Monday, February 28, 2011

The Catch

I climbed thirty feet up that flimsy trapeze ladder a total of eight times.

Each time I arrived at the top, my nose barely clearing the edge of the tiny platform, I announced, "Hi, me again, and I'm still as freaked out as I was the first time....Just letting you know."

By my fourth flight I had managed to get my knees over the the trapeze bar, swinging hands-free into a mid-air somersault and landing in the safety net on my butt instead of my face.

On the ground, Rachel encouraged me. "Mel, your form is perfect. You look great up there. Your legs are straight and your toes are pointed. Isn't it exciting? Are you addicted?"

"You know, I'm going to find this really exciting in two days when I remember that I did it."

I didn't have the heart to tell her that as far as addictions go, I was pretty much in the grip of lip gloss and "Downton Abbey" on PBS.

Then I met Don, a fit-looking fellow with muscular arms and the stocky frame of a circus performer.

"Hi Mel, I'm the one who's going to catch you."

"What do you mean by that, Don?"

"You're going to stretch your arms forward, make a 'W' with your hands and I'm going to catch you when you release yourself from the bar. We'll fly as a twosome."

I laughed. This Don guy was cracking me up.

He put his hand on my shoulder. "You'll have the time of your life, I promise."

I changed the subject. "So, Don, how long have you been flying on the trapeze?"

"Since July."

I choked.

"July? As in six-months-ago July? That July?"

"Yup, I was instantly addicted. See ya up there. It'll be great!"

And off he trotted. I watched him scurry up a rope ladder, leap to a bar and swing back and forth. He waved to me down below and indicated that I should climb my own ladder to the top. Again.

Every time I climbed the ladder I mumbled to myself, "How can I possibly ask little kids to take center stage and act in front of their peers in highbrow Elizabethan English if I cannot face my own fears? How?" (step step step) "How?"

I chalked my hands, climbed, grabbed the bar, hopped off the platform, flew, wriggled my legs over the bar, dropped upside down, made a "W" with my hands, looked for Don's forearms, reached, released and was...caught. Together we flew across the night sky with midway lights flashing red, blue and yellow over my body.


At night's end, I crept through our front door, my trench coat hiding my white-chalked yoga clothes underneath.

"Hey," William called out.

"I need you to sit down," I said.

"Why, what's wrong?"

"I need you to sit because I have to tell you that I lied to you."

"What are you talking about?"

I guided William into an armchair.

"I knew perfectly well what kind of class I was going to tonight when I said I didn't."

"Really?" His face brightened. "Was it pole-dancing?"


After my tale he said, "Mel, you did something on your bucket list. Good for you."

Later, in bed, the full moon shone its white rays through the window.

"It's lighting your face because you're an actress," William said.

I scrunched under the covers, "Nope, I'm a trapeze artist. I fly through the air with the greatest of ease."

"And you're going to be so sore tomorrow."

The theater is so cool it has so many seats and all the plays Shakespere did in it are as speshle as him his self. If I was a groundling I would not throw food at the acters because I am an acter and I would not like it at all! Insted of throwing roten frut at the acters I would cherr then on no mater how bad or good they are!
—Rebecca, 3rd grade

moon graphic from Grid Expectations

Friday, February 25, 2011

Off the Pier

The winter sunset over Santa Monica Bay was a glorious and changing skyscape of pink to purple to orange, with palm trees in silhouette. I loped along the thick wood planks of the pier to the sounds of the midway, with a screeching roller coaster and barkers shouting "Step right up, step right up...."

I found Rachel under a sign reading TRAPEZE SCHOOL NEW YORK.

Their slogan: Forget fear. Worry about the addiction.

"Are you excited?" she beamed.

"Not sure what I am, but I'm here and I'm ready."

I was immediately in the hands of a trapeze expert, a blond guy who looked more like a surfer than an aerialist. He tightened a harness around my waist. Two ropes were hooked, left and right, to my sides.

"Climb to the top of the ladder, where Morningstar will be waiting for you. All you have to do is listen to me down here by the net. Just do everything I tell you to do and you'll have a great time."

Morningstar is waiting for me? Climb this ladder? It's kinda shaky, don't you think?

My stocking feet clambered for each rung and halfway up the skinny, rattling metal, my mind flashed back to myself at nine: Climbing up to the high board at the public swimming pool. A long line of squealing kids waiting below, and after one look down from the end of the board, I climbed back down the ladder on spindly legs, whispering "Sorry, sorry...I forgot something."

