Friday, October 28, 2011

I, Too, Am Amazed and Know Not What to Say

By performance number three, a couple of things were happening:

  • exhaustion
  • exhiliration

Above is a clip of the lovers' quartet in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

If I were William Shakespeare I would send a Valentine to Anne Hathaway. I would say:

Dear Anne,

You have the most beuatiful eyes. Your lips are as red as the redist rose in Straptered upon Avon. Your voice is sweeter that the blue birds in the forest.
—Dominick, 5th grade

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Role Reversals

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Romeo and Juliet Act II, Scene II

Worldwide there are all-female Shakespeare companies, for obvious reasons.

Be it the Bard or David Mamet, there simply are not enough roles for actors of the distaff variety. According to a study carried out by USC's Annenberg School for Communication, male roles in movies outnumber female roles three to one.

So, if women want to tackle Richard III, humpback and all, or Julius Caesar, stabbed to bits and all...I say go for it, because apparently in the 447 years since Shakespeare's birth, not enough has changed when it comes to the amount of female characters.

The Bushwick Shakespeare Repertory

Just ask our cat, a girl who has a crush on the boy next door and decided to try a classical approach by taking on the role of Romeo.:

I want to be in Shakespeare Club because I want to be a good actor. My goal is to know more facts about Shakespear. I learned some parts of a dance. India makes more movies than L.A. He dies when he was 52. I would be angry if I had to stay in the house. If I was a groundling I would be respectful because they were nice to let us in. They could make it harder to get in so they are lucky to see some plays.
—Natalie, 5th grade

Friday, October 21, 2011

Figuring It Out

As a young actor, I had the good fortune to be directed by Delbert Mann in a television movie. Because of timing constraints, my part didn't make the final cut but Mann, ever the gentleman, wrote me a lovely note with assurances that it had naught to do with the quality of my work.

Before he died in 2007, Delbert Mann directed more than one hundred television dramas and feature films. The latter included "Marty" and "Desire Under the Elms." Suffice to say, Delbert Mann knew his craft. But that's not what stuck with me.

I'd started my professional acting career at the age of nineteen, so by the time I arrived on Mann's set, I'd already heard enough screaming voices to know that sort of angst did not help the creative process.

On Delbert Mann's set, crew members efficiently completed tasks, actors huddled in corners poring over scripts, and the director flowed through everything with the calm of a lazy river.

I'd never seen anything like it. Not in the theatre and certainly not on a film set, where time is money and more money and people are usually in a state of squirrelly panic.

But here was the kicker: when approached with a question, Mann would take a second to ponder and then either give a short, clear answer...or say, "I don't know....Let's figure that out."

"I don't know. Let's figure that out"?

Good God, what was he thinking? How could he have let his guard down like that? What would happen if our leader didn't have the answer?

Here's what happened: they figured it out, the actors acted, the cinematographer got the shots, the designers made their set adjustments, and the movie got made on time and on budget.

Delbert Mann's answer was a life lesson for me. I'd never heard a parent, teacher, coach, producer or director ever say I don't know. Let's figure that out.

Delbert Mann both defined and inspired confidence.

Imagine when a child asks us why?, how?, where?, when? and why?...why?...why...?

We answer: I don't know. Let's figure that out.

Dear Lysander,

My love, we go to forist tonight and get married, right? What if someone finds out? I'm very excited what thea do! Marry Valintines day!


P.S. I love you
—Rebecca, 3rd grade

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why Do I Do This?

I had more help this year than any previous year of The Shakespeare Club.

Parents arrived with food and snacks. A mom set up our Shakespeare Club museum, an array of photo collages from years past. Another mom organized the T-shirts. Another three or four fought our on-site charter school, which suddenly decided to stage a concert the night before our performances, which would have undone our lighting and sound preparations.

I was exceedingly grateful for the assistance and cognizant that the outpour was the direct result of my screaming my head off that if this school community wanted this program to continue, they had to stop taking it for granted and start protecting it.

I was musing on all the advancements, all the sturm und drang, all of the six years that had passed since I came up with this crazy idea of little kids exploring the works of the Bard.

I pushed a broom across the stage, thinking about this stuff and wondering: Why did I ever do this? Why do I continue doing this?

The auditorium was near empty and oddly quiet after so much hustle and bustle. The next day, twenty-four kids would perform and crew "A Midsummer Night's Dream" four times. The next day, hundreds of kids would get turned on to Shakespeare by seeing their fellow students act hilarious under shiny lights.

Okay, here it is: my top three reasons for volunteering countless hours to steer kids into an Elizabethan bliss:

    3. My wish as a child was to be heard...and so, these kids are heard.

    2. My wish as a child was to have power...and so, these kids are empowered.

    1. I'm vain, and doing this makes me believe I'm young.

So, if you're considering volunteering your time to work with kids in any capacity — to read one-on-one, to build a birdhouse, to play a game of catch, to do anything — pay attention to my number-one reason....It works and it's true, because the work is a font of new cells.

