Wednesday, September 29, 2010

King Lear's New Palace

It is the stars,
The stars above us, govern our conditions.
King Lear Act 4, Scene III

I have written previously of my aged father and his unyielding grip on an independent life as his offspring hopelessly argued that he needed help.

Three times in the last year my dad was discovered prone on the bathroom floor of his apartment in a high-rise building. In each case he had been there for hours and sometimes days.

During another collapse, in the spring of this year, his building had an electrical blowout, shutting down the elevators. Paramedics had to climb fifteen floors to get to him and then carry him fifteen floors to the ambulance far below.

After each event Dad spent weeks recovering in a hospital.

Meanwhile, a new assisted-living building was about to open in his neighborhood. Fancifully called "The Poppy," it appeared to be a perfect fit for our poppy, but oh the persuasion and oh the deaf ears.

Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither;
Ripeness is all.
King Lear Act V, Scene II

Until one day he decided, okay.

I recently flew to him and, along with my two brothers, packed dad up and made the move. I'm a thrower-outer. I cringe at accumulated stuff. I went to work filling garbage bags as my father sat in a chair and watched.

"Oh, the ironing board, Mel...."

"They'll have one there, Dad, in the brand-new laundry room."


It was tender to know that he liked to iron his shirts but the new palace was considerably smaller than his current castle and there would be no room for his ironing board.

Within two days we had Dad's belongings situated. Pictures hung, a new flat-screen television on the wall, fresh linens on the bed and fluffy towels hung in the bathroom.

Two chairs sat across his kitchen table in front of a window where Dad could solve crossword puzzles and look out to a view of mountains. From over those hills his armies could march to protect him as sun would set and snow would fall.

On the morning Dad moved in, we stood back and let him wander his 480-square foot manse. His blue eyes watery and twinkling took it all in. He shuffled with bent back and asked, "Is that my bed?"

"Yes, Dad, that's your bed, the very same."

"Oh Mel, the management of this place should see how beautiful an apartment can look here. I should have them all come up."

Dad has worn-out things but they are his things. We managed to pare piles down to the essentials. Photos of his family were pressed with colored pins on to a corkboard which hung over his telephone shelf. A teapot waited to hold a brew and a recliner sat ready for his body to relax and watch a football game.

Our relief at his acceptance filled The Poppy, blew out the windows and across that mountain range.

Come, let's away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies.
King Lear Act V Scene III

And Cordelia slept.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Recess: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Speak on:

New Yorker Cover - 9/13/2010 (larger version)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bigger Than Life Itself

Showbiz or any biz for that matter is going to have its glitches. Any production from a play to a movie to a wedding is going to have missteps and the best admonition I ever heard in that regard was, Those are the things you will remember.

Ask any bride or groom and they'll regale you with the boo-boos because, let's face it, those are what make it special.

A woman once told me she'd spent a year planning for her wedding to take place in a beautiful garden with spectacular catering for the reception.

Mmmm hmmm.

As she was about to walk down a rose-laden aisle to her beloved, she got word that the spectacular caterer took the money and bought a spectacular bag of cocaine to feed his real habit.

She gulped and tearfully asked her helpers to order a gigantic amount of Chinese food. No one will ever forget that wedding.

On the morning of our production I laid out stacks of Shakespeare Club T-shirts. A pile for small, another for medium and one for large. This year the shirts were chocolate brown.

A week before I perused a size large and had serious doubts about it being big enough for our Lord Macbeth. I asked Oliver to go into the washroom and try it on. He came back out with, "Ms. Ryane, it's kinda little."


Damn, it looked like Saran Wrap on the poor fellow. I put a fast call in to the wonderful Cynde (a mother), who commissions our T-shirts every year, and asked if we could get a rush order on an adult size extra-extra.

"Are you certain?" she asked, "He's only ten."

"Oh, I'm certain."


It didn't arrive in time. Yikes.

Cynde and I burrowed into the supply closet where, wonder of wonders, we found a box of school T-shirts that just happened to be the same chocolate brown. Different logo, of course, but no one would see that. Phew. Big phew.

Days after our performance day I called Oliver out of class to present him with his official Shakespeare Club T-shirt with its proper logo of Will Shakespeare.

"Really, for me?" Oliver asked.