Look up, Mel, just look up. I talked myself out of repeating my behaviour as a nine-year-old, and at the top there she was: Morningstar, in blue jeans, ponytailed with black-framed eyeglasses. More fitting for a librarian, I thought, than the glittery trapeze star I expected.

"Hi, Mel," she said. "You're fine. Reach for the rung of this other little ladder here, step up — I have you, you're fine. Now, look at the ferris wheel. Just turn and look at the ferris wheel."

The ferris wheel, by the way, was at eye level. I was a good thirty feet in the air and every muscle in my body rippled in a state of liquefaction. I don't care for amusement park rides, but at that moment everyone on the rickety roller coaster looked damn safe and secure, and I wished I was with them.

"I think I made a mistake," I whispered as Morningstar unhooked the ropes and linked me to new ones attached to Surfer Dude down below with his microphone.



"Do people ever go back down the ladder?"

"Yeah, that happens. We frown upon it, but it happens. And that's not going to happen to you. You're fine. I have you by the back of the belt. Feel that?" And she gave me a good tug for proof.


But I was not okay. This was the scene of nightmares. The dreams of falling through the air. Of crashing down hilltops in an out-of-control bus. The hallucinations from which I awoke with a jolt, a pounding heart and a paralyzed body.

"Mel, you're going to reach with your right hand as I pull the swing toward you. There, good. Hold on to the bar."

The bar felt flimsy and thin in my chalky hands. My left hand gripped a ladder bolted to the four-foot platform Morningstar and I shared. My white-stockinged toes hung over the edge into a WIDE-OPEN UNNATURAL SPACE and I spotted the face in a full moon suspended over the ocean...he was CHUCKLING at me.

"Mel, push your hips forward. You're going to make a banana shape with your body. I have you, don't worry. You've done the hardest part, climbing the ladder."

That was arguable. The ladder, the hardest part? Surely she was joking. Funny funny Morningstar.

"Lean, further, Mel. Further, that's it....Now release your left hand and hold on to the bar. Hips forward, forward...and now listen to me...."

That was the hardest part. Letting go and believing that this librarian-slash-trapeze star cared whether I lived or died today.

A voice called to me from the speakers below:

"Ready!" (meaning bend the knees)...."Hep!" (meaning hop)...

...and I was FLYING.


I wanted to be in Shakespeare Club because it sounded like fun and I want to learn to act better. I think William Shakespeare is very intresting. It is intresting to find out that died on his birthday. William Shakespeare got married in 1582. He got married when he was 18. His wife was named Anne Hathaway. Girls could not go to school during William's life. They had to stay home and learn cooking and sewing. Poor girls! It wasn't fair. Girls couldn't even be actors! I wouldn't want to live back then!
—Audrey, 3rd grade

second pier photo from Jonathan Alcorn Photo

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Lie

"Hey, so Friday night I'll be out...mmmm...probably five-thirty to maybe seven or so....Rachel invited me to some kind of exercise class." I said this to my husband, William.

"Okay, sure. She's into martial arts, isn't she?"

"You know, I'm not really sure what it is, but I said I'd go."

"That's fine. You go on and have fun."

"I'm not really sure what it is." This was the lie.

I knew perfectly well what it was, and William's acceptance of this lie made me uneasy. I'd never lied to him, and here I was acting like some kind of con artist.

If I told him I was off to fly through the air on a trapeze bar, there was a good chance he'd freak out or worry about my getting hurt and try to talk me out of it. I knew this was it...tonight or never.

The previous week, Rachel happened to mention that she was getting seriously into trapeze classes — and she likely noticed my eyes popping with pure envy.

"Really? On the pier? You're doing that?" I gushed.

"I'm addicted. It's amazing. I've been six times," Rachel enthused.

"How long are the classes?"

"Two hours. You wanna come? I have a free guest pass. Friday night, you wanna come?"

"Yes. Yes, I do."

"Great. Let's meet on the pier at about six."

I dressed in yoga blacks with white socks. Ballet slippers if you have them or just socks, I was told. I put a black trenchcoat over the ensemble and said goodbye to William.

"Have fun!" he called as I made to leave.

"I'll call when I'm on my way home," I said, thinking, If I make it home. If you don't get a call from an ER nurse first.

I'm a good-for-nothing grifter. A fabulist.

And that's the truth.

I wanted power when I was with Page on her trampline we wer wishing we could fly. It did not work because flieing is impossible. Thats when I wanted power. I wanted power because I could control my wish so I could fly.
—Mary, 3rd grade

girl flying photo from webshots user qtpie15101

Monday, February 21, 2011

Come Fly with Me

They call it flying. They say, "Did you fly today?" or "How many times did you fly?" or "Don't you love flying?"

