lyndon, I saw. You were professional and adept, and I will miss you.

Henry's family swept him off to another neighborhood for the summer before starting up at a new school and he had to miss our party. Henry's Malvolio will never be forgotten.

I decided next year's production would be "Macbeth" and used our party to introduce the kids to the basics. "The Simpsons" has two Macbeth shows. In one episode, Homer plays Macbeth in a Springfield production but is ignored by the critics. Behind the scenes, Marge acts as a Lady Macbeth, urging Homer to kill off his co-stars to be acknowledged in the press.

In another episode, the family visits London and runs into Sir Ian McKellen outside of the theatre where he's about to open as Macbeth. This afforded me an opportunity to explain the "curse" of the play. The entire Simpsons family cannot stop saying "Macbeth." At each utterance, Sir Ian's body is electrocuted by lightning strikes.

The kids in The Shakespeare Club love this episode and are fascinated by the idea of the curse.

"Look, here's the deal: You cannot say 'Macbeth' backstage or crazy accidents might happen."

"Like what could happen, Ms. Ryane...what crazy accidents?"

"Well, one time the lead actor broke his leg. Another time a crew guy fell off a ladder."

When Calvin yelled, "Macbeth, Macbeth!" I taught them the curse-breaker.

"Okay, Calvin, step outside, spin around three times, spit, say a curse word and ask to be invited back in."

"Whoa, what curse word, Ms. Ryane?"

"All right, I'll give you permission to say 'damn' — but just this time."

How many times do you imagine this had to happen? There were seventeen kids at the party. How many times, d'ya think?

How many times should I anticipate these hijinks when we actually do "Macbeth"? I'm going to be as fried as Ian McKellen.

Insert curse word.

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

Friday, January 15, 2010

Final Performance: 'Twelfth Night'

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.
Twelfth Night Act II, Scene V

May 28, 2009

Last year, when Belinda played Juliet, she shocked the ten-year-old boy playing her father, Lord Capulet, when she crawled across the stage, grabbed on to his skinny leg, held tight and begged not to be wed to Count Paris. That poor kid looked up, burst out laughing and, when he realized she was serious, carried on the scene. Belinda has that kind of power. As an eight-year-old, she wore the savvy bravado of a true professional.

In our production of "Twelfth Night," Belinda carried the story in her expert reading as the Narrator. However, by our final performance, I twigged that something was amiss. I could hear it in her voice. Belinda was unusually dull for the six o'clock show. I guessed the lackluster quality might be exhaustion and pushed the thought aside as I was finally able to watch the kids freely, without taking notes.

Their work was funny and jubilant despite the onset of major butterflies. This was the show attended by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors. This was the one they most wanted to get right. I'm always moved by artists who care so deeply about pleasing their audience. As these children leapt higher and reached across the auditorium to grasp hearts, I felt tears sting my eyes.

After the curtain calls, mayhem ensued when family members crowded for pictures and greetings. I met, shook, hugged and accepted lovely bouquets of flowers. Over the cacophony I heard Sydney, the fourth grade teacher, calling for my attention.

"Mel...Mel...over here...Belinda...Mel!"

I nodded to Sydney over many heads and signaled that I was trying to get to her side of the room, but it took me a few minutes. In that time, Sydney grabbed one bunch of flowers from my arms and when I finally got to her....

Belinda, entirely still, in a swirling movement of joyful kids and their relatives, tears dripped down her cheeks and, in her arms, a bouquet of pale yellow roses.

"What?" I asked. "What happened?"

No one came to see Belinda that night. Not her mom, her granny, her sister or the mysterious dad that lives in Las Vegas. An aunt came at the end to drive her home.

As the actors sat onstage that night watching the audience file in, Belinda too watched as no one from home showed up.

I do not for one second believe that Belinda's family purposely decided not to come. Something must have happened. A car broke down, an illness, a...something.

But she was so very still. It is a startling thing to see all the way inside to a child's heart as it cracks like a sheet of ice hitting liquid. To see instant maturity and know that it is way too soon for this kind of wisdom.

