Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Directorial Debut! Act III (Conclusion)

{ When we last left off we'd decided to cut out the Athenians and focus on the Mechanicals, in the interests of time.  Call it a sacrifice to the gods of slower than expected readers. }

I quickly summarize that Oberon and Titania are fighting, and that Oberon has sent his trusty minion Puck to hunt down this special flower that will act as a love potion such that, when Titania wakes up, she'll fall in love with whatever the first thing she sees, whether it's a boy or a girl or a bird or a bug.  "Or a monster!" says one student.

"Exactly!" says I, "That's kind of the whole point.  Oberon thinks that would be hysterical."

It's here that I make my first real mistake, as the children are waiting for me to do something with the first of the props that they've made and realize that it's not going to be used.  I'm to learn later from my daughter that, "Daddy, we spent a lot of time on that flower and you didn't even use it."  So, I felt bad about that.  That turns out to be the only prop that was not used, and of course it's the one my daughter made.

But!  I've given her the sleeping Titania role, when she wakes up and falls in love with monkey Bottom.

The scenes go on apace, and for each exeunt I collect and redistribute the scripts.  Every time the hands go up just as excitedly, so I guess they are still having fun.  And every time I save Bottom to the end, like a prize.

This time we introduce Puck, who brings us the first real stage directions.  "Don't enter until your line," I tell him, "And remember, no one can see you."  Later, when Pyramus exits, I tell Puck "Follow him!" and lead both of them right out of the room, palming the monkey mask that I've hidden in the props.  "Ok," I tell them, "You've just turned him into a monkey.  So Bottom, when you hear your name called again, come in holding this mask in front of your face. And remember, you don't know you're a monkey."

I return to the class and whisper to the other actors on stage, "When Bottom returns and you get to the stage direction about exit screaming in panic, I want you all to do exactly that, scream and run away.  Then each of you runs back on for one line, delivers it, and runs away again."

This turns out to work quite well, and it's the first acting they do.  Bottom is summoned, he returns, they scream and run away.  I thought the scene would get more laughs than it did, especially with lines like "I know what you're doing, you're trying to make a monkey out of me!" but I got very little.  Ah well.

And now comes the next big highlight of my day, as my daughter wakes from her slumber and begins, "What angel wakes me from my flowery bed? I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.  Mine ear is much enamour’d of thy note; So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape; I swear, I love thee!"

This marks the first time that one of my children has performed Shakespeare.  In public, on a stage, reading original text.  I damn near wept.  I am thankful that it turned out to be a small part because I think that the longer it went, I might well have exploded.  And you know what?  She was good.  She woke up on cue, and actually got up while reading her lines, which she did not stumble over.  Definitely one of my better performers, duly noted for future reference.

We move quickly to the big finish. I explain to them how everything resolves, and how the final scene is the big royal wedding.  All of the humans are guests at the wedding and will remain in their seats, calling out to the actors on the stage.  I call for the props.  I should have taken inventory, I don't even know the complete list of props I have.  There are two swords, which would have been used for Lysander and Demetrius to fight, which we've cut. So one will be used for Bottom to kill himself.  I make the mistake of saying that out loud and somebody says, "Bottom KILLS himself?!"  so I have to turn around and say, "Well, no, he *pretends* to.  You'll see."

One girl has arrived to school very late today, and missed the majority of the excitement.  Not wanting to leave anybody out, she becomes my Hippolyta.  She has no idea how to read a script, or that I have told the humans to remain seated when they deliver their lines.

For "Wall" they have taken a big roll of art paper and covered in a red brick pattern.  So I go to the girl who is playing that role and say, "Arms up!"  She does.  I hold one end at her side and say, "Arms down!"  She complies, realizing that she is to hold it in place.  I then wrap her up in it, mummy style.  Wall gets the laughs and I get a sense of awareness from the audience when she says things like, "I present...a wall."

She gets to the bit about a chink in the wall.  I'm standing behind her, reach my arm out and say, "Give me one of these," sticking out two fingers in a sideways V, like scissors.  She does the same.  I tell the audience, "I'm totally not even kidding, that's the stage direction. That's the hole in the wall that Pyramus and Thisby talk through."

