08 November 2007

Shakespeare Days

My 9 year old son is obsessed with Shakespeare.



Now, I know that's not something you hear everyday. It's not something I would have expected. It's a wonderful thing that we are having a spot of trouble managing.

Before I paint the full picture, let me also say that Samuel is obsessed with having his own cell phone, playing video games, playing sports, Captain Underpants, and various other very typical 9-year old boy stuff.

But this past summer, we enrolled him in a 2-week Shakespeare theatre camp, and life has not been the same since.

For about three days a few months ago, every chance he got, he would pull out the full text of King Lear, put the audio-version on our CD player, and follow along with the words. Not having 3 hours in a row to devote to this activity, he asked me to bring it along in the car, so he could listen and follow along as we drove around doing errands. When we got home, he would immediately put the CD in the home stereo and disappear behind the book. It took a few days, but he listened to the entire thing.

King Lear is the play he did over the summer, with the California Shakespeare Theatre. Three very enthusiastic cheers to this amazing company, both for their productions at their Orinda ampitheatre and for their excellent kids' camps. The camp experience captivated Samuel. For two weeks of full days, he attended text classes, drama classes, rehearsals,...and soaked it all up completely. Since then, he has read through the full text a couple of times, watched a video version with us, and now, he is getting ready for his very own directorial debut, and is organizing his 3rd grade class to perform King Lear...in my living room.

This is where the difficulty managing his obsession comes in. Before we really knew what was going on, Samuel had put together a cast, designed a script book, "hired" a co-director (who, despite signing a contract, has unfortunately already quit, so he's looking again...), and started making a list of props he will need. Here are just some of the challenges:

  • He wants to do this play at home. We have a tiny house.

  • There is one particular scene that involves a significant amount of blood and violence -- Gloucester gets his eyes gouged out -- and Samuel is intensely mulling over how to pull this off. He was thrilled to find two chocolate eyeballs in the bag of Halloween candy. Now we just have to tackle the problem of how to make it all realistic without terrifying the director.

  • He wants to do the ENTIRE play, not just excerpts or scenes like he did over the summer. "But I've never done the whole play before!" goes his lament. Never mind that his classmates don't know Shakespeare from Dr. Suess...or that he doesn't have an entire team of knowledgeable people ready to help him with this large scale project.

  • He wants to have rehearsals twice a week.

  • He wants the performance to be in about a month.


  • He comes at us with a list a mile long of all of the ways in which this production is shaping up in his mind, and we must navigate our way through encouraging him in this truly great idea while reigning in what is not possible. Last night, he got so upset that we were suggesting that he do excerpts rather than the whole play that he threw up his hands and announced "I QUIT!"

    He did calm down after that. And he and his dad spent some time looking at the website of the Folger Library in Washington DC, which has some great resources for kids. Among other things, he found a character identification quiz. He took this quiz, and Rick and I just sort of sat there amazed and incredulous; he knew lots of the answers.

    So our challenge is to nurture this exploding interest. Not so easy when he is exploding with a kajillion and one mostly impossible ideas. So our guess our challenge is really to figure out which impossible ideas we need to find a way to make possible for him.

    How nice that all of this is happening right as the Holidays are launching...I was looking for something else to do these days.

    But of course, it's delightful, inspiring, and amazing to watch unfold.

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