…& Shakespeare with Kids
Those of you who follow my daily homeschool updates know that we’ve been working our way up to a performance of As You Like It.
Well, the performance was last night, so I’ll recap our prep and the performance.
First, this isn’t our first Shakespeare rodeo. One of the reasons I started homeschooling was that I was sick and tired of the stupid, dumbed-down literature curricula in all schools. Wasting time answering questions about stories written to reflect current fashionable concerns about diversity and self-acceptance…can we be exposed to some realness instead? Realness being an exploration of the tension, darkness, possibility and hope of the human condition, recognized as wise and illuminating by the human community, treasured and handed down to us via the cumulative wisdom of human tradition.
Over the past three and a half years, we have “studied” (in our own light way) and seen performances of Macbeth (two), The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Julius Caesar (our first) and now, As You Like It.
(Reference – boys are now 11 & 14 years old)
Five of the performances have been at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern, one (Shrew) at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (which seems to be presenting less and less actual Shakespeare as time goes on…) and one (the second Macbeth) at Samford University.
My older son is now in school (9th grade), but because
he is resigned to my fascist ways he has become accustomed to my “teachable moments” mode of parenting, only made more intolerable honed even sharper by homeschooling, he doesn’t blink an eye when told that in the evenings, we’ll be spending a bit of time going over and talking about some Shakespeare.
(Specific resources? The Folger Library. There are loads of other resources online. I don’t have a specific go-to source every time. I do find that searching for “Play name” and “study guide” gets you to some great resources offered by various theaters around the country – most of them tend to produce study guides directed at educators and families for every Shakespeare production they are offering.)
(Also – there are many reasons to be tempted to move to the San Diego area, but the fantastic Shakespeare Academy regularly threatens to put me over the edge.)
So in tackling a play, we begin by going over a synopsis – perhaps in a picture book or one of the collections. Then we start reading through the play – not all of it, but simply parts that are the most vital/well-known or that I think will be most engaging to them. We all take our turns reading. Some enjoy that more than others.
We also might do some memorization – although when both of them were homeschooling, we were more dedicated to that than we are now, unfortunately. If you are at all interested in delving into Shakespeare with your children, Ken Ludwig’s How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is invaluable.
Then, interspersed with all of that, we watch – if we are going to see a performance, we don’t generally watch an entire film, with two exceptions: We watched the Brando Julius Caesar and the Taylor/Burton Taming of the Shrew. We watched a lot of the Patrick Steward Macbeth, which I really like, but honestly the way the three sisters are portrayed is so creepy, at the time (two years ago, I guess), I fast-forwarded through those parts since I felt they were too intense.
And then we do a lot of scene comparison – watching different ways in which the three sisters have been played in film, different version of Julius Caesar – the RSC production set in Africa was spectacular and illuminating, for example.
As I have said before, we’re not about plot analysis or making charts about protagonists or antagonists. We want the story, the language and the big ideas and small moments, and to connect with these characters because their stories are about living in this world, and we want to grow in wisdom.
All of us.
So with As You Like It. It’s not a complex play – once you get the family relations sorted out – so we didn’t take weeks and weeks to prepare. We began last Sunday – I sketched out (literally) the family relations, ran through a quick synopsis, and then we read chunks of the first act. On subsequent evenings, we read chunks of the second and third acts, watched the BBC animated version, and I called it done. They understood it all well enough to be able to enjoy those last two acts without study, so that was it.
The Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern provides a great time. I guess you would call it dinner theater, but we’ll call it an Elizabethan theater tavern instead. Evening shows begin at 7:30, seating opens a bit more than an hour before. Food and drinks are served until about ten minutes before the show begins (kitchen reopens at intermission with desserts). The food is okay, although not very my-kid-friendly. Last night we made do with chili – with extra chips – and the bread basket.
It’s a great, casual atmosphere. Tables on the floor level, as ell as a balcony. Volunteers help with the dining area and tickets, but so do members of the company, so the guy you remember playing Cassius that one time might be clearing your table.
It’s an ideal venue for introducing children to Shakespeare performances. The audience tends to be very diverse – as Atlanta is as a city – and when there are comedies performed, there are usually a good number of children, so they can see that this is not just a grown-up-school- thing. This is a people thing.
I’m going to say that I think this performance of As You Like It was one of the best we’ve seen there. There were some new faces to us – the actor who did double duty as the wrestler Charles and Duke Senior was a particular favorite, as was Touchstone. Shenanigans and schtick happens, but you know what…it’s a COMEDY.
Playing Rosalind is like fulfilling a million different childhood dreams at once. At different points in the play, I get to channel a Disney princess, Hermione Granger, Carol Burnett, and even Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation. But I also get to channel Dani, which didn’t used to feel like a dream at all. As Rosalind, I get to be weird and tall and loud and passionate, and I still get to kiss the kind, beautiful guy at the end. And if the audience is laughing at me, it probably means that I did something funny.
It was a busy day: They served retreat Mass at the convent at noon, then we jumped in the car and went straight to Atlanta…to Mass. (I knew everyone would be tired on Sunday, so I wanted to let them sleep in the morning. ) It’s a good education in understanding the differences between daily & Sunday Mass as well as the nature and reason for the Sunday (even in vigil) obligation. We went to the Cathedral at 5 – the Irish pastor of which has that practice of opening a homily with an “amusing” story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Scriptures, the season…anything. It is so weird. It doesn’t serve to bring us in, as I’m sure is intended, but is instead a distraction from Mass. Sorry.
The other weird thing – and please understand this is an enormous parish (5500 families) with a tiny church – yes it is the Cathedral, but it was built in the 30’s when there weren’t that many Catholics in Atlanta – that only holds 700. They have to do what they can do – and at 5, that means they have settled on having an English language Mass in the church and then a Spanish Mass across the hall in a multipurpose room. The English language Mass was no more than half full – the Spanish congregation looked packed out. Interesting.
So…Mass, drive, Mass, As You Like It, drive 2 hours back.