Friday, December 30, 2011

Auld Lang Syne and Stuff

2011 was a good year. The Shakespeare Club exceeded all expectations.

More little kids now know about William Shakespeare than a year ago.

More children have unearthed their own possibilities through acting out the plots of Shakespeare's plays.

I will sleep well, likely dropping off before midnight as usual, and will be ready for 2012.

I wish you the same: Great sleeps, better dreams and open hearts to all that 2012 has to offer.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hard News: Luck

...the readiness is all.
Hamlet Act V, Scene II

Some say luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Demian Bichir, it appears, was ready in body, mind and voice to take on an acting career in the U.S.

Raised in a prominent theatre family in Mexico, Mr. Bichir learned the discipline required to tackle Chekov and Shakespeare. When he came to this country, he worked as a dishwasher in New York City while pursuing his dream.

Last week, he was nominated in the leading actor category by the Screen Actors Guild for his performance in "A Better Life."

Congratulations, Demian Bichir. You have set a great example for so many.

SAG Awards: Demian Bichir on his surprise nomination (24 Frames/LA Times)

Friday, December 23, 2011


When Christmas bells are swinging above the fields of snow,
We hear sweet voices ringing from lands of long ago,
And etched on vacant places
Are half-forgotten faces
Of friends we used to cherish,
And loves we used to know.
~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

On Hanukkah, the first dark night,
Light yourself a candle bright.
I'll you, if you will me invite
To dance within that gentle light.
~Nicholas Gordon

For somehow, not only at Christmas, but all the long year through, The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.
~John Greenleaf Whittier

The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
~James Baldwin

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
~Charles Dickens

Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.
~Kenyan proverb

Wishing you happy holidays and a creative 2012!
~Mel Ryane

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Exit Stage Left

I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.
The Merchant of Venice Act I, Scene I

I'm hardly a professional partier. I can't remember the last fete I attended, but I do know this: As important as the arrival time may be, the exit time is even more relevant.

You want to get the heck out before the chips are crumbled, the dip is gone and the ice a mere puddle. It's simply too damn sad when we stay too long at the faire.

The evening that began with a bubble bath, a spritz of perfume, and that hot shoulder-baring number shouldn't end with wilted lemon twists in empty martini glasses.

And yet it's a tricky business in the midst of hilarity — and " one more...this'll kill ya' funny..." — to tuck into the winter coat, swaddle the scarf...and bolt.

It was not without sleepless nights and restless meditations that I arrived at the decision to end my time with The Shakespeare Club.

Every year, as the successes grew, I had tiny kids running to clutch my legs with the news that they too would be auditioning for Shakespeare Club the next year.

Seriously, how could I walk away from them?

Every year, club members clamored to know, "What's the play next year, Ms. Ryane? Is it a comedy or tragedy?" These words were often sprayed through missing front teeth.

How could I leave this party?

It may come as a surprise to some that my presence on the campus was not welcome by everyone. It was a hell of a shock for me, I can tell you.

I just assumed that a volunteer with goodwill, energy and positive results would accrue full support.

Assumptions and expectations are dangerous.

I attempted to ignore the signs year after year. I did my best to calm fears and unruffle feathers, but I was not entirely successful and the undermining by a minority wore me down.

It struck me as preposterous that I was going to bed at night in tears and struggling in a hostile workplace when I was doing this for free. It struck my husband too, since he was picking up my broken pieces.

After some long talks, I decided the party, for me, was over.

And then I cried the hardest, deepest and longest.

What I loved about Shakespeare Club was almost everything. I loved the role of Demetrius! The ocean of applause coming over me. I will miss all of you and your annoyance. I will also miss Ms. Ryane

P.S. I will really miss Ms. Ryane
Oliver, 5th grade

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Interview: Sabrina

sabrina: My name is Sabrina and I'm in fourth grade and I played Puck.

mel: Sabrina, why did you audition for The Shakespeare Club?