"Belinda," I leaned in close, "we are your family too. Everyone in the Shakespeare Club is your family and we all saw what you did today and it was great. It was magnificent. We saw it. I saw it. Sometimes, Belinda, that's what happens in the becomes your other family."

It was the best I could do. I sent her off with the roses for the long drive home with her aunt.

The roses, by the way, came from Nathan, and he should know they went to a a more deserving recipient.

I went off for a margarita and a hell of a sleep.

My characters name is Lord Capulet and he lives in Verona. He wants his daughter Juliet to mary a man named count Paris. In the end the gangs learn a lesson. They learn the violence is wrong.

This is my second year in the Shakespeare club. I'm not as nervous about the performance as I was last year because I am experienced and that will help me with this performance.

Many people have heard of the story "Romeo and Juliet" but most people don't know what the story is about. And it's mostly kids that don’t know. So the Shakespeare Club gives the kids a chance to perform real plays written by William Shakespeare.
—Cole, 5th grade (Year Three)

rose photo by David McKeen

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Little Rain Must Fall

May, 2009: Third Performance

Theresa and Polly became good friends through our rehearsal period. The two girls opened the play with the scene between the Ship Captain and Viola after a terrible shipwreck.

I urged both actresses to speak up and speak slowly. When one spoke quietly, the other matched her level. When one sped up, the other followed.

By the three o'clock performance, the cast was ripe for capsizing. They were tired. Their fellow students had seen the show and now they would be at the mercy of primarily adult audiences.

I never found out exactly what happened, but when Polly and Ethan's mother arrived for the three o'clock show, something set Polly off. I was onstage making sure props were set and giving last-minute suggestions when I heard whisperings.

"Ms. Ryane...Ms. Ryane." The urgency of the kids' hushed voices indicated something was up.

"Over there...Ms. Ryane...Polly...Polly's crying!"

Indeed. Sitting silently in her chair, fat tears rolled down Polly's cheeks. I moved close and touched her hand.

"Polly, what is it?"

Nothing. Not a move. Not a word. I knelt beside her.

"Polly, tell me...what's happened?"

Next to her, Theresa was nearly as wrought as her friend suffered.

"Okay, girls. We're about to start. We're going to do the play. You know what to do, let's put this matter aside for now and get to the business of acting."

Polly and Ethan are the children of a broken home. Mom was here for this performance. Dad may have been arriving later with his wife. Like I said, I don't know what upset her, but Polly was not well and not telling.

She delivered a robotic performance. Barely audible, she whipped through her speeches. Theresa followed suit and matched her in volume and speed.

When the performance was over, I took a moment with the two of them.

"Okay girls, I don't know what made Polly cry, but here's what I do know....Theresa, when your friend has a rough time you must go up...not down. It doesn't help Polly if you become equally sad. You must help your friend by rising and then she will follow. Do you understand?"

They nodded, agreed and we all hoped the final performance would be better. In the meantime, the pooped thespians needed dinner and distraction.

In the library, food was readied along with a movie. I stuck "Shakespeare in Love" into the DVD player while they wolfed down pizza, turkey wraps and a fruit plate in record time.

When I show the kids a movie and there may be dicey scenes, I press the fast-forward button. Of course, I had seen this movie and knew they would love seeing Elizabethan London with its mucky streets, poop tossed out windows, the Globe theatre, the groundlings...well...all the stuff we'd explored with the giant exception of Gwyneth Paltrow's boobies.

Ms. Paltrow's balcony was visible far more than I'd remembered and was now FROZEN on screen as the DVD player malfunctioned. I frantically pressed the FF button to no avail as every single member of The Shakespeare Club screamed, hid their eyes and yelled some more.

After months of rehearsal and four performances, the single memorable item for these kids, the one thing they would write about in their classroom essays, was that "Ms. Ryane showed us an R-rated movie!!!!"

Suffice to say, the experience cheered Polly and Theresa right out of their doldrums and woke everyone up for the final performance.

I could have been fired on the spot and still imagine a pink slip could show up any day.

