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 Shakespeare For Kids!

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Kara
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PostSubject: Shakespeare For Kids!   Tue Apr 29, 2008 12:28 pm

Yep, you read that right--Shakespeare for kids. Really, really little kids, to be precise.

Keltron and I have taken on the monumental and VERY FUN task of directing a pared-down version of The Bard's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to the kids at Lancaster Montessori School. The kids, aged 3-7, are learning one of Shakespeare's most-loved comedies and a lot about the illustrious playwright himself.

I was initally approached by Sujatha Arseculeratne, Directress of Lancaster Montessori School, to put together a small program for kindergarten graduation. When I approached "Ms. Sue" with the idea of Shakespeare she inially balked--would they be able to handle the language, the storyline...SHAKESPEARE? I assured her that the mini-geniuses at LMS were up for the challenge.

Oh, boy. What had I gotten myself into?

The first thing I did was contact keltron and rope her into helping me. Being my best friend, she agreed--how could she not? Knowing that I had her expertise (and infinite patience) on my side, I took on the challenge of re-writing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" into Modern (American) English and nipping it down from a 3-hour running time to approximately 20 minutes. No easy task!Next, LMS has 41 students, all of whom deserve wonderful and important roles in the show. I took the liberty of adding more female fairies to Titania's lot and giving Oberon a group of cool male "Forest Sprites" to accompany him. Additionally, I added a troupe of minstrels who hold title and scene cards and play music as scenes change. Finally, I added a narrator to help move the story along and fill in the missing 2 hours and 40 minutes in the Shakespeare version--I got this idea from a kids' version of the script called "Shakespeare Shorts" that I picked up at the local Parent-Teacher Aids store in Palmdale.

Once the script was written it was time to visit the kids and talk about the play and its author. I came to LMS armed with a stuffed doll caricature of Will Shakespeare I picked up at a museum store. THE KIDS LOVE HIM!! We discussed who Wiilliam Shakespeare is/was and some of the things he wrote. We discussed that he died a long time ago, but if he was alive he'd be 444 years old (impressive to the kids!) and that he lived in England. We talked about the plot of the play and some of the characters--Puck, Nick Bottom (who the kids refer to as "The Donkey-Head Guy"), Hippolyta "Queen of the Amazons"...etc. By the end of the third day they could all pronounce every character's name! WOW!

Then fate sent me a telegram: I had to leave for a week because of a death in the family. Enter my best friend. Keltron became responsible for blocking the first three scenes of the show and handling all the madness that goes along with dealing with 41 kids under the age of 7. When I returned, things were moving right along!! Yay, keltron!

On April 23, we celebrated Shakespeare's birthday at LMS with the kids. Keltron and I brought in a cake that read,"Happy 444th Birthday, William Shakespeare!" (Getting the lady at Sam's Club to put it on the cake was no easy task, but she reluctantly did it anyway.) Hearing the kids sing "Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare" to my 18" high stuffed doll nearly brought tears to my eyes. What cultured little kidlets they were becoming!

Two weeks into the rehearsal process, and four to go, nearly every kid has their lines memorized and each one understands their role in this very complex play of love and mistaken identity. Kids as young as 3 now understand words like "rehearsal", "blocking" , "character" , and "scene". They know that "The Bard" is another name for William Shakespeare, and they're probably the only kids in the AV who can say they ate his birthday cake with him. They love to compete to see whose scene is better (extra stickers for the winners!) and who will make "Will" proud on any given day. They draw pictures of their characters and spend all sorts of time thinking about their costumes and props. What awesome thespians!

I encourage anyone considering doing Shakespeare to include kids--don't underestimate their ability to understand it! I'll keep you all posted on the process (and I'm sure keltron will have something to say about her experience with this, too!).

I'd also LOVE to hear from anyone who has worked with kids and Shakespeare, too, and get your take on your experience. I'd love to see more Shakespeare Kids here in the AV!!!
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James Jay
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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Tue Apr 29, 2008 12:33 pm

What an incredible thing you have done! Believe me when I tell you that these kids will remember this for the rest of their lives. You have also created a new generation of Shakespeare fanatics, who will want to perform more and more. Who knows, perhaps within those ranks will emerge the new leader of a group like Will and Co?