Because I like acting...I love acting, actually...and I thought it would be very fun, and also to learn about Shakespeare and...well, it was my second Shakespeare play.

Tell me about the first experience you had with Shakespeare.

Well, the first experience was when there was an audition for "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Globe Theatre and I got in and I was a fairy and that was actually pretty fun 'cause there was a lot of Shakespeare people....People were actually talking in Shakespeare voices backstage.

What did you learn being around professional actors in that play?

That they are quiet backstage and they actually do warm-ups and they were very professional.

Was there anything about being in Shakespeare Club that surprised you?

What surprised me a lot actually was that we did yoga. I didn't know that Shakespeare Club did yoga 'cause I do yoga outside of school so that was kind of fun.

Anything else?

Um, and that we could have our scripts onstage...that was fun.

Did you learn anything about your self over these five months of doing Shakespeare Club?

That I can actually act for Shakespeare...that I actually act in it.

What was it like doing those four performances?

Well, it was very exciting and I felt very proud of being in Shakespeare Club because I thought our play was really good and people actually did really great.

So you were proud of the audience seeing everyone, not just you?

[nods] Everyone, yeah.

What about Puck did you like?

Well, I like Puck because he gets to do tricks on people and I don't really have magical powers outside. I can't, like, squeeze flowers on other people, so that was actually really fun for five months of practicing.

What did you think about doing the journal writing and learning history like Henry the Eighth and Queen Elizabeth?

Well, at first I started writing a little bit because it was my first time in Shakespeare Club and I didn't really know what to write but through the months I actually started writing more and then it was fun because I actually wrote what I thought.

How do you think journal writing helps your acting? helps your imagination....It helps you express yourself in the journal.

What was your favorite performance on Thursday?

I actually liked the one o'clock.

Did you? Why was that?

Because my class was there...'cause they were asking lots of questions the day before and I wanted them to see the answers, like how Puck puts a trick on them and how they are fighting over Helena. And I also liked the three o'clock because my parents were there.

Were you nervous doing the play in front of your classmates?

Um...well...yeah....Well actually no, not really, because they're kind of like family.

Were you nervous at all during the day?

Yeah, during the first one 'cause it was like the opening....first audience.

What would you tell another child who was interested in Shakespeare Club but not sure?

If you don't like acting professionally then I wouldn't go because Shakespeare Club is really professional.

What's the difference between Shakespeare Club and regular kid plays?

Well, regular kids plays, they're just acting, but they don't really understand the concept of acting....They act but they don't know what it means.

What do you think acting is?

Performing for the audience.

Telling a story?


What do you want to be when you grow up?

An actor...a dancer and a singer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Picking Up the Party Pieces

Oh, what's a good party without a few sniffles and heart-wrenching boo-hoos?

When theatre folk gather, they laugh loud and weep louder....Fun times.

After I made the announcement of my exit, we all made our way through a box of tissues, then made our way to journal writing and sharing.

I'm really proud that we did our play.

I'm really sad that Ms. Ryane is leaving Shakespeare Club.

I really liked that we made the audience laugh.

Is it time for snacks?

Out came the pizza, the chips, the grapes, the pineapple, the cupcakes, the fruit-like drinks, and the sugared-up hilarity of elementary-school humor.

Henry had brought his Shakespeare Club T-shirt and asked us all to sign it. He planned to hang it up on his bedroom wall.

We shared great laughs as we gave a final viewing to "The Simpsons" and their versions of "Hamlet," "Macbeth" and the story of Henry VIII.

I had printed wallet-sized pictures of our group and handed those out. The kids wanted a signature and I scribbled Love, Ms. Ryane on the back of each.

I pushed open the heavy auditorium doors to a gathering of parents waiting for their Shakespearean offspring.

Bye...bye...see're pleasure...another hug?...okay! long....

Rachel and I plopped in a couple of auditorium seats after cleaning up.

"We did good," I said.

