Saturday, June 06, 2009

Best Laid Plans of Mice And Shakespeare Geeks

So I think I may have mentioned, I went in to my daughter’s preschool class to be a “celebrity reader” a few months ago.  Not wanting to push my luck with the Shakespeare (and not having a version handy that I would consider appropriate), I went with the modern Shakespeare – Dr. Seuss . I was a big hit.

Well my oldest daughter is in first grade, and also has a similar “parents feel welcome to come in and read” program which I have studiously avoided.  First graders, for those who aren’t parents, are far wilder than preschoolers.  Much less likely to pay attention, much more likely to say “You stink” or “We hate this book” if they had this book, or, you know, if I stink.

But school’s coming to a close and I may not get the chance to do this again, so I break down and tell the teacher I’ll come in this week.

BUT!  I have a plan.  I head to Amazon and grab The Tempest : For Kids (Shakespeare Can Be Fun series), even getting the extra shipping to make sure it shows up on time.  This series has a number of things going for it:

* written by an elementary school teacher, for her students

* written in rhyming verse, ala Dr. Seuss

* illustrated by her students, ages 7-8 (which I guess makes them more like second or third graders)

Now, I’m getting into it.  I’ve got visions of bringing my now several versions of this story and letting them be passed around the class while I read from this one.  Heck, maybe I’ll even bring my Shakespeare bust and sit him down on the desk with me.

But this is where my schemes gangs aft agley.  Book arrives, and it is indeed beautiful.  Brightly illustrated on every page, not just with images but with paraphasings of key passages.

But *dense* with text.  This book is over 60 pages long, with 10+ full sentences on each page.  For 6yr olds that is a tremendous amount of information, and there’s no way they can meaningfully follow the story if I attempt to read it in one sitting.  I even tried to time it, and reading quickly – without interruption for questions – it would take me near to half an hour to get through the thing.  Heck, I was on 9 minutes before we even saw Caliban!

In short, there’s no way I’m reading this to my daughter’s class.  Even though it’s written by a school teacher I’d now call this the kind of thing she could read to them over multiple sittings, not as one drive-by by a random parent who they won’t see again,

Although my daughter and I found a replacement book today (Harold and the Purple Crayon), I haven’t given up hope.  I will either dig up my Usborne version and see if I think it’s good enough to keep their attention (from what I recall there aren’t enough pictures, and still too many words)., or if I have the time and energy if I can actually paraphrase this one down to just a sentence or two per page, so I can keep the pictures and still get the story across in about 10 minutes.


Willshill said...

Just a suggestion-- why not forget about "adaptations"-give them the genuine article! Cull a few dynamic, attention-getting speeches from say, AMSND--you know, the wacky stuff, Bottom, Pyramus & Thisbe, ., Pucke.TELL the story--show a few pics-- (I assume you know it well enough to do that--you could have the script dogged-eared anyway) and as you do, stop every so often to deliver what you've picked out.
I did some of Pucke's speeches for pre-schoolers during my elementary school residency-- to say they loved it is understating the fact. They just have to know what's happening-relate the story -their wonderful imaginations take it the rest of the way. They only have to know YOU feel a certain way about it-total Energy and involvement and your imagining shows them that. When I was finished they started shouting Do it again!; do it again! They loved being "scared" of Pucke threatening to turn them into bears, etc.--of course, I prepped them first and asked them to be actors and "act" scared while I "tried" to "scare" them. "Pretend"--like actors do--they become instant Actors!!! --"Take a seat in the back Mr. Strasberg!, we'll call you IF we need you."
I think only bats could hear some of the screams--all through big grins.
Make sure they're not "formally seated" if you can-get them into groups you can move to and from-they feed off of each others "frightened" energy that way. They recoil from Pucke in waves then! Eat your WHEATIES! If you're a success, they won't let you stop! I think I only had to perform it about 7 or 8 times. In between, (catching my breath) I'd pump out a little more info, story and "weird word"-wise--couple of bits about the Bard-- they began to ask ME questions. It's all about involvement and participation! Sort of like way back when-- Just doin' his Baard thang.
Somehow, we've got to get back to that.
Forget the watering down--give-them--IT!--the real thing. Trust me.-They did. Knowing the way you feel about it--they'll trust you too. And they'll never forget it.

P.S.This transformed into a two posts with one stone, ah, bird--right. post - Those teenyboppers? they don't learn much, if anything, about Shakespeare from an Ethan Hawke &c. (nor do they want to) --not why they're there in the first place. Not so for the "New Players". "Who is this crazy "Shakespeare Guy" anyway? Do it again!!! Mr. Duane!!!!!! Do it again!!!!
Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

Two words: Bruce Cogville

Duane said...

I wish I had the skill/guts to pull that off, Will. Never been an actor, that's one of the reasons I'm so heavily in to the text :). Just never had the guts to go off book and improv.

Anon, thanks for the suggestion. I believe I've heard of him, but don't yet have a copy.

Willshill said...

Duane, Its not about "improv"--it's about reading from the script with an angle and a plan. You're going to be "reading", with emphasis no doubt, from something, the rest is simply talking about what happens in the storyline of the play--not "acting it out". Connect the dots from selected speech to speech. They don't know the difference between you and Kenneth Branagh anyway. Simply do, in a broader and more expansive sense, what you do with your own daughters when you read and explain Shakespeare to them.(A thing, by the way, that I think is ACES on your part, Dude) Nobody from the RSC will be watching. :)
I checked out Bruce C-O-ville. He's noted for his recorded readings using more than one person for the voices. His books are a bit pricey-$35 per.

Duane said...

I haven't given up yet, Will :). Last night I sat down and masked out all the pages of this book so that I can redline key passages, and maybe reduce it down to 2-4 lines per page and still get through it in one sitting.

My fear, and I acknowledge this freely, has always been walking in to new situations. What I assume to be true, and base my actions upon, almost never holds - but my brain plays it conservative and says "The teacher has a system, and other parents come in and do it a certain way, so the expectation is for me to do it that way, too." As far as my brain is telling me she's just as likely to say "No, do not do Shakespeare."

But I am getting better. I will bring the Shakespeare, I will do it, it will be a hit, I will have fun, I will look forward to doing it again next year for my other kids. I will I will.