A former actress shares her experiences running a Shakespeare acting club at a Los Angeles elementary school as well as reflections on her own life and career.
Canadian-born actress Ryane had walked away from an acting career and was working as an acting coach and living in LA with her husband, William, when she spotted a flyer that asked for “civilian help” to make Arden Street Elementary “the best school possible.” She volunteered to run an after-school Shakespeare acting club at the school, where students were mostly of color and from low-income families, and transformed a rowdy, distracted group of children into an acting troupe ready to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She had them follow “rules” for the club: respect each other, Shakespeare, and the acting process and write in journals (excerpts are included here). Ryane soon realized that her group had issues beyond her own experience (literacy challenges) and reminiscent of her own life (facing the scrutiny of casting); she includes several autobiographical flashback sequences for context. Throughout the rehearsal process, Ryane learned to navigate the balance of leading and learning from the children, who proudly came together to play Titania, Bottom, et al., by year’s end. Ryane brings a wry tone to this highly enjoyable memoir, and parents and teachers will undoubtedly appreciate her stories about working with children who are by turns sweet and wily. She effectively brings her pint-size players to life; Miles, the only boy in the production, is a particularly well-drawn character who goes from just wanting to swing a sword to itching to play Hamlet. It’s inspiring how Ryane helped these kids step up to Shakespeare, and their journal excerpts are often hilarious (“William Shakespeare went to London because I like his plays”). The inclusion of various excerpts from Shakespeare’s works also underscores the evergreen emotional connections to be found in the Bard’s work. Overall, a bravura performance.
A charming memoir that will amuse and inspire parents, teachers, and Shakespeare fans.