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?”
“WHO WANTS TO ACT OUT SOME SHAKESPEARE?!”
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.
…to be continued, because I am so very evil. 😉