We continue.  My Pyramus is one of the better readers and seems to be getting into the silliness of his lines at this point. When he's supposed to look through the chink in the wall I tell him, "Get down there and look through the hole in the wall!"  He bends his knees so that he's down to wall height, clearly keeping some sort of 8yr old mandated minimum distance between boys and girls, like he's trying to see through the hole in the wall from about 3 feet away.

Thisbe happens to be a girl at this point, and delivers her lines.  Bottom tentatively delivers his "Kiss me through the hole in this vile wall" line, and Thisby rolls right into "I kiss the wall's hole and not your lips at all!"

My Pyramus, who I told you was smart, fist pumps and utters an audible, "Yes!" as he realizes that he doesn't have to kiss anybody.  Bravo to him, if he'd read ahead and knew that line was coming, that he didn't panic!

Enter Lion, holding a lion mask that I brought.  "Roar," I tell her, "You're a lion.  Thisby, when you see the lion, drop your scarf and run away."

"Roar," she says.  Thisby drops her scarf and runs away.

"Well roared, Lion!" calls Demetrius from the audience.

"Well run, Thisbe!" calls Theseus from his seat.  I realize that he is wearing a crown, because apparently they made king and queen crowns and darn it all these kids have adopted an, "I made that prop I'm going to use it!" attitude that I commend.

Silence.  "Hippolyta," I say to the new girl, "You have a line."

She stands up and walks onto the stage, flipping through her script.  "Where are we?" she asks.

"Just say Well shone, Moon! and then sit back down."

"Well shone, Moon!"   Sits.

Exit Lion.  Enter Pyramus.  I hand him a sword and try to whisper to him, "When you get to your last line, just drop the script, stab yourself, and say "Die!" like 7 times as you stagger around the stage dying."   I figure he's my best shot at actually understanding what I want out of this character, but he's still more shy than confident, and his death stagger is about a step and a half and then he falls down on stage dead.  It's a start.

(Funny bit where dying Pyramus gets to "Moon lose thy light!" and I call in, "Lose thy light, Moon!"  Confused look.  "Leave the stage!")

Eventually we wrap it up as time is clearly not on our side.  I sweep everybody off stage in one direction as Puck enters from the other to wrap it all up. I'd love to say that there was some sort of magical significance to the most famous of all the Dream lines, but really it was just another string of trying to understand, for them.

I congratulate and applaud them all.  "Congratulations," I tell them all, "You have all just performed the work of William Shakespeare. What you just read, right there in that script?"  I go and get my First Folio again, and hold it up, this time taking it out of its case.  "Is right here in this book.  400 years ago, William Shakespeare wrote what you just read."  I open up the book and walk around, showing them what the original text looks like.  They are spellbound.  I only wish that I'd planned ahead that I would do this, because I would have bookmarked Puck's final passage so that I could tie the two together.  Oh well, lesson learned for next time.

And that's my adventure!  The teacher asked if she could keep the scripts in case they got time later to play with them some more, and I said absolutely.  Later she emailed me and asked if I would be interested in doing it again next year, this time with some more planning and study of what's going on.  Again, absolutely!  I'm unclear whether she meant "Come back and do a third grade class again" or "Do it for fourth grade" since my daughter will be moving on, but I'm pretty sure I'd be up for both.

Later I heard from my daughter about the flower issue, and about how one girl got three parts (whereas the others all got only 1 or 2), and a couple boys who told my daughter that they only said they liked it because it wasn't regular school work.  Standard gossip.  I heard my daughter saying both, "I got to be Titania!" and also, "I only had a couple of lines" and "I only got to go once," so I'm a bit bummed out about that.  But when I come into my kids' classes I am overly sensitive to the possibility of giving them *too* much special attention.  Besides, as I told her, I've come into her classes and brownie troops many times so she's had much more opportunity to experience this stuff that was brand new to most of the kids.