If I was Lysander I would pack my weapons a sword, a shield and a spear. I would also pack something to drink just in case I get thirsty. I would use the animals as food, I would especially kill lions for there hair and make it as a coat. I would make my house out of love apples and make my bed out of wood. The left over wood I would use to make a garage.
—Mark, 5th grade

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hard News: Drink from This Fountain

Aging. There ain't nothin' we can do about it. The clock will keep ticking with or without our approval.

Over and over I read of vital people who credit service as their fountain of vigor.

Check out Hedda Bolgar and be inspired. I surely was.

At 102, therapist is too busy to stop working (Steve Lopez, LA Times)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We Are Newsworthy

As we labored through our technical day, we were visited by a reporter from, a local online news source.

I sent a few kids off to be interviewed and then the Patch crew videotaped some rehearsal.

Here you go: Walgrove Students Bond Over the Bard

Friday, October 7, 2011

Feeling It

The girl was seven. She entered the kitchen where her mother ironed her dad's shirts. The girl laid her head on the ironing table and wept. Her skinny elbows pointed out sideways and her tears soaked the tops of her small hands.

Her mother set the iron aside and stared at her daughter. What the hell?

The girl could not speak. She was overwrought and words could not form or find their way out of her mouth. She gulped and the tears flooded anew.

The girl had just watched "The Wizard of Oz" and was moved by the story of another girl finding her way home.

This girl was me. To be so touched by a movie, or a play, or a piece of music, was a first for me. And it was entirely pleasurable.

I fear that parents, teachers and coaches are apprehensive about a child feeling anything other than giddy joy. It's okay to be moved. It's a good thing. It's a sign of empathy.

Adults enjoy experiencing a sad story or a scary story. Adults find satisfaction in nostalgia, a perfect sunset or an orphaned dog finding family.

Why can't children have that? Why do we worry when there is gratification in identification?

Many of the children of The Shakespeare Club cried when the year was done, when the show ended and the meetings stopped.

All I could say to their parents was this:

These kids aren't crying because something awful happened to them. They are weeping because they had the best time of their lives.

That's worth a couple of good sniffles.

This is what I loved about Shakespere. I loved everything about it and it was very fun and everybody was very nice. I licked everything about the play and it was very intrest to learn about Shakespeare and I liked meating new people in shakespeare. I really loved how Ms. Ryan helped me and I sad that Miss ryan will have to leav. I give thanks to everybody exept Nick Botem.
—Peter, 3rd grade

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hop on Pop

"Hey, has anyone seen Calvin?"


No, Ms. Ryane.

I think he's outside, Ms. Ryane!

And he was. Wandering the quad alone.

"Hi, Calvin."


This was a forlorn "hi" from a sad-looking kid.

"What'cha doin' out here, Calvin?"

Scuff, scuff. Rub the top of the head. Look this way and that.

I guess lookin' for my dad.

Calvin is in fifth grade and in his final year of Shakespeare Club. In third grade, he was a sailor in "Twelfth Night." For the following two years, he took on the role of lighting operator. He was so adept last year on "Macbeth" that we doubled up his cues for this year's show.

He wanted someone — a certain someone — to see him run that lighting board.

Calvin struggles academically. There was some talk of possibly holding him back from middle school for a year...but the boy can operate lights.

Calvin is in pain on the home front. Dad.

I guess lookin' for my dad.

Oliver is playing Demetrius. Oliver had a phone conversation with his dad before the morning show. He was looking for some encouragement from the man. The man in his life who lives in another house and would not be showing up to see Oliver's Demetrius.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, I or anyone else can do or say to make up for these AWOL fathers.

"Come inside, Calvin, you have a show to run. The actors need your lights. Maybe your dad'll show up."


Shuffle. Head down. Hoodie up.

"I know, Calvin. I know how great your work is and I will never forget how you operated that lighting board."

Calvin takes his place at the back of the auditorium with the rest of the crew. The audience is excited and loud. I step onstage to engage with each actor for a last-minute pep talk.

"Oliver, have a blast. Oliver...Oliver, look at me. What is it?"

He scans the house.

Nothin' I guess.

"Oliver, other kids are going to want to act and other people will go to the theatre again because of your work....You are that good. Believe me?"


I guess lookin' for my dad.

Dear my true love,

I miss you dearly. I can't wait to see you. You make my day every time I talk, and see you. I couldn't find a guy like you. I hope one day we get married. When you talk it is soft and gently.

P.S. Your sunshine girl
—Natalie, 5th grade