She takes fidgety, talkative 8- to 10-year-olds and molds them into Shakespearean actors.
Mel Ryane and her Teaching Will: Shakespeare Club are a big hit with the kids at .
“It’s really fun if you like acting because you get to meet new people and do dances and you can just be yourself,” said Haley Hansen, 9, a Walgrove third-grader.
Ryane started the club, an after-school program for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, six years ago.
“I was at a time in my life when I was looking for my next creative challenge,” said Ryane, a writer and actress. “This particular school was looking to better itself, so I went to the school to volunteer.”
The Shakespeare Club presented four performances of an edited version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Thursday at the school, but the performances are not really the focus of the club, Ryane said.
“We cover basic stagecraft, iambic verse, the life of William Shakespeare and so much more all while rehearsing a play. The performances are kind of a reward for all the hard work they’ve done.”
Ryane focuses on Shakespeare’s major subjects—love, power and revenge—but she says the kids already know all about them.
“Kids understand these themes because they see them every day on the playground,” she said. “Best friends break up, people fall in love and then change their minds. The kids get it. They love this stuff.”
Fifth-grader Takoda Carson, 10, plays Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“In the first part I like this one girl, then Puck squeezes flower juice on my eyes and another girl wakes me up so I like that girl, and then Puck squeezes an herb on my eyes and I like the first girl again,” Takoda said.
Will Falzarano, 8, a third-grader, plays Frances Flute from the artisans scene.
“He’s in a play that’s inside a play, so basically I play a boy who’s playing a boy who’s playing a girl," he explained. "I’m looking forward to the performances because I think I’ll get some laughs from using my girl voice."
Even though this is Will's first year in the club, he said he has already learned a lot about Shakespeare and his plays.
“I like that some of them are funny and some of them are love stories. I just like all of them," he said. "They are inspiring and encouraging.”
In addition to learning about Shakespeare, Ryane hopes the kids in her club become empowered and believe in themselves. One of the club’s mottoes is “If I can do Shakespeare, I can do anything.”
“I get a lot out of seeing the kids discover themselves," she said. "It’s surprising what I get out of it. It has come to be a calling for me.”
What do you think of this innovative way of teaching Shakespeare? Tell us in the comments.