"Oh yes, my friend, no one deserves it more. Your Macbeth was stellar and you were so tolerant of my boo-boo with the size."

"Oh, that's okay, Ms. Ryane," he said while holding up the shirt to admire it.


I wanted power was when was a kid then I will rule the word and any one that wanted to talk about me they will get there head choped off and then I will lolz.

I wanted revenge when my cuzin hit me and she pucned me. I wanted revenge because Geneva hurt me relly bad I was going to cry

I wanted revenge because Geneva allmost broke my bed because we have bunk beds and I have the top and my brother the bottom.
Wendy, 3rd grade

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hard News: A Tech Day Newbie

I wrote recently of my terrible behavior when I was a young actress in a technical rehearsal.

I was delighted to read this interview with Brooke Shields and her discovery of what a "tech rehearsal" entailed.

I am going to see "Leap Of Faith" and will post an opinion soon. I'm thrilled to read that she rallied for the rehearsal and dropped all Hollywood expectations.

A giant 'Leap' for Brooke Shields (Margaret Gray, LA Times)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Beginning/The Day

The first two years of The Shakespeare Club my husband was away working and could barely imagine what I'd attempted. The first production William saw was "Romeo & Juliet" and he wept. Not great, gallumping sobs or anything but he got a little teary and it wasn't because a boy swallowed poison or because a girl put a dagger into her heart.

Nope, it was because his wife was doing something he thought was worthwhile.

Of course, that meant a lot to me and with that good feeling I was able to recruit his help in myriad ways. William was my go-to for sound effects and he made the pre-show CD. William was my run-out-and-grab-sandwiches-for-Mel-and-Rachel guy. William was the look-across-the room-with-crossed-eyes-and-receive-encouragement guy.

I got super-spoiled instantly by having my guy with me on performance day.

And then I got into a disappointed, cranky mood because this year for "Macbeth" William was eighteen hundred miles across the country. Now, even from that distance, he made those CDs. He edited sound effects and downloaded the music for us. BUT STILL. I was going to miss him big time. There would be no ham and cheese for me or Rachel on this day.

William was in my head as I drove from home early on May 27th toward the school. I thought about us the year before driving together, my head spinning and my nerves on edge. On May 27th of this year I had no one to snap at on the dewy morning. No one share to concerns with. No one to wrinkle my brow at during the day. I had to grow up fast and I didn't like that one bit.

I parked the car and unpacked cases of water for thirsty actors. In the teachers' lounge I stacked boxes of snack bars and cartons of little Cuties oranges donated by Trader Joe's.

I stepped into the cool, dimly lit auditorium. I opened the storage doors underneath the stage and dragged out large trays of metal chairs to go onstage. I started the work of the day and missed my husband oh, so much.

Get thee a good husband,
and use him as he uses thee.
All's Well That Ends Well Act I, Scene I

I am spoiled rotten in the marriage department.

My name is chelsy. I live in a hollow tree with my sisters layla and Lady Macbeth. My friends are the animals, dawfs and birds. I eat pig, goat milk, and corn sticks. I believe in everything. I want to tell every one there future. I will apear to everyone's house. I am afraid of not getting to be belived in. I am afraid of bad witches. I am loyal to people. I am loyal to king. I am very brave.

My full name is Grace Monica sage witoshic. My family members are my brother credance Jake witoshic, my sister Layla anna witoshic, and my other sister Rouch Macbeth witoshic. I like to eat samon, pie, drink mead, ale and eat goat. I like to wear butiful red and pink dresses. I also like to wear a purple bonit. I live in a hollow tree with 7 rooms. It is big and pink.
Ellie, 4th grade

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ready or Not

"Celia, do you need to run that red light cue again?" I called to the back of the auditorium.


"Sorry, couldn't hear that."


And I could hear that out of her bitty voice. Progress.

In an attempt to make things a little juicy for Calvin running the lights, I added a lighting change in the middle of the show. With Lady Macbeth standing down right and Lord Macbeth about to enter from stage left with blood dripping from his hands (red gloves with satin red ribbons sewn to each fingertip) I wanted the stage to turn red.

This is indeed a sorry sight!
These hands have taken the life of our king;
Nothing will heal their burning sting!
Through his chambers I did creep,
A voice cried, 'Macbeth doth murder sleep!'
It was a sound I did abhor,
And still it cried, 'Sleep no more!'