Two years ago my husband, William, and I were strolling along the Santa Monica Pier and I made a dead stop in front of a huge cage.

I stared, pointed and said, "That. I want to do that. Please give me that for Christmas."

THAT was trapeze. On the pier a trapeze school had set up and people were flying.

I was little kid when my dad first took me to a circus where beautiful girls flew through the air, shimmery in glitter dust, twirled in hot pink and had my full attention. I wanted to be them....I wanted to fly like that, free, light and fearless.

On Christmas morning of 2009, William handed me an envelope. Inside on a folded piece of paper he'd drawn a woman flying through the air on a trapeze swing. I gasped.

"You remembered! Oh my god, you remembered....I love you so much...yippee! Trapeze and me!"

Then I unfolded the paper and out toppled a bunch of tickets. "What's this?"

I'm pretty sure I still had a gleeful smile pressed across my face.

No, the paper read, you're not getting trapeze classes. But you are going to Las Vegas to stay at the Bellagio. You will be seeing the Cirque du Soleil show "O" and Bette Midler's show as well. Merry Christmas!

"Wow, really? Wow. That's fantastic. Wow, you remembered that I really did want to see these and this is so extravagant. Thank you so much. Amazing."

"Mel," he gave me a sweet look, "you don't really want to do trapeze. You think you want to do trapeze but not really. You could get hurt."

"Yeah. I guess. Yeah."

Two years later, for the first time, I lied to my husband and I flew. Stay tuned.

Dear William,

Our children are doing well but Hamnet is sick from the plague. Soon he may die. I don't know what I should do. He's laying on the sofa sleeping. Anyway, how are you doing?


Dear Anne,

That is very sad to hear. Well, I am making loads of money.

Celia, 5th grade

Friday, February 18, 2011

No Sleep for the Wicked

After a full day of auditions, I left the school both heartened and downcast. More kids showed up this year than ever before, and that was brilliant. They'd been inspired by "Macbeth," they wanted to know about the Elizabethans and William Shakespeare, and they wanted to act in his plays. Things simply couldn't be any better....

This is what I told myself as I tossed and turned in the middle of the night. Things simply couldn't be any better....

Yes, they could. Things could be a lot better if my husband and I were floating on Hawaiian waves sipping Mai Tais. Or if we owned in a pied-รก-terre in New York City. Or IF I WERE ASLEEP.

In last year's Shakespeare Club, I had a bunch of fourth-graders. This meant I would have ten fifth-graders this year because it's their last chance and they're good examples to the newer members and they know the ropes and they'll lead the way...zzzzz.

Bolt awake. How do I tell the little ones who didn't get in this year? I heard from a mother that her daughter wept uncontrollably for twenty minutes when she got the letter saying, Try again next year.

Hey, pass the tissues, kid. Don't hog the box, ya got me cryin' too.

I received a letter from a fourth-grader who was in the club last year but wasn't chosen this year, and her heartbreak was all over the page, along with curlicues and smudged-up bits.

The week after auditions, I went back to the school and met privately with many of the not chosen this year.

"I know you wanted to be in The Shakespeare Club and I get that you're disappointed. Do you want to tell me more about that?"

"Well...yes, I do." She cast her dark eight-year-old eyes over the playground in search of words. "It's just that I love acting so much and I cried quite a lot because I love acting so much and I really, really want to be in Shakespeare."

It's not like I didn't understand her. I did and I do. She was exactly me in third grade.

"Here's the deal. I just didn't have enough room for everyone and I had to balance third-graders and a few fourth-graders and a whole bunch of fifth-graders and then also boys as well as see what I mean. I did want you but I think we'll see each other in auditions next year."


"Here's what else, I'll be around the school a lot in the new year and when you see me and have something acting-wise that you'd like to chat about, I'll make myself available to you. You just get my attention, say, 'Ms. Ryane, can we talk?' And we will."


I slept exactly five hours that whole week. I can't do Shakespeare Club now — I'm exhausted.

I want to be the Shakespear club because I would like to learn the cultre of William Shakespear. What I learned about William Shakespear was he got married when he was 18. He would have to get up early and go to school. He died on his birthday April 23 1564 he was born.
—Sabrina, 4th grade

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When Bad News Is Good News

Six years ago no one at our school could even imagine what The Shakespeare Club would be. I barely knew myself and it was my big idea.

