Monday, January 31, 2011


We are in Hollywood, after all, and one thing Hollywood knows how to do is PARTY!

The Shakespeare Club had a final meeting on a Wednesday in June to celebrate with a wrap party.

"What do mean, Ms. Ryane? What is that that thing you said....Like will we be dancing and having rap music or what?"

"No, no this is different kind of rap." I wrote it on a piece of paper. "See, wrap with a W. In Hollywood when actors finish making a movie they have a 'wrap party,' which means they're wrapping it up. Get it?"

Not so much, but the important word was PARTY! And they were all over that.

We met up back in our rehearsal classroom, Room 39. I had arranged the tables into a horseshoe and at each child's spot was a freshly sharpened pencil, their journal, a juice box and a paper dish of chips.

Not a single kid was missing from party day. They roared in, found their places and chatted loudly.

"Okay, watch the hand," I held my hand up and made a closing sign with my fingers until silence reigned. Then I turned my palms skyward and they stood. That's all I had to do and they recited their mottos.

We are the Shakespeare Club
We help each other
We share with each other
We honor the works of William Shakespeare
If I can do Shakespeare, I can do anything!

Another year down and I was getting all teary. Suck it up.

"Okay, we're going to have final journal writing. I'd like you to look to the front of your journals and see what you wrote when you wanted to be in Shakespeare Club and what your goals for the year were. And then write about what you learned, or especially liked, or what you will miss."

They got to work and I donned my airline hostess personality and delivered gooey cupcakes and pretzels and little oranges. Then I walked around with a trash can. They kept writing.

A lady entered the room and sat over on the side. Rachel went to greet her.

Later I whispered to Rachel, "Who is that?"

"Garth's mom."


Earlier in the year, Garth's mom was very angry with me. We shared a bad phone call at the end of which she hung up on me. Garth had an accident in one of our meetings and she was upset that it happened and blamed my actions. I felt awful about the whole thing. We had not spoken since.

Garth's father, on the performance night, gushed over his kid's work and the program, but his mom didn't come near me.

After journal writing the children stood center and shared their writing.

"You all have families at home. Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents and so on, right?

"Right, Ms. Ryane," Amaya answered, "and don't forget my aunties."

"Okay, good. Here's what also happened this year and what happens every time theatre people get together to do a play: They make a new family. Look around you in this room. You have become like brothers and sisters to each other. Remember when you did the play and neither I nor Ms. Rachel went up onstage if there was a problem?"

"Oh yeah!" called Oliver. "We had to fix stuff ourselves."

I pulled a television around front and they gathered in a bunch on the floor to watch their favorite Shakespeare-themed Simpsons episodes. They hooted and laughed and acted like a big crazy family.

Garth's mom drifted over to his spot at the table and ate his abandoned snacks. I offered her a bottle of water to wash the salty treats down. She took the bottle. She never said a word to me.

The kids, Rachel and I made a final circle and said good-bye.

Families, right? Takes all kinds.

I will miss the accotrs and Derectors and the sounds and lites.
Lizzie, 4th grade

I been in Shakespeare Club for 2 years and it is amazing! I love the experience. I'm going to miss everything! From auditioning to the perfromence. I will miss Oliver and Garth. I will miss a lot.
Henry, 4th grade

It was all the things I thought it would be because it was fun and hard work. I thought Shakespeare club was much more fun that I thought it would be. I will miss doing a big play and Ms. Ryan and miss acting
Chloe, 4th grade

I will miss the props. I will miss the people who are leavind.
Mark, 4th grade

I will miss my buddy the most. I will miss everyone in the Shakespeare Club over the vacation because this was my third and last year at The Shakespeare Club. It was the best.
Darby, 5th grade

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Golden Highway

I was at the school the day after the performances and ran into Dominick during lunch break.


"Hi, Ms. Ryane," he beamed.

The joy bubbling out of the boy was not because I said hi. Nope, this was the secret delight Dominick and I shared as a result of a wondrous journey. We both knew how he'd started the year in Shakespeare Club. The hiding under a hoodie, the provoking of those seated near him and the restless interruptions.