Just let it be!

I will never be free!

Why are you carrying the daggers, you fool?
You ought to have left them in the room!
Go smear the blood on each guard's face
They'll be suspected when the daggers are in place.
And wash that stain from off your hands.
If you're caught, it will ruin our plans.

I'll go no more!
What I have done, I do deplore!

Then I'll do the job. I'm not fainthearted!
We'll scrub and scour our hands all clean;
Duncan's blood will never be seen!

Calvin needed to get that light cue right on the money. Celia needed to give him a stand by and then a go just as Lord Macbeth turned to reveal his bloody palms.

The actors were very ready. Oliver, as Macbeth, had hit the right notes of horror. Phoebe, as his wife, was snappy and downright critical, with one hand on her hip, giving this idiot husband a well-deserved what-for.

We ran the light change...mmmm...about one thousand times. That's okay. I wanted Calvin to feel super-confident for the four performances the next day.

As it happened, he and Celia popped those lights up here and there for the first three shows BUT for the final performance they got it exactly right. Throughout the day I had to forgive them for jittery nerves and outright exhaustion.

When they nailed it, I could have cheered...but that would have taken way too much focus from the Bickering Bickersons front and center.

I love this puppy. She was so cute. I wanted her so much I just wanted to take her out of the cage and hug her and run home with her. I couldn't get my mind of her. And today and Tomoro and Tomoro and Tomoro.

And I'll NEVER forget her in my Intier LIFE.

The End
Lizzie, 4th grade

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Places, Places: Celia, Calvin and Mariah

I sort of managed to get it into the actors' heads that our technical rehearsal was most important for the crew. Celia, our stage manager, would be giving standby and go cues to Mariah, on sound and Calvin, on lights.

Rob, Millie's dad, would oversee and train. Rachel, co-director, would stay at the back of the auditorium with this tight group as an additional helper.

Calvin's face was a combination of ashen and excited. His personal mission was to outdo his older brother, Anthony, who had been our lighting operator for two years. Calvin gently pulled out his chair and perused his lighting board. Other boys crowded around Calvin, looking over his shoulders.

"Boys, get back up onstage. This is Calvin's department. No one, and I mean no one — other than Calvin, Mr. Rob or Ms. Rachel — is allowed to touch that lighting board."

The errant actors scurried to the stage and Calvin gingerly placed his bottom down as if sitting on a golden throne.

Mariah pulled her chair back and looked over the sound board with its buttons and CD player. She picked up the two CDs my husband had made for us. One with pre-show music and one with show sound cues.

Both children knew exactly where to sit because Rob, in a stroke of brilliance, had printed their names on stickers and placed them in the appropriate spots. An eight-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy now knew they were official.

Sweet, as the other kids like to say.

I was onstage with the kids sitting in the horseshoe pattern that we always rehearsed in and they would now perform from. From my position I would dash around, filling in for our four missing actresses on their harbor cruise.

"Ready, Celia?" I called out.


I think she said.

"Celia, this is where you officially take over, so you will need to use your big voice, okay?"


I'm pretty sure she said.

"Great, so here's how it'll start: Mariah, you will slowly turn down the pre-show music and put in your show CD, I'll do my blah, blah, blah to the audience, then I'll turn out the house lights and Calvin, you will have the stage lights up. The cast will do the mottos, then you go to blackout, Calvin. Got that, everybody?"

The pre-show music I chose was the soundtrack to the hit TV show "Glee." The actors on stage rocked back and forth to the music and giggled at the lyrics, I bust the windows out your car....

Oh yeah, we're hip in the Shakespeare Club. You bet.

Blah, blah, blah...I had my audience chat down and, with a lurch in my stomach, I privately acknowledged that this was the beginning of the big release. The handover.

Soon I would be sitting out front, on my hands, doing nothin' at all.

When I wanted love is when I bought a new bird parakeet. It was blue and white. I use to open the bird cage and hold the bird on my shoulder. I loved it so much I wished I could be a bird. Sometimes I catch it with a towl when it flew out. Then my Dad bought another girl bird name Sammy. And they loved ech other.

Max and Sammy
Garth, 4th grade

Monday, September 13, 2010

Runaround Sue

Aside from my having to stand in for our four missing actors on tech day, making sure our two littlest techies were ready to take on new chores, and settling a cast onstage....