If I could do anything out of peace, purpose and adventure, I would choose adventure. For adventure, I would travel all over the U.S.A. to every state and write an essay about their history.

When I grow up I want to a famous soccer or softball player or singer and a mother!
Alice, 5th grade

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Mailbag

When I receive questions or requests, I do my best to satisfy. If you have one of your own, go to "Contact Me" on the sidebar.

Here is a follow-up:

Dear Ms. Ryane,

I wrote you earlier about our assembly. I would be so happy to meet someone who has the same passion for teaching Shakespeare. Also, the children would be happy to meet you as well. The assembly will be in March.

I know this is a longshot, and really we don't have the most fancy stage in the world, but if you have a chance, it would be great if you could come. Remember, I am the third-grade teacher who had no idea how popular this was going to be with the children! Right now, I am typing out Hamlet.

I would love to come! Please keep me posted closer to the date and I will do my best to get there.


Thank you! You made my day!!

I will tell you!!!

Merry Christmas! and a Shakespeare new year!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Oprah Effect

May, 2009: Second Performance

When I think back on Performance Day, my favorite show was the one o'clock. Perhaps because, after their first, the kids realized they could do it. Perhaps because the audience was overwhelming in its praise. Or perhaps because their former principal had arrived to see them.

As the student audience rustled and bumped into their seats, I noticed the cast whispering and pointing to the back of the auditorium. I went onstage to prepare my opening remarks and asked what they were excited about.

"It's her....See, Ms. Ryane...she's here!"

Our former principal had given the go-ahead for this program four years earlier. She had seen it grow, from our roughshod initial season to our current success. Every year, before a performance, she would step onstage, shake each actor's hand and give congratulations and encouragement. I joked that she was like Queen Elizabeth to these kids.

On this day, I beckoned her to the stage, she came and granted a repeat performance. The kids' faces shone in awe. I must be clear that our current principal was on hand for their final performance and is no less enthusiastic about The Shakespeare Club. We are lucky.

After the one o'clock performance, the student audience remained for a Q&A. I wandered around with a microphone and even the littlest asked questions, along with some of the teachers. I acted like Oprah and gave answers about the ocean sounds, or the swords, or the sea waves, but then I handed the microphone over to the actors and watched magic happen.

Geoffrey stepped forward and actually lowered his voice to address his fans with authority.

"Well, every night I studied my lines and Ms. Ryane taught us that going over them before we went to sleep would help them stick in our heads. And well...I used to be nervous but now I just like being an actor."

Kate, Geoffrey's sister, took the microphone.

"It's hard work, it's true, and we have to do yoga and stuff, but it's so much fun and exciting."

One after another I watched these children answer the queries of their peers. The actors spoke with confidence. They were composed. They were professionals.

How did this happen in a mere nineteen meetings? Where does such aplomb come from during the struggle with chaos, big words and a complicated plot line?

I can't say. I don't know exactly what part of the recipe makes a cake rise. Perhaps it's simply an alchemy of willing, patient and eager ingredients.

I like everything about the Shakespeare Club! No words can explain how much I like the Shakespeare Club!

What I learned about myself in the Shakespeare is that I am able to be an actress and I can act.
—Emilia, 5th grade (Year Three)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Audience Has a Job

May, 2009: Performance Day

"Good morning and welcome to the very first performance of 'Twelfth Night' by The Shakespeare Club," I intoned to the small-fry audience gathered in our school auditorium. "This is actually called an 'invited dress rehearsal' and you, as the audience, have a responsibility here."

Teachers patrolled the aisles, pointed stern fingers and settled the excited group.

"These actors have rehearsed and know what to do. The boys at the back of the auditorium, taking care of lights and sound, know what to do. And now I'm going to give you a job."

The auditorium was full, and because I addressed them through a microphone, they paid attention.

"This is a funny play, so it is way-okay to laugh. It is not okay to walk around, or to call out to the actors and distract them. It is not okay to talk during the performance. Your job is to follow the story, and if you listen very carefully, the first thing you might hear is the ocean."