It took a while for Dominick to get a grip on his role in the club and on his role as Macduff.

It took private chats and private script sessions in the library. It took Dominick wanting to succeed as an actor, as a hero and as the best he could be as a boy.

It took William Shakespeare.

"Dominick, you and I both know about your long journey to this place in your life at eleven years old. We both know how you've struggled and how challenges will always and forever show up in your life like they do in anyone's life. Right?"

"Yeah, that's true." Dominick looked at the ground when he answered.

I touched his shoulder.

"Here's the thing, Dominick: You are on a golden highway now. You have been hurt by stuff and by people but now you know what you are capable of. Now you know you can be great and no one ever can take that away from you."

He blinked. He smiled.

"Okay?" I asked.

"Okay," he answered.

"Enjoy all the accolades because you're a star on this campus."


"See ya later, alligator."

"In a while, crocodile."

I turned to walk away.

"Hey, Ms. Ryane?"


"I'm going to audition next year. We were supposed to move but I told my dad I wanted to stay for Shakespeare Club and he said okay, so I'm gonna audition."

"I'm so happy to hear that, Dominick."

I first thought being the sound maniger would be hard and boring. But it turned out to be fun exiting. I loved the party the dinner and movie and Most of All The PEFORMENCE!!!!!!

I would love to be in Shakespeare next year because it's very fun you get attention and it's great. What I will miss about Shakespeare is the play the performance . How good we did that the fun. I also remember this year. I mis the play and the reharsols. I like acting people I worked with being sound maniger and everything!!!!!
Mariah, 3rd grade

golden road from Flickr user N. J.
jumping photo from deviantART user marielliott

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Recess: The Comfort Zone

Yeah, well, everybody has one. That place we walk in with grace and without terrible anxiety.

I have managed, over the years, to find a comfort level with third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. I don't always have it with adults, which should stress me out, but strangely doesn't.

In the movie business, I've had occasion to work with animals — dogs and chimps, for example — and therefore worked with their trainers. One animal wrangler in particular stood out because his behavior toward people was how most of us behave toward wild animals. On the other hand, he spoke to his animal actors calmly, quietly and respectfully. The humans...not so much.

Comfort zone.

My assistant in The Shakespeare Club is Rachel, and we have been lucky to have her going on three years. When she is not helping us, she is busy with her own business. The business of babies. Rachel's comfort zone is with the teensy-weensy citizens of this planet. She tells me that her beginnings with Shakespeare Club, and older children, made her nervous.

Conversely, as adorable as they are, babies make me skittish because they squirm and can be slippery. The possibility of dropping a tot freaks me out.

"Rachel" is the pseudonym I have given my assistant, and I'm now going to "out" her by linking to her lovely website that explains all.

If you're in the Los Angeles area and have a newborn, or know of someone with a newborn (she does phone consults too), this is your professional go-to.

Itsy Bitsy Child Care

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wrapping It Up

After months of meetings and rehearsals followed by a full day of helping kids perform four shows, I look forward to an icy margarita with my husband, William, and any friends hanging around after the tear-down.

I love to sit back in an old wooden chair in a dimly lit Mexican restaurant, with a candle flickering inside red glass atop a table covered in a worn checkered tablecloth. Ahhh, yes.

I had hugged the last of the actors and crew and they went home with their families to bed, where I was pretty darn sure they would sleep deeply and dream crazily.

With the help of Rachel and a few hearty gentlemen, I cleaned up the detritus of another opening, another show. Chairs had to be stored, electrical tape pulled off the floor, props packed and piles of stuff wheeled out to my car, which became quickly overstuffed.

With a long push-broom the auditorium was swept, and like magic it was as if nothing extraordinary had taken place at this school — transformed into a Shakespearean theatre for a day.

Rachel had family visiting from out of town and was obligated to scuttle away to spend time with them. William was across the country working in Louisiana and my friends had attended performances earlier in the day.

There was simply no way I was going to find my way to a Mexican restaurant, all alone, to sip a frosty and munch my way through bowl after bowl of tortilla chips. So, I drove home and unpacked the car. I loaded our garage up with boxes marked THE SHAKESPEARE CLUB along with a bench, swords and a set of bongo drums.