"Yeah, great year," she answered.

"You can do this."

"I don't know...."

"Yeah, you can. You're ready."

"I'm not sure. Scary."

"Yeah, well...scary is the reason to do it. You'll have the best time of your life. I promise."

I loved working with Mrs. Ryane and the cast. I'm really sad that Mrs. Ryane is leaving next year. I learned about different people and about my friends that I never thought could do the stuff they did.
Bridget, 3rd grade

Friday, December 9, 2011

An Interview: Peter

peter: My name is Peter, I'm in grade three, and I played Thisbe and Francis Flute.

mel: Why did you audition for Shakespeare Club, Peter?

Because I thought it would be interesting and I thought about auditioning last year but I was too young and then I auditioned because I had nothing else to do on Wednesday afternoons and it looked fun.

Did anything about being Shakespeare Club surprise you?

Only when I got the part of a girl.

What surprised you about that?

I had to play a girl.

And how did you feel about that?

It was fine. The only reason I stuck with it and I didn't whine was because I knew I would get laughs and that's one of my number-one things in make people laugh.

And how did you feel through the performances during the day?

It was funny and fun and I think my funniest was the last performance.

Did you learn anything about yourself in Shakespeare Club?

I learned that if I stick to something and just don't stop practicing for however long...I can do it. And I found my inner comedian...right here [taps heart with fist]

You have a comedian inside you?

Yes. My little conscience, he's up here [taps head] and then he walks down here [taps heart]. It takes him twenty minutes because he has midget legs. He's small.

And who's in control of this guy?

I have no idea.

Just comes out when he wants?


Does he have a name?



No. FUB. Funny, unique, boy.

Funny unique boy who lives inside of you at all times, ready to come out the drop of a hat?

Yeah. At the peak of boringness.

So, how do feel about doing tragedy then?

Well, I'll do tragedy....I would turn it funny. I like falling down.

But what if you were in a play like Hamlet?

[shrugs] I don't know....It'd be different.

Didn't you think sometimes in Shakespeare Club things were boring and there was hard work?

Nothing was boring and nothing was hard work.

The history and stage directions?

Nope. That was actually interesting...not like doing math and social studies [drops torso all the way to the bench]....It makes me die like I had to do onstage.

What do you want to be when you grow up, Peter?

A chef.

What would be your specialty?


Well, I know that!

First I would go to college and get my degree and then I would travel all over the world learning about all the different to do stuff and then come home...and get settled and then maybe open up a restaurant or two. And the restaurants all over the world would have American food and maybe another kind, like Asian you could have partly what you normally like to eat in America and try something different.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Circle Up

We close out every year of The Shakespeare Club with a wrap party, which the kids hear as "rap party."

"No, my little friends, we will not be celebrating the works of Jay-Z, Kanye, and Snoop Dogg....This is a wrap party, as in wrapping the year up with a nice big bow and partying down with William Shakespeare."

They hear PARTY.

The chairs waited in a large circle, where I would sit across the room from Rachel. A junk-food laden table waited for big eyes and little fingers. Journals with sharp pencils placed under chairs waited for farewell thoughts.

I paced the room to make sure all was in order. I took a big breath and planned what would be a wrap party different than those in the previous five years. There was much to be proud of, there was much to honor, and there was much to confess.

Twenty-eight pairs of feet stampeded into the auditorium, twenty-eight bottoms found their seats and twenty-eight voices giggled and screamed. They were still high on the performance success of a week earlier.

"Okay...all right...let's begin...."

My hands were on my lap, my feet flat on the floor, and within a minute they followed suit like a small army.

"Deep breath...hold it...hold it...hold it...exhale. This is our final meditation together; let's make it the best....Inhale...."

The shuffling stopped, eyes closed and peace reigned. I shot a wink at Rachel. We were a far cry from where we'd started five months ago.

Our school uses a communication practice known as "Council," developed twenty-five years ago by the Ojai Foundation as a tool to develop community exchange and empathy.