I don't know what I'd do differently next time. It's hard to just pull a single scene out of context and really dig into it.  I think that next time I'll have to do a series of visits, maybe do some rehearsing of scenes leading up to a final performance.  I've still got a lot of years to go!  We haven't even gotten started with my boy yet (who is 7 years old).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Directorial Debut! Continued.

{The story so far... }

So I initially ask whether any kids have been to theatre camp, figuring I'll need to give lessons in how to read a script.  Nope, I'm assured that there was some sort of whole school assembly in first grade and that they all have read scripts before.  Cool.

I bring up the tiny detail that in Shakespeare's day, no girls were allowed and the boys played the girls parts.  So I ask for a vote whether we should have the boys play boy parts and girl play girl parts ("Yayyy!!!"), or if we should mix it up and maybe a girl plays a boy's part and a boy plays a girl's part ("Nooo!!!!!!")  So we stick with conventional gender casting (so I thought).

I go to the whiteboard, where I will offer play by play. I start by drawing Theseus, a smiley face with a crown, and Hippolyta, a smiley face with long hair and a crown.  "That's his queen," says one girl.

"No," say I, "Not yet.  When the play opens, Theseus and Hippolyta are going to be married.  So she's not his queen yet!"

Anyway I continue, drawing Lysander and Hermia (with a big lovey heart between them, and arrows in both directions), then Demetrius with a lovey heart pointing at Hermia (and no arrow back).  Then I draw Helena with a lovey heart pointing to Demetrius, and no lovey heart back.

"This is complicated!" I hear one student say.

"It's just getting started!" I say back.  I explain to them what's to happen, about how Demetrius has Hermia's father (who does not appear in this edited version) on his side, and how Lysander and Hermia are going to elope into the woods, with Demetrius and Helena following.

I explain to the children that this play is Shakespeare's silliest play, and that they should not be afraid to get silly with it.  "If you get picked to read for one of the characters in love, then you need to be over the moon and stars, I will die without you, I have to go kill myself if I can't be with you..." with it.  I am trying to put them at ease and encourage them to have fun with it.  We shall see.

I distribute scripts to my first actors and..... ACTION!

First problem is I have drastically overestimated the reading ability of these children.  I mean, I get that there's plenty of words they will have never seen before, and I am liberal in boosting them over those hurdles.  But remember where I said "for any given speech I have no way of knowing whether it will take the student 10 seconds or a minute?"  It becomes apparent that I've got a worst case scenario on my hands, and that this is going to take forever.

Act I Scene 1 is a long scene if you've never stopped to notice.  We hear about the royal wedding, we meet the young Athenians, we hear about their history, we get the whole "marry Demetrius or die" thing, the royals leave, Lysander and  Hermia plot to escape, Helena returns and learns the plot...  two thirds of the way through this scene I'm thinking, "This is not going to work."  But we struggle through.

What none of them seem willing to do is move around.  They have stood in a line, and read as their part comes up.  At "Stand forth, Demetrius" I say, "Demetrius?  Stand forth! Step forward!" which he does.  You'd then hope that at "Stand forth, Lysander" my Lysander would figure it out and he, too, would step up.  Nope.

Funny moment #1 -- At one point during this scene, my Lysander referred to his true love as "Harmonica."  The kids' brains at this age do this sort of "I recognize the pattern of several of the letters of that word, therefore I will guess that it is a word I know that also has that pattern."  Herm something with an a on the end becomes harmonica!  Makes sense.

We exeunt At the end I ask if anybody followed that.  They all agree that no, nobody followed that.  Someone notes that "It sounds like the way they talk at church," which I thought was interesting because I can't recall any specific Latin in the text at this point.  I point to my diagram and how it connects to what was just played out in front of them.

The next scene is the Mechanicals, which I will bring them back into (a) some opportunity for silliness and, more, importantly, (b) much shorter speeches.  I  go back to the white board and explain the Mechanicals who want to perform for the royal wedding.   I also explain Oberon and Titania, the fairy king and queen who are in an argument, who are wandering around the woods as well causing trouble.