I ran a hot bath, undressed, crawled into the tub and watched the sun set outside the window.

I drank half a glass of wine and slipped into bed for my own deep sleep and crazy dreams.

As I was drifting off, I thought of Mark, who started the club this year with a slightly tarnished reputation. His mom kept him away from the first meeting as punishment for naughty behavior. Through months of working on "Macbeth" and studying his role of Malcolm, Mark started to find, inch by inch, his discipline and the appropriate place to deliver his voice.

I closed my eyes, let my head sink into the pillow and smiled as I remembered what Rachel told me after the last performance.

"Mark's mother came up to me," Rachel disclosed. "She said, 'We didn't know he had that in him.' "

We didn't know he had that in him.
We didn't know he had that in him.
We didn't know he had that in him...
we didn't know...


My wish came true. I was thinking we would not be good in the play because most people didn't know thier lines but it turned out to be good though.

1. Acting
2. Audience
3. Happy time
4. The people I worked with
5. The parties
6. Stage manager
7. Miss Ryane
8. Miss Rachel
9. Shakespeare movies
10. Parents that brought food
11. Reahersals
12. being in the back of the auditorium on May 27, 10 helping out
13. Prefromance
Celia, 4th grade

Friday, January 21, 2011

Into the Sun

He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier—
Much Ado About Nothing, Act II; Scene III

In 1986, I was living between New York City and Los Angeles. Before making my way from east to west, I spent the winter traveling in Italy.

While on the small island of Ischia, I searched for an old-fashioned telegraph office, where I would send a missive to a couple back in my country of origin, Canada.

Ischia acts as sister to the more famous island of Capri. The latter, a darling of the jet-set as a second home to their la dolce vita, has charm and sparkle, but I appreciated my seaside walk on the quieter Ischia. A warm winter sun was beginning to set as I mumbled aloud the words I would send across the globe to my friends on their wedding day.

On December 7, 1986, Sheila McCarthy married Peter Donaldson. These names may not be familiar to you, but they belong to two of Canada's best actors. Many spoke of the twosome as golden. Touched by angels in talent, humor and a flair for good living.

Golden. I swirled the word around in my mouth that afternoon, long ago on Ischia, as I wandered walkways splashed in golden Italian rays. I imagined Sheila and Peter's wedding and the crowd of theatrical personalities gathered to sing to them, dance with them and wish them a solid lifetime of joy.

Peter died this month, at the age of fifty-eight, after a two-year battle with cancer.

Peter Donaldson was a combination of rare qualities sculpted into a theatre gem. He found center stage by way of quiet strength, then dazzled audiences with an uncommon combination of charisma and veracity. The man simply could not tolerate phony.

As I admired the performances of Spencer Tracy, I tipped my hat equally to the work of Peter Donaldson. He had the ability to enfold us in Shakespeare's language, making the words clear and his characters as believable as any flawed human being. This is no easy trick, and I hope thousands of young actors witnessed his magic and set their own bars as high as Peter set his.

Peter acted on the stages of the Stratford Festival in Canada for twenty-five years. He also acted across the country in other theatres large and small. He graced celluloid and television.

Peter and Sheila raised two good daughters. Offstage, Peter had a passion for golf and recently traveled to Scotland to play on the greens where the game had its inception. I imagined Peter as Macbeth and smiled at the irony of an actor more suited in life to the role of Macduff, a stalwart and upright leader of men.

One of Peter Donaldson's celebrated performances as Jaimie Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" set audiences' hearts on edge. His muscular and desperate rendering of a young man wrapped in rage and bitterness was, again, work honest and impossible to ignore.

As I remember that Italian December sun in the Ischia harbor and the golden coupling of Peter and Sheila, I believe his long day's journey was cut much too short. This is a hard time of loss for all who knew Peter Donaldson and all who had the fortune to be in the presence of his work.

An actor died this month, and the sun dipped behind a cloud.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hard News: If You've Got a Minute

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but I have no problem handing out hints.

