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)

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