Well met, Kara and keltron!

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QuantumCowboy
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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Tue Apr 29, 2008 12:48 pm

WOW!!! K & K, I am sooo impressed!

This is no easy task, and it sounds like it is going along excellently! Please keep us posted on progress, and let us know when the performance dates are.

You know, I'm sure there is state and federal grant money to do this kind of thing... you'd be surprised at the number of things that there is funding for but no one applies. With this experience (and perhaps that potential bonus if Baxter Smalls gets picked up?) you should think about adding a youth component to that theater you've been thinking about starting. A youth Shakespeare program would be an excellent addition to this community.

Congratulations on your success so far, and mad props again for your foresight, patience, and creative genius!

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keltroncybo
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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Tue Apr 29, 2008 5:17 pm

I have to say my experience has been mind blowing. When 4 (maybe 5) year old Brianna stepped on stage FOR THE SECOND TIME knowing all of her cues and blocking I just wanted to run up and hug the living daylights out of her!

This has been so amazing because the kids simply love the story. We forget sometimes, that the reason Shakespeare has survived for 444 years is not the fancy language, but ultimately the fabulous stories. It is interesting to consider how "purists" would view this project....is it sacrilege to change the language so a three year old can understand?

I wonder.

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keltroncybo
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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Tue Apr 29, 2008 5:18 pm

I'd also like to add that Kara has given me far too much credit. She is doing pretty much ALL the work and she is absolutely wonderful with the kids!! (of course) :-)

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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Tue May 06, 2008 9:46 am

How are rehearsals going? And when is the performance so we can plan to attend (are we allowed to)?

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Kara
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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Tue May 06, 2008 12:37 pm

QuantumCowboy wrote:
How are rehearsals going? And when is the performance so we can plan to attend (are we allowed to)?

Thanks for the inquiry!
Rehearsals are going pretty well. We've had the rather unfortunate experience of having lots of kids leave on vacations lately (one boy double cast as Theseus and Francis Flute left for a full two weeks! Yikes!) This has put a little bit of a strain on the rehearsal process because the other children have to imagine the missing kids within the scene--something that can be rather advanced for some kids--and adults, too!
Additionally, several reminders have had to go home to parents to help kids learn lines. Most know them really, really well, but several kids don't read yet, so they have to have lines fed to them by an adult at home in order to learn them. If the parents don't help then there's little the child can do on his/her own if they can't read. It's a strange stumbling block that doesn't happen when directing adults!
Some wonderful things about the process include the childrens' ongoing love affair with this story. I hear from the LMS Directress, Ms. Sue, that the most popular game being played during recess is "A Midsummer Night's Dream"! Additionally, I find it particularly impressive that all the kids actually call it "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and not the usual slaughtering of the title : "A Midsummer's Night Dream" or "A Midsummer's Night's Dream". They still greet the 18-inch plush toy doll of William Shakespeare with their usual enthusiasm, "Hi, William Shakespeare!" and talk to it/him like a real person.
My 3-year old daughter, one of the minstrels in the show, actually yelled out, "Mama! It's William Shakespeare!" as we drove along Rancho Vista Boulevard this weekend. She was pointing to the banners advertizing the Shakespeare Festival at Plamdale Playhouse. Awesome!
Most inspiring is watching children who typically can not/do not focus in "normal" class come alive while onstage. One particular student has some terrible issues focusing, being quiet at the appropriate times, and just socializing in general. Yesterday, when we blocked her scene, she was the ONLY fairy of the four who remembered her lines , her blocking, and her cues. Her usually loud and piercing voice was an asset to her--she was the only child that I haven't had to ask to project! She enjoyed the praise and earning recongnition for doing something right, as I can guess is seldom the case with a "problem" child like her. It's exciting to use her as an example of what TO do for the other students!

Finally, this production (approx. 20 minutes running time) will be held as part of LMS's graduation ceremony being held on June 16, place TBD. If you'd like to come and support our youngest Shakespereans, please PM me and I can provide you with more information.

Thanks again for the inquiry and go LMS Thespians!! cheers
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keltroncybo
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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Tue May 06, 2008 12:51 pm

I'd like to throw my two cents in here as well...

I have been utterly amazed at these kids.