With that I gave a nod to Lyndon to shut off the house lights. I left the stage and we were blanketed in blackness. The sound of ocean waves and seagull calls rose around us. Music from James Horner's "Titanic" score soared as blue and green lights flooded the stage. The ocean makers billowed silky fabric and glittery fishes danced above the waves.

Our discount Cirque du Soleil opening had the audience rapt and we were into the first of our four performances that day in May.

Belinda shone as our narrator. She kept the story going and added her personal vocal flourishes as only a gifted actor knows to do.

Geoffrey, as Sir Toby Belch, had decided a "viol-de-gamboys" was a guitar-like instrument. When he described his friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, as a proficient musician, Geoffrey played an air-guitar and swung his hips like a pint-sized Elvis. The audience went crazy. The kids screamed and Geoffrey could not resist giving just a little hip wiggle every time he wanted to set them off. Geoffrey, an actor instantly addicted, had transformed into a professional milker.

Luis matched Geoffrey's comedy bit for bit. When forced into a swordfight, a terrified Luis rattled his weapon, cowered and covered his eyes. Again, the audience roared and screeched in approval.

Stars, born at 10:30 that morning, twinkled and carried an audience in the palms of their small hands. These boys, who struggle every day with math, spelling and reading, were at the top of their form as comic actors.

I sat out front, breathed deep, satisfied breaths, and took notes to give them after the performance.

After the cast took their bows, the apron of the stage was a mob scene of tiny kids reaching up to touch Luis' and Geoffrey's outstretched hands. Rock stars.

When they hustled off to lunch they were again mobbed on campus.

Self-esteem was delivered in truckloads and they still had three performances to go.

I learned how to be an actor and hoe to connect to my character. I also learned how to memerized my lines.

It felt good when they laughed. I knew I wasn't loud enough. I will always remember the fun I had in the Shakespeare club.

Playing the part was cool because I learned not to dress up as a boy.
Polly, 5th grade

ocean photo from Flickr user philipbouchard

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Mailbag

Okay, readers, here's some correspondence that tells a whole tale:


I love your blog, it is a miracle to find someone who believes as strongly as I do about teaching Shakespeare to children! My third-grade class has been practicing Macbeth for awhile, and they are WONDERFUL performers. They have learned so much and they want to keep learning as much as they can.

Sadly, my principal does not feel the same as I do, and has even told me so in meetings. So of course the other teachers agree with her.

What can you tell me to convince her how important it is?

Thank you, I appreciate any input. And happy to meet someone who has the passion to teach!

I'm shocked and saddened to hear this. That's just plain wrong, awful and sad. Don't give up. Tell your principal and fellow educators to read this blog, from the beginning, when it started in July of this year. Maybe they will get an inkling of what big words in big stories can do to raise big voices and big confidence.

I'm in an inner-city school with kids carrying and wrestling with all kinds of baggage. Their teachers will tell anyone that their students' reading and comprehension levels are up from their work in The Shakespeare Club.

I think when we raise the bar, they leap and are empowered.

Keep up the fight.
Thank you for your kind words. Our school is in a poor district as well, but it is a Catholic school. I think she thinks it is too controversial to perform, but I try to make it as G-rated as I can. You are right about comprehension. The slow readers want to read constantly.

One little boy in my class walks around with a binder filled with Shakespeare quotes. He was one of the "slow" ones. Thanks for letting me vent, sometimes I feel like I am all alone in my quest. But, when I read your blog, it was like a huge beacon of light.

I will try to show her the blog. Thank you!

P.S. don't worry I will never quit!

I have great news. My principal, after reading your blog, is now open to having the students do this play! I think your blog as well as a visit from the mayor of our city convinced her it was a good idea. Remember the little boy with binder of quotes?

Well, when the mayor came to our class, the class was prepared to ask questions. The student with the binder of quotes asked, "Would you like to see us perform Macbeth?"

The mayor was shocked, and of course said Yes. This is all pretty surreal to me. But, with prayer and conviction. great things can happen!

Thanks again!

I'm so, so thrilled for you, for your students, for the mayor and...well, let's applaud your principal!

Keep me posted.