The casting of the Mechanicals is interesting because so many of them have so few lines, I didn't want there to be fighting about who got the good parts.  I held Bottom aside, distributed the others randomly, then explained Bottom.  "Bottom is the biggest role in the play," I said.  "He's got a lot of lines.  He thinks he's in charge of the actors, and he never stops talking.  Whoever takes this role has to be confident enough to perform a character like that.  Who is up for it?"  Hands shoot up.  I give it to one boy, who unfortunately does not end up being the strongest reader, but everybody's got their strengths and weaknesses and I'm not here to criticize the kids.

I have given the Mechanical parts to boys and girls alike so that it's not lopsided for girls parts.  Turns out to work because at least for this scene I've given Flute to a girl, who gets to deliver the "Let me not play a woman, I have a beard coming!"  line.  This gets my first semblance of a laugh of understanding from the audience.

My Bottom (ahem) is struggling so I try to help him out with more direction.  I explain that Quince is supposed to be the director, but Bottom thinks he knows everything.  I throw in the line that, "In his head, he's Brad Pitt."  <cricket chirp>  I even pause at that one, surprised at the lack of reaction. "Who's that?" asks a student.  I move on.  I tell Bottom that the second Quince stops talking, he's to jump in and talk over him.  He does ok.

As we get through that scene and do a time check I realize that we are not going to get anywhere near the end of this play at this rate, and that we'll have to cut like crazy.  I want to get to the end because the kids have made all the props that will not be useful until the final scene.  So we agree quickly to cut out the adventures of the Athenians in the forest and focus only on Bottom and his merry crew.

To be continued, again...  (sorry but the day job calls!)

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Directorial Debut!

For years I've been volunteering to "do Shakespeare" for my children's elementary school classes. Over the years that's involved playing games, reading books, teaching the sonnets and a few other things, and every time somebody's said, "Get them up out of the seats and performing the text!"

Done and done.

The scene:  3rd grade, which in this case means 8-9 yr olds.  About 26 kids I was told, though I did not count.  I was given free reign to do whatever I wanted. But here's the catch, it's a one time event.  So it's not like I was going to be coming back 5 times, 4 to rehearse and one for a final performance or something.  Whatever we'd be doing, we'd be doing all at once.

Luckily due to an aborted project last year I had a number of notes about doing A Midsummer Night's Dream (note to self as I fix a typo, "Kidsummer Night's Dream" would be a great title for a show).  The plan would be to randomly distribute the scripts at each scene change, so that every kid gets a chance to play a role, without any fighting about who gets the good roles. Getting to read a part was the most important thing here.

I set about writing an amended script for kids, but luckily Bardfilm swooped in with a text he'd already done for a similar previous project.  One quick change to take out the various donkey/ass jokes ( I ran it by the teacher, who vetoed).  I swapped them out for "monkey" jokes.  Lost the verse, but as we'll see the kids weren't about to notice that.

I also get what turns out to be a brainstorm when I write to the teacher suggesting that, if they had time, her class could be propmasters.  I tell her that I will need something to represent "wall", "lantern", "dog", "horn", "flower", "thorn bush", some swords, and some crowns.  I was going to get into fairy wings but decided this would require too much quick changing and leave it out.  Meanwhile I've been to the craft store and found a lion mask and a monkey mask, that I'm keeping as a surprise.  The teacher agrees that doing props is an excellent idea and they will get right to it.

So I arrive first thing in the morning, with my bag of props. I'm wearing my t-shirt with the big picture of Shakespeare on it. I debate wearing "Shakespeare is Universal" but decide that a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is going to become something of a trademark for my teaching endeavors. I'm the guy that goes from classroom to classroom with a bunch of Shakespeare stuff.

I have no idea how long this will take, or how much time I have been allotted.  On the one hand I know that I will fill up whatever time I'm given.  On the other I have no idea whether any given speech is going to take one of these kids 10 seconds to read, or 2 minutes.  So on that front I'm just going to be winging it.