Council meets in a circle. Each participant holds a "talking piece" and comments on a stated intention. Our talking piece was our Shakespeare Duck.

"We're going to start our party with a gratefulness-and-goodbye Council."

The kids spoke of their pride in the production and their gratefulness to me and Rachel. The younger kids expressed how they would miss the ten fifth-graders moving on to middle school. I was the final commenter.

"I am grateful to all of you for your hard work, focus and commitment. Over the six years that I have been running Shakespeare Club, I have known many, many children and I remember every single one. And I will never forget any of you."

Shuffle shuffle, beam and blush. No one wants to be forgotten, ever.

"Now, I have to tell you something that is hard to say, but I wanted to tell you this myself. I am leaving Shakespeare Club. I have some writing projects I have to do and some traveling I want to do. It is sad for me to leave Shakespeare Club but it looks like Ms. Rachel will be taking over and that is a terrific and good thing."

The gasp was loud. Directly across the circle, Peter dropped his hat over his eight-year-old eyes and started weeping.

"But will you come and see us...and see our show?" Bailey cried.

"Of course. You couldn't keep me away."

Rachel handed tissues to Peter. He took them in his small hand, blew and kept his face covered as more tears dripped.

How to hug a circle of twenty-eight little bodies? How?

What I learned from Shakespear club is about being funny and never tell another actor what to do. I learned about William Shakespear and how they used to speak in the olden times. What I loved about Shakespear is that always have fun with each other, and you have the courage to be silly.

I will rember that I was in Shakespear in 3rd and forth grade I will rember it for genurashen and genurashens. I'll miss you Ms. Ryane.
Krystal, 4th grade

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Twister: Mark

For a long time after Shakespeare Club ends, I write about it.

For a long time, I study photographs of the kids and our time together.

For a long, long time, I am awash in nostalgia and miss them.

Mark had two years as an actor in The Shakespeare Club. He came in as an undisciplined, raggle-taggle bundle of speedy energy, but my God, the boy wanted to succeed.

This is one of the many challenges I discovered in the role of teacher. Spotting the underneath, the desire, the ability — and bringing that to the forefront.

This is no mean feat, because one has to negotiate past the steely truth of horsing around and the emotional chaos of cool and hormones.


Look at this photograph. Mark is enrapt in character:

I said, "Mark, your Duke Theseus simply cannot believe how crummy these actors are....You try to be polite, you try to give them a break...but they're horrible!"

At the end of each meeting, Mark helped clean up as he waited for his mom. Mark and Oliver gathered chairs and swept up crumbs. Then they rolled across the floor and wrestled like a pair of pups.

Corralling that vigor into Shakespearean text was a leap for those boys, and for me, but it was so, so worth it.

Like real actors, they ultimately wanted to please, to make someone smile, to add an element of surprise, and to be great.

Mark, in his skinny, spinning, raucous manner, will find his place as a man one day, when he can get up off the floor.

If I had a life of adventure I would go to a trip to candyland were all we ate was junk food and everything was made out of candy. For example, are cloths would be made out of gummy bears and worms. Then me and my friends would go on a great big adventure, we go on a chocolate river boat with an ice cream river.
Kamili, 5th grade

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Interview: Sam

sam: I'm Sam, I'm in fourth grade and I played Nick Bottom.

mel: Sam, was anything about Shakespeare Club surprising to you?

[Sam takes a long think]

It was surprising how everyone focused. Like when you come into Shakespeare practice everything calms down.

When you got into the club, what did you expect the meetings would be like?

I thought we'd just walk in and do a play.

Did you find things boring or hard work?

Yeah...hard work, but not really boring.

How did you feel going through four performances in one day playing Nick Bottom?

It was pretty tiring but I was excited. The worst part...the scariest part is right before you get onstage, and then you get onstage and it's not that bad.

Why do you think that is?