I needed to scurry hither and yon in the role of gopher. Not unlike our William Shakespeare, who began his theatrical career as "waterboy" a.k.a. production assistant a.k.a. gopher. It was his task to run around gathering water, props and Elizabethan sandwiches for the higher-ups. It was ever thus and will remain ever thus in tho-bizneth.

Rachel was trying to jury-rig microphones on to music stands for our narrators and she needed a flathead screwdriver. Where, where?

I ran to the school office and was told that one of our first-grade teachers had just what we needed. Off I skipped to her room and she brought out an entire toolkit, rustled about and handed me the necessary item. This box of hammers and screwdrivers was not what I would have supposed a first-grade teacher would have at her disposal, but that's how much I don't know about the needs of a real classroom.

The sound crew needed an adapter, which meant finding cash and sending one of the gentlemen off to Radio Shack. Someone else needed electrical tape and I burrowed into boxes and closets for a roll of the black sticky stuff. As it turns out, this is my real talent: HELPING.

William Goldman, in his entertaining opus on the film industry, "Adventures in the Screen Trade," writes two words to describe a director's job: They help. I agree with his assessment. I help actors find a character within them and get it out. And I help a crew set up lights and amplify sound on stage. Whatever it takes to inspire others do their jobs to the best of their abilities is my job.

On this day and most days that means running for drinks, snacks and scotch tape. Watergirl: That's me.

CHILDREN'S WRITES: Journal Entries
My future

My future is if I am going to be in the olimpics for ice skating also if I am going to be good on the shakespere acting show.
Page, 3rd grade

My potion would be for use to pass our tests I wald put a test in it.
—Page, 3rd grade

Friday, September 10, 2010

Two More Men

All I did was ask. I hoped, I worried, and then, I asked.

The first few years that I ran The Shakespeare Club, I was the lone adult in the enterprise. Then our auditorium advanced its technical potential by way of the generous donations of Dr. Ambrose.

I couldn't do this alone anymore and was blessed to have Rachel show up, and then Rob, and then:

Jim and Alan.

It had been a long-held dream of mine to somehow amplify the small voices of our small actors. The kids worked so hard on learning the words, the moves and the motivations, but even with vocal exercises they have small instruments that need assistance. What to do and how to do it?

These two gentlemen, like Rob, worked in the film industry and stepped forward with ideas and know-how. Some had suggested body microphones for the kids but I knew those would not work, in part because they're KIDS. They run around and go to the bathroom and fall on the floor, and that's when I'm looking. Expensive sound equipment attached to those bodies equaled nightmare.

The second problem was that those microphones would need a separate sound operator to increase or decrease the levels of speakers and non-speakers. Bigger nightmare.

Jim and Alan came up with a plan. They would plant three small microphones downstage center, left and right. Together these mics would pick up the actors' voices, sending them clearly through two large speakers we would rent.

Jim and Alan arrived on tech day and went to work taping cords, lifting speakers, hooking, testing, adjusting, readjusting...and a happy dream happened. For the first time in our five-year history, even the tiniest voices could be heard.

Neither Jim nor Alan have children at this school. They are two gentlemen citizens who cared enough to step forward, and all I did was ask.

Imagine a whole world where this could happen.

What I would like to know about my future is will I be famous. And I will allso lit to know if I will get straite on Math in college. And will I have a good life will I be a doctor.
Garth, 4th grade

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Recess: Slammin' Teacher

Ah, the old cliché: Those who can do and those who can't teach....

Don't get me started. Instead, watch this poet and teacher, Taylor Mali, deliver his slam poem as part of the TED lecture series.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Upside of the Downside

When I was a young actress brimming with self-importance, I didn't understand that a "technical rehearsal" in the theatre was not about me.

I didn't believe the six o'clock news wasn't about me either; such is the cocktail of youth, confidence and arrogance. Unbearable.

Technical rehearsals require actors to be onstage and directed to jump from cue to cue so the light and sound crews can rehearse their duties. The actors have been rehearsing for weeks or months in a rehearsal space and are all jazzed up about finally being onstage, and they sometimes forget that "It's not about you!" This is the first time for the crew to learn and practice on their equipment.

When I was twenty-two and in one such rehearsal, I had a tizzy-fit at being asked to stand around quietly for what I thought was way too long. I stuck my hands on my hips and announced to the director, sitting "out there" in the dark, "I'll be in my dressing room. When you have it together, you can come and get me."