After introductions and things I ask who knows who Shakespeare was.  Surprisingly nobody answers.  I hold up a DVD of Gnomeo and Juliet and ask who has seen it. Most hands go up.  Then I hear a gasp of recognition as somebody whispers, "The statue guy!"  I confirm that Shakespeare wrote that one.  I then hold up Lion King and talk about the elements of Shakespeare in that one, too. I don't do the whole "Lion King is a version of Hamlet" thing, as loyal readers know, but I'm not above using it as an example when I want to stress the "Shakespeare is around you more than you think" angle.

I break out my pop-up Globe Theatre.  Always good for some ooohs and aaaahs.  I break out my bust of Shakespeare, that I tell them travels with me wherever I go.  I hear one of my daughter's friends note, "You brought that to Brownies last year!"  Good memory.

I break out my First Folio.  This is turning into a great prop.  It is big, it is heavy, it is cool.  I hold it above my head like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, speaking of it in reverent terms about how it is 400 years old, and how if Shakespeare's friends had not gotten together to compile his plays, we might not have them today.  Then I drop it on the teacher's desk, which I learned last time makes a great echo, and a memorable point indeed.

Then I go to one of my "Midsummer Night's Dream for Kids" books, and start to get a little preachy on them.  "There are those grownups," I tell them, "Who think they need to rewrite Shakespeare for kids. They think that actual Shakespeare is too hard for kids. They say that kids can't understand real Shakespeare. I say nonsense!  Do you think this stuff is going to be too hard for you?"


"Do you think you should have to wait until you're teenagers before you get to read this?"



Every hand shoots up.

"Well then, let's begin!" I say, and pull 20+ scripts for A Midsummer Night's Dream out of my bag of tricks. be continued, because I am so very evil.  ;)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kickstarting That Shakespeare Kid

A lifetime ago, before this blog existed and I was searching around for a place to hang out and talk about Shakespeare, I saw only one place -  News on the Rialto, a Shakespeare magazine run by Michael LoMonico, who has got so many Shakespeare and education credits to his name that I don't know how to list them all.

Well, Mike's written a young adult novel called That Shakespeare Kid, and he's got a Kickstarter going to get it published.  You know me and you know my desire to get my kids introduced to Shakespeare as young as possible, so I'm all over a project like this.  In fact, I got an early review copy and let my 11yr old have at it.

The plot surrounds Peter, a 12yr old boy who gets hit on the head with a Complete Works (Riverside, because I know the geeks will be curious), and wakes up only able to talk in snippets from Shakespeare.  With the help of his friend Emma he manages to make his way through the regular middle school adventures until a viral video gets him onto the Today Show and he starts to wonder if he'll be a freak forever.  This being a young adult Shakespeare novel you just know that the two will find their way into Romeo and Juliet. Which if you think about it makes perfect sense because that's the play that our young adult reader is most likely to be studying.

I've not yet read the book through, because I did not want to inadvertently influence my daughter's opinion (by saying things like "What chapter are you on? Oh, I loved the part when he said....")  My daughter quite liked it.  I asked whether the Shakespeare bits were all the usual stuff that she's heard around the house a hundred times (Wherefore art thou, to be or not to be, double double, etc....) she said, "Oh, no, absolutely not.  Most of it I'd never heard before."  Which is good!

In truth I'm an easy audience, and almost any project that has Shakespeare and kids in it is going to get an upvote from me.  When you've got somebody with the credentials of Mike LoMonico and all the years he's spent honing his craft with the resources of the Folger at his disposal, how can you go wrong?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

How Much Do I Love Shakespeare? Apparently $120 Worth.

Last night we attended a fundraiser for the town's baseball league, and part of the activities involved a silent auction.  For those that have never seen one of these, various gift baskets are donated (in this case each team was responsible for finding a donor), and then they're put on display with a list of what's in them, their actual value, and then a sheet of paper where you write down your name and what you bid on it.  At the end of the night all the sheets are collected and the winning bids are posted.

As we're wandering around there's a bunch of beach themed baskets with towels and lotion and folding chairs, and a bunch of beer and/or wine baskets.  We bid on a couple of those, and on a "family game night" basket that had a bunch of movie tickets and things.  Then I see this smaller basket with fewer bids, and as I walk by "Thou rampant fustilarian!" catches my eye.  I backtrack and look closer, and sure enough that's a Shakespeare Insult Mug sitting in the basket.  Next to it is another mug reading, "A screaming comes across the sky," which if I recall is the opening to Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.