Because, like, when you're going to walk up onstage, you're nervous 'cause you can see the audience, but when you get onstage it's just like doing a run-through.

Did you have a favorite performance?

The last one, because everyone was tired but they wanted to end with a bang.

And did people give you compliments in the days following?

Yeah...mostly they said, "Were you the donkey? Hey, donkey...donkey!"

Are you glad you played Nick Bottom or was there another part you wanted to play?

I'm glad I played Nick Bottom. At the beginning I thought I wanted to play Puck...but I was kind of excited about Puck and Nick Bottom.

What do you think you want to be when you grow up, Sam?

A physicist, or maybe an actor.

If you were a scientist, how do you think your experience as an actor would help you?

It would help me focus.

Do you have any ideas how to make Shakespeare Club better?

[long think]

I think it would be better if you could add a line.

What do you mean? Help me understand.

Like when they say, "Apricots and dewberries," you could, "Oh my favorite!"

Oh, you mean change Shakespeare's text? Yeah, that's the one thing we can't do.

What advice would you give to a child who wanted to audition for Shakespeare Club but might be too scared?

It's okay to be scared, but you got to believe you can do it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Nothing Gold Can Stay


Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
The leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
—Robert Frost

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


It may happen as you bend your tall self to tie a shoe
A Danish castle; a ghost appears

When you idle your BMW, glance to the left
Verona arush with wild boys and flashing swords

Address the Board, catch the eye of a partner
And you're on a Scottish heath abrim with ambition

A breeze brushes your cheek, lifts the lace veil
At a wedding in an Athenian forest

Press your elegant feet into sand and
Let your heart zip you to an island called Ilyria...

That shipwreck

That time, that place when we crashed on shore
Our vessel broken
Our fears afire
And courage rose with outstretched hands
Voices whooped aloud and full of stanzas

One day, when you need it most, it will happen upon you
The time you leapt
Took a breath; took a chance
And skimmed on wings of poetry

When you are old, when you are afraid, when you are alone
Remember this
A castle in Denmark, a heath in Scotland, a dusty Italian street,
a mossy glen...
a beach in Ilyria
Where power, love and revenge reigned
And you were triumphant....

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Brio: Carina

The number-one characteristic I look for when auditioning kids is enthusiasm.

It's not something we can manufacture or purchase....It just is.

Carina bopped into the audition room on a cloud of ebullient spirit that never wavered for a single meeting. Keeping her seated was a challenge some days...but that's a fair trade for unbridled zest.

Carina's daddy hails from Italy, and I'm guessing this is where she gets her dark-eyed flash.

Carina's mommy is a force of laughing energy, and I'm thinking this is where she gets her zing.

Carina loved being front and center as our wall in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Equally, she rooted for her fellow players when they received big audience reactions.

Carina used her enthusiasm to gather the group into cohesive optimism even as they were scared out of their wits when facing a crowd.

Carina is a walking pep rally, and we all benefited from her.

Happy Valintines day!

I hope you like my card and to make you LOVE me I got you a Starbucks gift card.

Lots of Love,
—Carina, 3rd grade

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Directors often talk too much. The joke among seasoned actors is:

Faster. Slower. Louder. Softer.

In other words, I don't need to know everything you (the director) know, or think, or researched. Just give it to me straight and simple.

I think a director's job is to create a world, a framework, where characters live fully and pursue fully.

Then I think the director's job is to encourage.

I'm proud to say this is all I did with these kids in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

I did not tell them what to do. We discussed what the characters wanted, what surprised them, and about going one-hundred percent to serve the audience.

Watch the scene above and see what you think.


I want to have a adventure because I want to travel to many places counting the universe. I never traveled somewhere far with a boat. When I read I like to go into the book and imagine what's happening. I want to also go in a submarine because its cool and also to go underwater travaling and I was to see sharks and whales alsort of living animals under water. I also want to see how I would breathe under water without an oxigen tank.
—Natalie, 5th grade