Honestly, what a spoiled prig I was. I can admit this now but of course it's a much too late of an apology for those crew members and that director.

To make up for my horrible behavior, I now teach small children the importance of a technical rehearsal, and they respond much better than I did.

For the "Macbeth" technical rehearsal we were missing four actors. I took a chair onstage with the cast and dashed around, filling in those parts. From this position I also had to call out to the back of the auditorium when cues needed adjusting.

The upside of my place onstage was to be the midst of my young charges. They treated me kindly as they might an understudy going on for the first time. They whispered reminders to me. They were super vigilant about their roles. They copied my professionalism and what can sometimes be a painstaking rehearsal turned into an efficient and beneficial experience for both the actors and the crew.

The four girls on a cruise would have a big catch-up on performance day, but we did okay without them for "the tech."

CHILDREN'S WRITES: Journal Entries
One time I slaped my big brother because He didn't let play this relley cool game that he just got for gamestop arond the corner of our house. It's call modern warfare 2. So, I slapped him relly hard and he locked me out of the house.
Oliver, 4th grade

When my sister was in my room and I yelled at her and said go away dont ever come in my room again after I said that I felt so bad I really wanted to regrate that.
Page, 3rd grade

Friday, September 3, 2010

Millie's Dad

"Millie, your dad's going to help us with the lights."

"I know, and he knows everything," Millie beamed, and hugged my legs.

Yup, Millie's dad, Rob, would prove himself worthy of his daughter's pride. Rob works in the film and television industry as a "grip" and when his wife and daughter offered his services to The Shakespeare Club I could only hope that he was both game and that he'd be free from work when we needed him.

Early on the Wednesday morning of our technical rehearsal I wandered alone into our school's auditorium. I took a breath in the cool air and thought about how the next two days would unfold. The word that popped into my head was mayhem.

On this day, lights would have to be adjusted by Rob, teetering high on a ladder. Sound equipment would need to be set up with yards of cable taped down from one end of the auditorium to the other. Two little kids, Mariah and Calvin, would have to be trained to run the equipment and learn their cues. Actors, onstage for the first time and bubbling with jitters and excited to be out of their classrooms, would have to be corralled into professionalism.

And everyone would need SNACKS to keep going.

I couldn't even start thinking about Day Two and the four performances that would take place. I had to imagine it one step at a time and keep my eye on the ball: that frosty margarita when it was all over.

I pulled out chairs for the actors onstage. I made sure we had the tallest ladder. I rustled around in an overstuffed closet for the sound and light boards. I wondered if anyone would show up. I worried and called Rachel's cell to make sure she remembered. I unpacked props and put them under appropriate chairs.

"Hey, Ms. Ryane!"

"Hi, Krystal, how are you this morning?"

"Good." The little girl studied the auditorium and watched me set things in place.

"Do you want us now?" she asked with hope in her voice.

"Mmmm. Not yet, Krystal, no actors until this afternoon. So you should go back to class and we'll get you when we're ready."


"Hey, Ms. Ryane!"

"Hi, Mark."

"Our teacher wants to know if you need us now."

"Tell her not yet, Mark. Actors, this afternoon. I'll just need Calvin and Mariah this morning."

"Oh. Okay."

The buzz was in the air and the knots were in my stomach, twisting and weaving — and then in he walked, like the hero in a white hat from an old-style western.

Millie's dad, Rob. He carried a box of lighting gels and wore a cheeky smile.

"Oh, thank God, you're here," I sighed. "I'm a technical idiot and we'd be lost without you."

Right behind him, Rachel arrived with her coffee, fresh-washed hair and a huge grin.

"Here we go," she said.

Here we go indeed.

My best friend Celia helps me but sometimes I dont. Even thou I don't help her that doesn't mean I'm not her best friend. So if you don't help your freind and our freind dous don't be ashamed.
Lizzie, 4th grade

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Where is Richard from Texas these days and what's he up to?

He let me know:

Howdy Mel, This is what I do every Thursday at USO/DFW Airport. Play the banjo for our brave troops.Been there since Jan. 2005. Bob Hope entertained troops for 65+ years.

Thank you, Richard, for sharing your story with us and for sharing your banjo music with our troops.