Read this article and please consider adding a volunteer component to your 2011.

You don't have to live in Los Angeles. I'm certain wherever you are there is a need like this one.

These kids are breaking my heart. They carry on, every day, with tenacity and coping skills most of us have never had tested.

The infrastructure is failing them. Please consider helping.

In tough times, schools try to keep homeless students' education on track (Rick Rojas, LA Times)

photo by Mariah Tauger/LA Times

Monday, January 17, 2011


Now is the winter of our discontent—
Richard III, Act I, Scene I

Back in the OLDEN DAYS, when I was an actor wending my way around Hollywood, waiting for auditions, poring through mail for residual checks, and gathering with fellow thespians to gripe, the notion we had about winter went like this:

Starting two weeks before Thanksgiving, just forget your career. Everything will shut down audition, hiring-wise, until the new year; so you might as well bundle up, drink cheap wine around a skimpy Christmas tree, and party.

Our holidays were festive because we had no expectations for those off-months and nothing but high hopes for the new year. Because the NEW YEAR meant PILOT SEASON, a time of abundance audition-wise, and certainty that this was The Year. This would be the year when oil gushed and the casting wand touched the foreheads of the ready, talented and so damn able.

The trick was simple. Have a blast through November and December and then hit the gym and be ready for the phone to ring because January through April was PILOT SEASON, when the networks went on the hunt.

So, back in those olden days, Los Angeles filled up with actors arriving from Chicago, Toronto and New York. They booked into apartment hotels and bedded on their colleagues' couches because this was The Year it would all click into place and the world would finally make sense, tickety-poo.

I no longer live back in those days but, my God, does January still have her pull. My stomach lurches as we roll into week two of the month and I remember the hope, the belief and the hunger.

I'm so far removed from that scene that I don't even know if the infamous pilot season exists in this fashion or if new shows are cast throughout the year or why I should care, but I'm slightly sickened because I can't forget. I wish I could, but it's imprinted in my system like a bad tattoo.

Then I remember I have found an antidote to the malady:

January is when a new season of The Shakespeare Club begins and I'll face twenty-four shining faces filled with:


Because this is The Year. Their year. Oh yeah.

I got my wish! Ya. I did not think Shakespeare Club would not be how it was. Everyone overcame their shyness. My favorite part was doing the show. I also liked rehusing. What I will miss about Shakespeare club is that some of my friends will move. All my 5th grade friends will graduate. I will miss Ms. Ryane and Ms.Rachel.
Phoebe, 4th grade

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Review: Next to Normal

As I've previously mentioned on this blog, I'm not the world's best theatre audience. I'm awfully critical and impatient — but if I'm won over, I can be an enthusiastic fan.

I bought a season ticket to the Ahmanson Theatre this year because I wanted a guaranteed seat for the national tour of "Next to Normal."

This show not only won a 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical, but also the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for its lead actress, Alice Ripley.

Along with jazz and baseball, the Broadway musical is a mainstay of pure Americana, and it's interesting to observe how the art form has morphed over decades as the nation itself has grappled with social change.

Contrast a show like "Oklahoma," with its romantic tale of early settlers in Indian territory, to "Hair," decades later painting a portrait of the country's youth in upheaval, protest and sexual revolution.

"Next to Normal" is the story of a modern family struggling for equilibrium in the churning waters of mental illness. For how long have we incorporated the term bipolar into our lexicon of everyday usage? It hasn't been decades, yet we now know what behaviors of mania and depression can mean. Many of us are intimately involved with issues of mental strain or know of children or adults wrestling with drug regimens and therapies as they look for answers and cures.

This is not your "normal" musical theme. I wasn't sure what to expect and had avoided reading too much advance information. I knew it was an effort committed to a darker theme, but there could well have been a chorus line of dancing Xanaxes for all I knew.

Written by Brian Yorkey and directed by Michael Greif, "Next to Normal" is wall-to-wall music, with lyrics illuminating plot and relationships more than conventional dialogue. I was moved and thrilled that the show doesn't duck, doesn't lead us gently into its dark alleys and doesn't let us off the hook. There is a beam of sunshine, there is humor and there is affection, but I did not see sentimentality or glibness. I was grateful for that.

