Monday, April 5, 2010

Chekhov, Please!

March, 2010

We're doing the wrong play with the wrong playwright. We should be in Russia, not Scotland. We should be doing "Three Sisters" and not "Macbeth." I have an Olga (the school teacher), an Irina (the hard-working optimist) and a Masha (the drama queen).

I have three sisters, all in fourth grade, in the Shakespeare Club this year, with another, in the third grade, set to run our sound cues. These girls share a last name and two parents, but are not all of the same blood.

Celia was in the club last year for "Twelfth Night" and this year is our stage manager. I asked Celia to think of someone she thought might make a good sound operator for "Macbeth." She diligently took on the task and handed me a paper with her ideas.

"I picked some from my class and some from third grade, but Ms. Ryane, we should also think about Eddie in the special-ed class because he's just fine and might not have another chance to do Shakespeare Club."

Is it possible to teach a child to be this kind?

Natalie, Celia's sister, is part of our Witches' Chorus and is also playing Donalbain. Natalie is on the shy side but takes her roles seriously and is writing wonderful essays in her journal.

"Hey, Natalie," I smiled, seeing her on the grounds one afternoon, "how was your weekend? Anything special?"

She shrugged and gave me a stellar Natalie grin.

"Well, not really." Then she stopped to think. "Except this, Ms. Ryane. We're going to learn Creole!"

"Wow, no kidding. Is someone going to come to your house and teach you Creole?"

"Yes, someone is going to come to our house because we're from Haiti."

"I know. That's fantastic, Natalie." We stood facing each other in the sun. "Do you ever think of what you might like to be when you grow up, Natalie?"

"Yes. I think I would be a nurse."

"Hey, you know what? If you learn Creole, you'll find it pretty easy to learn Spanish, Italian and Parisian French. And then if you became a nurse you could work lots of places in the world with those languages because every country needs nurses. You could travel."

"I could do that?" I nodded. "Well, I think I would like to work where there are poor people."

Is it possible to teach a child to be this aware?

Phoebe is a light bulb. In a room full of people you're always going to see Phoebe; she has that kind of charisma. Phoebe is playing Lady Macbeth.

I was working alone with Phoebe and Oliver. We were rehearsing the Lord and Lady scenes. They both took my direction easily and made changes where I asked for them.

"Come here, you two, I have to tell you something." They both stood in front of me and looked up.

"Whatever happens in your life, however it goes, up or down or sideways, I want you to know this true thing: You have greatness in you. I can help you find it, but it is your effort and your commitment that will bring it out. And no one can ever take that away from you. Do you believe me when I say that you have greatness in you?"

Oliver gave a careful nod.

"Yup!" Phoebe answered, "But, Ms. Ryane, I'm just not sure — do I cross to the bench on this line or this one?" She held her script up for me to see her problem.

Is it possible to teach a child to be this confident?

These three girls and their little sister, Mariah (chosen to be sound operator), know where they are from and what happened there this last January. Their parents collect food and clothing to send to the girls' birth country. These children are gifts to me, to the Shakespeare Club and to the world. I watch them write, do yoga, act and I think:

What if?

If I was an Elizabethan girl I would have made a rule that ladies and girls could be actors. They would be able to wear what they wanted. Every day I would want to see one of Will's plays. I would live in a big house, but dress myself.
—Phoebe, 4th grade


  1. Was it the margaritas at Islands tonight that made me cry when I read this post? No, it really was the content of the post itself, perhaps just heightened slightly by the margaritas. The way you write about your experience and about these children inspires me to be a better person and to continue looking for goodness in the world.

  2. Thank you so much. There is goodness, under the rubble, it's there.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.