Last week, we had the unfortunate situation of having to re-cast one of the roles. The boy who had originally been cast as Nick Bottom ("donkey headed guy" as he is affectionately called by the kids at LMS) was having a VERY difficult time taking the job seriously, after repeated incidents of outright defiance, he was asked to relinquish his part. Unfortunately, Ms. Kara and I were at the end of our rope for who to re-cast in the role. Pretty much every child who had the wherewithal to handle learning the lines was already cast in one or even two sizable roles.

Along came our First Fairy, this little one is about 5 and blew our socks off with her ability to LEARN (not just memorize) her lines and blocking. I have to be honest, at first, I thought she was going to be one of our trouble makers, or at least a difficult one to focus, but as soon as she had her first day of blocking, she was focused and on the ball! Quiet and attentive when not on stage and actually ACTING when she was on stage. After much discussion, Ms. Kara and I decided she was the best candidate to take over Bottom's role since she was the only one who REALLY knew her own already. We presented the idea to the kids in as delicate a way as possible, and in the end, they even felt like it was their idea for the First Fairy to take on this important role! Our little fairy took a bit of coaxing before she saw how fun it would be to play a boy, and also to wear the "most important costume piece in the show," but in the end she has taken to it with all the gusto a 5 year old could muster. I must say, she is wonderful!

It is so exciting to see the kids who are otherwise seen as a distraction, being appreciated and encouraged. The same traits that make them difficult in the structure of the classroom are huge assets to them onstage. I have to say that I really hope we've planted a seed in our little fairy, as well as all the other kids at LMS!

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Kara
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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Fri Jun 06, 2008 1:42 pm

Oh my goodness, we open (and close!) "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in one week!! Our little 20-minute production will be held next saturday as part of Lancaster Montessori School's kindergarten graduation ceremony. I'm so stinkin' proud of these little guys and girls!!
However, I just had to GUSH about the amazing and astounding generosity of a local business. In this failing economy and ever pessimistic-world, a beacon of light is shining on LMS in the form of some local angels.
During recent rehearsals, it occurred to me (and probably Keltron, too) that we were going to end up with some pretty frustrated audience members, as our little (and I do mean LITTLE) thespians would be performing on the floor of a small gymnasium while parents and other assorted audience members struggled to see them from folding chairs set up in the large room. Clearly what we need is a stage.
I've never rented one before, so I visited a local business that I've rented some party stuff from before called "A Special Flair". I explained that I needed a fairly large stage and a price quote. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked at what stages rent for, but with set up, tear down, delivery, labor...well, it made sense. I thanked the nice ladies and explained that it was more than the school could afford. When they realized it was for a school, they offered a school discount which helped the price considerably, but it was still too steep for our meager (and I do mean MEAGER) budget. I told them that I'd like to rent a couple of inexpensive plastic Roman columns (for Duke Theseus' palace scenes) and two fake trees instead (for the forest scenes), which started a conversation about the play. The women at "A Special Flair" became so excited at the idea of kids as young as 3 doing Shakespeare here in the AV that they finally asked me, "What can the school afford?" When I shook my head and explained that it was about 20% of the original price of the stage, they simply said, "Bring us pictures."
Because of "A Special Flair" and their incredible generosity, we will be performing on a 12x16 foot stage with two sets of stairs, a full stage skirt, astro-turf ("What forest has a BLACK FLOOR, for heaven's sake?" they asked), 4' Greek columns, and a forest of ficus trees, delivered, set up, taken down, and hauled away!!
Lacy and Debra, THANK YOU!!!!!
And to any of you lucky enough to see or little show, please remember that kindness, generosity, and most importantly, the passion to support the arts is ALIVE AND WELL IN THE ANTELOPE VALLEY!
Kudos to you, "A Special Flair!"
cheers
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keltroncybo
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PostSubject: Re: Shakespeare For Kids!   Mon Jun 16, 2008 3:08 pm

This production was absolutely fanfrikin' tastic!

The kids were wonderful. There were a few glitches but nothing terminal and although the parents were less than ideally quiet the kids worked SUPER hard and many of them projected and enunciated wonderfully.

This project was incredibly rewarding, thanks for the opportunity to participate Kara! flower

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