All members of the cast were stellar in musical and acting ability, and they were led by the formidable performance of Alice Ripley, a true acting animal. With a tremendous belt of power and vulnerability, she ripped her own heart apart and took ours along for the ride. And make no mistake: "Next to Normal" is a ride. It's the Mad Mouse, House of Mirrors and Zipper combined.

My entrance into the theatre the night I saw the show was prefaced by a soulful sax performance on a rainy plaza. The combined effect of the musical interlude outside and the commitment inside had me rethinking the glory theatre can be when it goes the distance.

Adventure to me is to go some where you have never been at in your life or want to go agin.
Amaya, 5th grade

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hard News: What to Do

Note: I do not have children; I work with children.

But I myself was once a child and, if I were a parent, I might be inclined to approach child-rearing with a foreknowledge of what not to do.

What to do appears to be a tougher reach.

The kid's job: grow up and leave
The adult's job: nurture and encourage individuation

There's all the in-between part that's difficult because we don't want kids to suffer the slings and arrows we had to endure. We want them to be "happy" and "successful" and "empowered."

And some days that seems like such a crapshoot.

I like this article, this list of guidelines — or rules may be a better term — because we all have to help them grow up and leave, and we have to be better adults to accomplish that very thing.

How America Messed Up Its Kids... And How We Can Fix Them (Mark Goulston, M.D., The Huffington Post)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Curtain-Raiser

On a cold and rainy night a few days before Christmas I ventured across town to see a play. Because of our inclement weather, I drove to the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles with time to spare. I figured holiday traffic on a slippery highway could make me late — and when it didn't, I imagined I would enjoy a scrumptious pre-show repast at the dining facility outside the theatre.

The restaurant, however, was closed because apparently in Southern California we don't cook in the cold. I was left with the option of a tuna sandwich and hot coffee purchased at a snack cafe. Early patrons huddled in front of lobby doors waiting for entrance. I brushed rainwater off a metal table and perched on a damp chair.

My dinner was oddly delicious, in part because I was hungry but mostly because food tastes better outdoors. As I ate, a busker musician set up about five feet diagonally across from me. This gentleman, maybe in his late fifties, wore baggy faded blue jeans and a baseball cap. He opened his alto sax case and withdrew the instrument. He flexed his fingers open, closed, open, closed, and then blew a few warm-up notes.

In the olden days, theatres began an evening's entertainment with a curtain-raiser, a short play or musical act designed to perk an audience's mood and ready them for the main event. As it happened, this musician, coaxing jazz out of his sax on a rainy night with only myself as audience, was an apt curtain-raiser for the play I was about to witness.

I could hear his inhales as he sucked in chilly air and I watched his cheeks bulge as he blew. I could imagine his ribcage crushing inward on his skinny frame to lengthen a musical phrase. This was his job, rain or shine, spectators or not; he was here to play and hope a few dollars would fill his case.

I finished my sandwich, sipped the remains of my now-cold coffee, checked my watch and thanked the musician with a nod and an offering dropped into his case.

He started into a new tune and I wandered toward the theatre doors. I looked back to see that he was shadowed by a giant Christmas tree lit in red and gold. I felt a seasonal rush, but it wasn't the plaza's glitz that filled me. It was this artist's moody jazz in splashing rainfall.

Food tastes better outdoors.

When I grow up I want to live a life of adventure. I mostly want to go to tropical and Frosty islands that haven’t been discovered. But, that also means I'll have to be near a volcano because we all know an island starts by an under water volcano. My dream job is to become a simologest, astronomer and a actor! So I want to build a observatory to study the stars and study Simo (earthquake) activity. I will also start a Exibit and theater. Half of the exibit will the theater and part of it will be an earthquake slash/space exibit.
Oliver, 4th grade

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Little Bird

Kids like to tell stuff. They especially like to tell stuff that is hair-raising or dramatic. And they most especially like to tell this stuff about each other, even if it involves a best friend.