I read the sign.  "The Bookworm Basket."  Consists of a Paperwhite Kindle, case, booklight (isn't the paperwhite version backlit?), Kindle gift certificate, blanket, and the two mugs.  I tug on Kerry's arm and say, "Look!  Shakespeare.  I kind of feel obligated to bid on that."  She says to go for it.

Night continues. I go back to check on our bids and see that, as expected, most of them have been beaten.  That's how these things work, you basically have to be the last person to write down your number.  So if you really want something you have to camp out on it.  So I poked around, bumped up a few bids, noticed that the book basket wasn't really going up.  But then later I do get outbid.  So I think, "Ok, I put in my token bid for the Shakespeare thing just to say I did, but do I really want this?"  I up the bid again.

Eventually the night starts to come to a close.  We're way outbid on the wine packages but the family game night is still within reach.  I try bumping up the bid by $30 (instead of the minimum $10) to try to and scare away people but then somebody else bumps it by another $30.  I hear them say that the auction will be over in 10 seconds so write down your final bids.  I head over to that basket to throw another $10 on it and snipe it at the last second, and dangit if the organizers didn't sweep in right in front of me and scoop up all the papers.  Rats!

But guess what?  As if you couldn't guess from the title :).  I won what I keep calling the Shakespeare basket!  

My mom's birthday is next month, she's getting the Kindle (everyone in my family has one, and we just got my dad one for his birthday earlier this year).  We kept the gift certificate for the kids, and my wife likes the blanket.  

Look for the mug to become a prize in some future giveaway :)

UPDATE : I just remembered that sometimes my Dad reads the blog.  If so, Hi Dad!  Don't tell Ma what she's getting. :)

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Shakespeare Geek Teaches The Sonnets

[Yes this is several weeks late but I'm leaving in how I originally started it.]

Would you believe I just spent almost 2 hours in a classroom of 10 and 11yr olds talking about the sonnets?

Every year since my kids were in kindergarten I've volunteered to do Shakespeare things.  Some teachers take me up on it, some do not.  Last year was particularly disappointing when I created an edited script, bought props, and was told at the last minute that the principal had vetoed the whole idea.

So this year, with my 10yr old's class, I took a different approach. Knowing that poetry is a significant part of their curriculum I suggested a talk about the sonnets.  They would already have some knowledge of iambic pentameter, so I was free and clear to basically talk about my love of the subject in general and try to show a little enthusiasm for how awesome Shakespeare can be, and not let these children head off to middle school and down that "Shakespeare is hard and boring" path.

Working with Bardfilm I created a simple fill in the blank game.  I printed up cards with 6 different sonnets where I took a word out of each line, then scrambled them.  I made it a point to cut out some words that made an easy rhyme, some that made for obvious syllable count (when you only have 6 syllables in your line you probably need a 4 syllable word to fill in your blank), and so on.

I brought all my props.  Brought my pop up Globe theatre.  Brought my Shakespeare action figure.  Brought my Yorick skull.  Brought my First Folio.  The latter made a heck of a prop.  I held it up in the air, talked about the most beautiful and important book in the world, and then dropped it on the desk with an echoing THUD to show them all how big it was.

I gave them the usual "Shakespeare is all around you" pitch.  "If you've ever seen a guy in the bushes looking up at a girl in the balcony and saying things like It is the east and Juliet is the sun!  That's Shakespeare.  If you've ever seen three witches huddled around a bubbling cauldron chanting stuff like Double Double Toil and Trouble? Shakespeare again.  If you've ever seen a goth dude dressed all in black wandering around talking to a skull and saying..."  here I held my hand aloft and started, "Alas, poor Yorick!  I *knew* him, Ho.....hold on a sec."  Went digging in my prop bag, pulled out actual skull, then repeated the quote.  I hope they enjoyed that.  My daughter told me that was my big hit.  Later I set Yorick up on the projector and gave him a party hat.