The good news: We all know its worth, and it's a success.

The bad news: We all know its worth, and it's a success.

This year, for the first time, I was campaigned, in whispers, by parents.

"Pillow has been working so hard on her lines!"

"Bottle-top is excited about auditioning!"

Of course, I would have taken cash, but no one offered.

Listen, if I had a child at this school, I'd campaign for them too. As it turns out, Shakespeare and kids is a good combo.

For the first time, children came in coached to the point of using English accents. For the first time, I was overwhelmed by how much so many wanted to participate.

"Rachel, let's grade the kids' auditions 1 through 5, with 1 being the best. Agreed?"

"Absolutely," Rachel answered, and we met with one actor after another.

Each child was unique and sweet. Each one ready to pretend a filing cabinet was a bushy tree filled with snakes and beetles to be kept away from Titania, the Fairy Queen. Each one took a leap of trust and made the job of choosing near impossible.

I'm not necessarily looking for great actors — although when those show up, they cannot be ignored. I'm really interested in enthusiasm. Often the shyest kids will reap the largest benefits as they discover courage. Many times a shrinking violet will be an excellent writer.

After we'd seen about ten children, I leaned over to compare Rachel's grading to my own.

"What?" I asked as she pulled her paper away from me. "Come on, show me what you've got."



"I couldn't help it. I gave them all ones."

"You what?"

"They're all so cute. I want all of them in the club."

"Oh, for Pete's sake. You're useless, Rachel. You have to be ruthless here."

"I know, I know."

Until the day arrives that I have successfully transformed this public elementary school into a Shakespearean academy, the job of auditioning is simply going to get more difficult. Especially with a softie like Rachel helping out.


I wanted to be in Shakespeare club this year because I've been waiting to be in it for 3 years. It was a privlage to get in this year because Mrs. Ryan told when I was aditioning that basicly 24 people get in Shakespeare club. I also want to be in Shakespeare club because I love acting and I like William Shakespeare.
—Bridget, 3rd grade

Shakespearean academy graphic from Flickr user inacentaurdump

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Me Tender

Love me tender
Love me sweet
Never let me go
Elvis Presley

I know no ways to mince it in love, but directly to say 'I love you."
Henry V Act V Scene II

It's that day, the day of counting and miscounting, of hoping and thrilling, then washing it away with gooey pink icing.

Much has been done over the years to mitigate the pain of St. Valentine's Day and those creepy little cards that you get, or don't get, that you wish for, and watch go to others.

I'm not certain how or why little kids understand romantic love but they surely do. They blush, giggle and act as foolish as William Shakespeare did when he fell for Anne Hathaway and as silly as all his characters do when they flip for each other.

It is a blind madness that knows no age boundary.

So long as I can breathe or I can see
so long lives your love which gives life to me
Much Ado About Nothing Act I; Scene I

O, how I long to have some chat with her!
The Taming of the Shrew Act II, Scene III

The course of true love never did run smooth.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Act I, Scene II

Dear Anne,

I am really in love with you. Would you ever want to go out with me?! If you do please write back. I think you are very pretty.

William Shakespeare

Dear William,

Of course I would go out with you. Please pick me up tonight at 7:00. I think you are adorible.

Millie, 4th grade

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ouchie: Auditions

"Hi, there," I said, and shot her a smile.

"Hi," she whispered back.

"You can go right over there and take a seat on that chair."

She crossed the classroom with arms plastered to her sides and her eight-year-old head tucked into her chest. She sat, took in her surroundings and then met my eyes.

I had to remind myself that a mere seven years ago this child was maybe crawling and perhaps attempting to take first steps. Today she was auditioning to join my Shakespeare Club and scale the heights of language and story far beyond what those Berenstain Bears were up to.

"Cassie, the first thing I'd like you do is close your eyes and take a deep breath all the way into your tummy and hold it."

She did as I asked and made it through five deep breaths while keeping her eyes closed.

I start this way with all auditioners to see if they can take direction and to help them relax.

"Okay, Cassie, you can open your eyes. Thanks for coming in today. It's brave thing to come here all alone and do an audition. I'm impressed."

She blinked, stared and said nothing.

"Cassie, can you tell my why you think you would like to be in The Shakespeare Club?"

She looked at her little fingers for answers and gave a small shrug.

"Was it your idea or someone else's idea that this might be a good thing for you to do?"

She met my look.

"Well, my mom...." She couldn't finish the sentence.

"Did you look over the lines for the audition?"