That's the kid way.

When adults do this, it's unforgivable goopy gossip — but kids haven't learned that yet.

"Ms. Ryane, Oliver cried!"

This from the mouth of Oliver's best, best friend, Garth.

"Are you sure Oliver would want you to be telling me this, Garth?"

"Well, I can't say but he did cry all the way home in the car."

Oliver played our Macbeth. After months of working privately with me on the role and after months of hanging with his castmates at lunch to rehearse their lines and after months of our weekly Wednesday meetings...Oliver triumphed in four performances in one single day.

So, by the time that day was done, Oliver was pooped and wrung out. He traveled with Garth's family on the way to a sleepover with his buddy Garth, a.k.a. Banquo.

To make the bittersweet of this day even more bitter, Oliver knew Garth would soon be moving across the country to Texas. What's a guy to do?

Oliver wept as the car pulled away from the school and Oliver wept when he leaned his cheek against the cool window.

"Hey, Oliver," I said a few days later on the campus.

"Hey, Ms. Ryane," he answered.

"How did you feel after that long and wonderful day of playing Macbeth?"

"Well, I felt good."

We let our eyes follow the antics of children playing on the apparatus. Giggling and sliding, swinging and hiding....

"And kinda sad," Oliver continued.

"Do you know why?"

"I guess 'cause it was over, and also 'cause Garth's moving and everything will be different."

"Yup, and also because you're a real actor, Oliver. That sadness is exactly how real grown-up actors feel after a show ends and they've done the best job they could do."


"Seriously. And then you know what real actors do when they're feeling so awful and crying and stuff?"


"They imagine there's a little bird on their shoulder, and it's saying,
'Remember this, remember this....You might be able to use this in a scene one day.' "

I put my arm over his broad and very young shoulders. I gave him a squeeze.

"That's the price you pay for being good, Oliver."

My character is Lord Macbeth. I live in the palace of Glamis with a chandeller over the dinig room table. I eat chicken, soup, love apples...
—Oliver, 4th grade

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Best of the Best

"Ms. Ryane, was I the best?"

Calvin worked hard to learn the mechanics of our lighting board and how to run the cues for "Macbeth." He worked even harder to fight his fear of the responsibility.

Calvin had to don the shoes of his big brother Anthony, who had been our lighting operator for the previous two years.

"What do you mean, Calvin?"

"Was I better than Anthony?"

Now, I have a long history in showbiz and know first-hand the competition inherent in the arts. I have friends in the fields of medicine, law and business and they as well have tales of rivalry. It can be an evil thing, the tug-of-war for top banana.

I heard recently that Warren Buffett (who might know a bit of somethin' about somethin') declared that of all the seven deadly sins, envy is the worst because it feels rotten at the onset, feels rotten in the middle and feels rotten after all is done.

Nothing about envy or jealousy feels good, ever.

Gluttony, on the other hand, can be fun for a while.

So, what's the answer when we are in a relationship and envy rears its ugly head? If we believe that it has no place in a partnership, friendship or creative endeavor, what do we do?

Kill it. Clean and simple. Knife it in the head and leave its useless carcass at the door.

I heard Marianne Williamson address this issue and I use her advice with the kids — and with myself in the dark of the night.

She said: Imagine a world with too many great actors or writers or painters or musicians.

What a world that would be.

"Calvin, you did a great job on lights. Anthony also did a great job when he was the lighting operator. The Shakespeare Club would have been in the dark if you hadn't found your courage and done so well. And guess what?"

"What Ms. Ryane?"

"Next year you're in fifth grade and can do it again, even though lots of other kids ask me if they can be the lighting person. I just say, 'Not this year and not next, because that's Calvin's job.' "

Imagine a world with too many great lighting operators. Who would have time to fight

An adventure I wish I can have is going to EL SALVADOR and explore the Volcan Izaizo (the Volcano Izaico). Another adventure I desire is to go to Mexico and explore the mountains. I would also like to explore the world and its mysteries. Some adventures I had is when I went my manchine for the first time! It was cool.
Bettina, 5th grade