I tried to keep it interesting by stressing the "We don't know" factor with all things Shakespeare, in a subtle attempt to instill in these kids the idea that the teacher is not always unquestionably right.  "We do not know that Shakespeare was born on April 23.  We do not know whether Shakespeare wanted his sonnets published, or when he wrote them, or to whom.  We don't know for certain what he looked like. We don't even know where he was for large parts of his life.  We have our theories, and some theories are better than others, but it's important to understand that when it comes right down to it, there's a whole lot of stuff we just don't know."

I also tried to get into reading and understanding the sonnets by opening with what I dubbed the "How Not To Go Crazy" rules, starting with #1 "Do not attempt to translate every single word into its modern equivalent as you come upon them."  Even at this the teacher jumped in and said, "If they don't do that then how can they understand it at all?"  I explained using the old forest and trees analogy, and how if you only obsess over a single word at a time you'll lose all the meter and structure of the piece.  You need to read it first and try to understand it, using the words you do already recognize, and try to build from there.  Sure, use the glossary when you have to, but you don't have to as much as you think you do.

What I did do, that I've never done before?  I acted.  I performed.  I recited the sonnets like I meant it.  I talked to Yorick's skull like he was my old friend.  I swore ever lasting love to an imaginary girl in an imaginary balcony like I thought it should be done.  Probably all sucked, but my audience didn't know that.  The important thing is that instead of just rattling this stuff off from memory, I tried to put a little something into it, you know?

I did get to break out my game, and they were all intrigued at something to do that was interactive.  At this point I'd been talking for over an hour (more on that in a sec) and it was clear that I was losing them.  I felt like the substitute teacher who'd been given a list of fake names when taking attendance.  Every 30 seconds somebody was getting up to sharpen a pencil or go to the bathroom or for a drink of water.  I didn't care, it wasn't my classroom.  At one point a student showed me a sketch and asked, "How do you like my Shakespeare?"  It wasn't very good but I wasn't about to say that. I suggested that he add a ruff around the neck.  Later my daughter confided in me, "Daddy, he was making fun of Shakespeare."  I said if that's the best he's got I don't have much to worry about.

I got to yell at the class once, which was fun.  Well, not technically yelling, but yeah, yelling.  They'd done their game, made their sonnets, and the teacher asked who would like to recite their final version.  One girl, obviously shy but used to raising her hand for things, volunteered.  At this point the class isn't paying attention very much at all, and she begins in a whisper that can barely be heard past her own desk.  SO I SUGGESTED THAT SHE USE HER DIAPHRAGM AND LEARN TO PROJECT SO THAT HER VOICE HITS THE BACK WALL AND CAN BE HEARD OVER THE SOMETIMES NOISY CROWDS THAT MIGHT OTHERWISE DROWN HER OUT.  That shut them up for awhile.

What was most unexpected to me was that the teacher talked my ear off.  I expected to be there 20-30 minutes.  I was there for 90.  She asked me everything that you could imagine, from the minute I walked in the door.  She wanted to know about my business and my entrepreneurial efforts. She wanted to know when I learned Shakespeare, and whether my parents were Shakespearean, and how I liked Shakespeare in high school, and what was the name of the girl I had to recite the balcony scene with in Ms. Cunningham's ninth grade English class, and whether she was pretty.  I'm not kidding, these are the questions I got asked.  Leah DiNapoli, and yes. :)  She was surprised I knew that, I said I've told that story many times.  Although when I think about it I'm pretty sure that my partner was actually Karen Kehoe or Kristin Mills (who would have been sitting near me in alphabetical order), and Leah was the only girl in the class who did her part well and had come up to me later and said, "You and I should have gone together."  Anyway, the teacher asked me whether I'd recited any sonnets to my wife at our wedding.  We talked about Sonnet 116 and I plugged my book :).   She also asked me to explain Julius Caesar.  Really?  Went a little far afield on that one.