She nodded.

"These are fairy lines from the play 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' The fairies are making a bed for the Fairy Queen to go to sleep on and they want to make sure all the creepy crawlers in the forest leave their queen alone. Do you understand that?"

"Yes." She exhaled a puff of air.


She looked at me with sorrowful brown eyes and twisted her fingers tighter into each other.

"Would you like to go back to your classroom now and not do this?"

Up and down, the tiny chin confirmed.

"Good girl, that's exactly what you're going to do. This Shakespeare Club stuff isn't for everyone. I'm really glad I got to meet you and now you can go back to your room. Hug?"

She wrapped her arms around my thighs, I touched the top of her shiny dark hair and led her to the door.


I want to be in Shakespeare club because I know it will be a good experyonce and I will lern alot! I am glade it is not the time perode of Willeom Shakesper because the girls got no egication, and had to stay home all day and soe, clean, and well I forgot what else!
—Rebecca, 3rd grade

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hard News: Waiting for Something

In 2010, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") released a new story.

"Waiting for Superman" is the heartbreaking chronology of how the United States' mountainous education system is crumbling and spilling our youngest citizens in disarray off its peaks.

The film is about to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray and I recommend it. It's compelling and honest. There is lots of blame to go around, there are ideas for change and there is a belief that we can and will do better.

I'm a volunteer in the system. I don't have a teaching degree and I'm not a card-carrying member of a teachers' union. I do what I do with what I know, and that's pretty limited to Shakespeare, acting and theatre craft.

That said, I have enormous admiration for the teachers I know who struggle every day to inspire their charges.

And that said, it's impossible to ignore the degree to which school boards, education administrators and teachers' unions have stood in the way of others trying so hard to teach and, more significantly, learn.

Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times is on the ground spying on some of those looking for a better way and a route to our becoming the best we can be in the education biz.

Have a look: Dissident L.A. teachers want more from their union

Monday, February 7, 2011


Since I was going to be spending November and December away from Los Angeles, I had to hold Shakespeare Club auditions in October to have a group ready to start in January of 2011.

I made my way, classroom to classroom, with fliers in hand and my pitch ready to go. There are two third-grade classes, two fourth-grade classes and one fifth-grade class.

"Hello, my name is Ms. Ryane and I run The Shakespeare Club. Did anyone here see 'Macbeth' last May?"

The buzz about this program has incrementally increased over its five years of existence. As I was here to pitch the sixth year, kids were up and leaping out of their chairs, arms flailing in the air and bursting to answer my question.

"Good, so you know about The Shakespeare Club. Here's the deal: when you saw 'Macbeth' or 'Twelfth Night' the year before, you saw kids onstage telling an interesting story through their acting. I know that looks super-fun, but there's a lot of hard work involved. Those kids did months of yoga, voice work, journal writing and learning lots of lines. You have to ask yourself if that kind of hard work is for you."

Ask an actor if he can ride a horse and you'll get an adamant YES.

Can you do a Bulgarian accent? ABSOLUTELY.

Would you be willing to ride a motorcycle at 100 miles per hour and fly off over the Grand Canyon? I'VE DONE THAT A MILLION TIMES.

This is no different. The boys see swords and they want to hold them. The girls see lights and they want to be in them.

"All right then. Here in this flier, you'll see four lines for the boys' audition and four lines for the girls'. Work on those. You don't have to learn them by heart but you have to do a good reading in your biggest voice. Here's what I'm looking for: eager-beaver kids for our production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' "

"Excuse me...excuse me...." His skinny arm was flying back and forth over his head as if he were a drowning sailor. "EXCUSE ME!"

"Yes? First, what's your name?"


"Okay, Alfie, you have a question?"

"Does it cost?"

"No, Shakespeare Club does not cost. It's free. Okay, guys, next week I'll come here and get anyone who wants to audition, but you must have your parent or guardian fill in this part of the form to audition, okay? Bye now."

"Excuse me...excuse me...EXCUSE ME!"

"Yes, Alfie, you had another thought?"

"Does it say, right on the paper thing...does it say it doesn't cost, 'cause my mom says it costs!"

"Yes, Alfie. Right here, see? It says FREE. You show that to your mom."

Eager beaver. There he is. I want him.


I wanted to be in Shakspeare Club because I such a good time last year. The preformance last year was so fun. Last year I had roses thrown at me. William Shaskpeare is so interesting to me. I have a lot of questions for Mr. Shaskpeare. I feel like digging up his body and revitlizing him.
Oliver, 5th grade