My big climax was a playlist of videos featuring celebrities reciting the sonnets.  I had David Tennant doing sonnet 12, I had Alan Rickman doing sonnet 130. I even asked the kids, "Does anybody know who's in charge of Slytherin House?" and of course that got their attention.  BUT I COULDN'T GET A WIFI CONNECTION AND WAS UNABLE TO SHOW ANY OF THEM.  That bummed me out.  (Later I thought that I should have gone more screen shot heavy, first showing a famous actor in a role that the kids would know and then a Shakespearean role.  Patrick Stewart as Commander Picard or Professor X....Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.  Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey .... Ian McKellen as King Lear.  And so on.)

This is getting long so I'll wrap it up with a funny story that suggests things might have sunk in a bit more than I thought.  I posted some notes about my experience on Facebook.  I'm friends with various neighborhood parents, and it just so happens that a parent (Kim) of a student in my daughter's class saw my notes and asked her son, "So, Mr. Morin came into your class to talk about Shakespeare, huh?"  In typical 10 yr old paranoia she got the usual "What? How'd you know that?" and then the usual "Good.  Fine," result.

What's neat, though, is that this young man has an older sister who is in high school and who *is* studying Shakespeare. "What sonnets did you do?" she demanded of him.  He told her about sonnet 18, and 29, and 116.  She acknowledged that she too knew those, in what I have to assume went down in an ultracompetitive "Oh no my little brother does NOT know something that  I don't know!" sibling moment.  I wonder what she would have done if he'd been able to rattle off some sonnet 12 or 104 or 130?

This visit proved something I've said time and again.  If you ask me to start talking about Shakespeare you're going to need to eventually walk away because I will not stop.  Never once did I answer the teacher's side query with, "Can we talk about that later?"  Every time, no matter the question, I launched into my answer with equal passion.  I love realizing that I cannot help myself.  I am well aware that many times when talking about Shakespeare I will pause and sway a little and gesture a bit with my hands because I can't find the words to adequately explain how strongly I feel about how much I enjoy that moment.  This time I got to do that for an hour and a half.

Ok, that's enough of that.  Glad I got to do it, but 10yr olds are clearly not yet into the lovey dovey romantic stuff that drives most of what the sonnets are all about.  We did talk a lot about Romeo and Juliet and the balcony scene, and I think I did get them interested with talk of, "Every time a girl likes a boy and her friends tell her that she shouldn't like him?  There's something in Romeo and Juliet for you."  That, they get.  But man I'll tell ya I was selling sonnet 18 and 29 and 130 for all I was worth talking about the poet putting himself right in between Death and his beloved saying "No!  I will not let you have her, I will make her immortal!" like Orpheus travelling into the underworld, and enjoying the hell out of myself if I can just tell ya...but the kids could take it or leave it.

Next week I'm doing an actual Dream performance with my 8yr old's class.  Should be an entirely different experience.  Stay tuned!

Confusion Fills Up The Blog Of Our Absent Geek

Hi Everybody,

Apologies for my absence.  I think the last anybody heard from me was that I was going to teach sonnets to 10 year olds, and I still owe you that story.  This is not that story.

About 4 years ago I developed this problem where I get these shooting pains, numbness and tingling all down my arm.  Turns out to be a bulged disk, or a pinched nerve, or one causing the other, I was never really sure what's going on in there.  But at the time I went through the whole MRI process and everything, spend a few months in physical therapy, and it went away.

Until about 3 weeks ago, when it came back with a vengeance.  All the same symptoms are there, which lead me to believe that it's the same problem getting worse.  A couple of fingers on my right hand are completely numb. Had an MRI earlier this week, have not yet gotten any results.  So until then I'm either in pain or on Percoset depending on the time of day you catch me. :)

The end result is that while I've still got control of both arms and all my fingers and can still do my job, it's made it difficult to sit and focus on typing lengthy things, like blog posts.  I can only sit at the keyboard for a few minutes before I have to get up and move around and stretch, which makes it very hard to write up a summary of my Shakespeare activities.

With that in mind it's gotten a lot better, so I will try to start posting some new material.  Regardless of what MRI says it's likely to be weeks before I'm back to normal.