Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Next year's seminars

Not that anything will ever compare to last summer's... but the 2007 NEH summer seminars and institutes are out: http://www.neh.gov/projects/si-school.html.

Wow, we got lucky -- I don't know if I could have made it through last week without you all in my life. Thank you for the love and prayers sent this way --


Monday, October 30, 2006

West Coast Draculer

If any of you would like to hear my audio play "Draculer" performed by some students at Fresno State (actually, California State University, Fresno), please follow this link for live streaming audio: KFSR.

It will be broadcast at 9:00 p.m. Pacific Time.

Unfortunately, it won't be on Maine Public Radio until sometime next year.


Friday, October 27, 2006

The dangers of feeders who mumble

Bloody constraint...

Bloody constraint!

For if you hide the crown...

For if you hide the crown!

Even in your hearts...

Even in your hearts!

There will he rake for it.

There will be rape for it!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is There A Holster In That Dancing Skirt?

My fingers couldn't type all that I wanted to tell Amanda tonight. I was so glad I decided to call her--both for just the joy of hearing her again and for the exciting educational opportunity I was able to throw her way.

Did you know that Utah teachers can take a concealed weapons class to enable them to pack heat in the classroom? Until tonight, Amanda didn't either. Furthermore, she was completely unaware of her district's policy regarding concealed weapons (the policy is mentioned in the article)!

We discussed this topic thoroughly and talked about her show, our classes, and my plans to take my English class (and all the other English II students) to a local production of Julius Caesar. We're planning a day before we go for me to get a sub so I can do some "entering" activities with all the kids who will attend the show.

"Do you have fabric blood?" she questioned. "I cannot emphasize enough the effect of fabric blood."

The lesson? Don't mess with Amanda. She can pack heat at school and carries her own blood.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Quote of the Day

When I was in Northampton I read a book about an ill-fated Everest ascent called Into Thin Air. Our favorite Bronx teacher recommended the author's first book, Into the Wild, which is about a man who gave up everything he owned to roam the Alaskan wilderness. Along the way, the man wrote letters to friends. One of his letters had a passage that actually made me gasp when I read it, like he was speaking directly to me:

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

Lobster Boy

I've had a request to explain Dave Wilson's photo album on the Kodak site (the one labelled "Lobster Boy").

I will post a detailed explanation next week (I'm currently in tech and dress rehearsals for my Halloween play, so I really don't have time to write the explanation in a way that will do the story justice), but the thumbnail version is this:

1) I played a practical joke on a friend who happened to take a trip to Newark, New Jersey, last week.

2) Dave was my agent in delivering the joke.

3) The joke involves a badly-written true crime book entitled Lobster Boy.

4) Dave documented the mission with photographs.

I'll let you know more next week...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

One-Stop Shopping for Research

Only one week until the start of National Novel Writing Month, and I'm not at all ready. I'm a big planner and outliner, and I've done very little so far, so I need to get my butt in gear. I need to do some research on a variety of things before I start writing.

The message board at NaNoWriMo is a great place for me to find answers to questions about my writing, or about anything at all. One section is called "Character and Plot Realism Q+A," the subtitle of which is "you have a question, someone out there has an answer." There are tens of thousands of NaNoWriMo participants from around the world, and this forum is a great resource for pretty much anything.

Seriously, a quick scan of the last couple hours of posts reveals expert information about 1850's evictions, redheads and genetics, Hodgkin's Disease, small towns in Mexico, Japanese surnames, paganism, professional photography, and much, much more. And that's just a few of the thousands of posts so far on the site.

If you every wondered what kinds of shoes mailmen wear, or whether a dog could accidentally start a golf cart, or any other bizarre thing you ever considered, this is the place to be.

Help, Help, Help!!!

Hello everyone!

I remember having a conversation with one or two of you wonderful, spectacular people about a website where students can submit their work to check for plagiarism. My school is very interested in using this service, but I can't remember what the site address was?

If anyone knows what I am talking about...can you please post the website? THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!

Monday, October 23, 2006

And Company

I want to let Craig and Rachael say their own stuff about our weekend, so I will just partially blog the event. Pics are up on the Kodak Gallery and if I didn't mess up the Robertson camera in an effort to fix it, they should have some more to post.

So, why are these people smiling? Big fun is why!!! Friday night, we hit the town for a lovely Brazillian Meat Fest. The waiters walk around with skewers of meat until (and I want to credit Craig, who I think said this) "Even your sinus cavities are filled with meat".
Apologies to our vegetarian bretheren and sistern for this graphic depiction of meat.

Saturday was laid back and was capped off by a picnic and half a production of Much Ado About Nothing. Half a production, you say? Yeah. Despite some heavy huddling under blankets (seriously, Rachael, mind those hands!), we were suffering from near hypothermia (We are thin blooded folk. None of us are from cold climates.) and...ahem...bad acting. We cut out at intermission and enjoyed dessert and each other back at the hotel.

Sunday, Craig grilled for us. Remember all Craig's grill stories? Did you know he thought about taking a picture of said grill for all of us to see? Worth the fuss, totally. Craig and his wife Colleen made a spectacular lunch and we sat around all afternoon intending to play board games but not needing to at all because we enjoyed each other so much. We also watched this video on the S&Co site and got all teary.

I had a lot of thoughts on my drive home, the most profound of which was this*: remember that last thing that Kevin said to us? "It's Shakespeare and Company. You're part of and Company now." The most gratifying part of the weekend was seeing and company stretch past our month to include Colleen, to include us in our "other lives", and to include all of you in our thoughts.

It is and Company.

*Big thanks to Kim for listening to me sort that idea out on the way home. I loved talking to her so much, I forgot to observe the long standing tradition of singing the state song as I crossed the state line. What? Other people don't do that?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Successful check-in

This isn't really worth it's own post, but what the hay? I continues a previous post.

I did a "post-card" check in with my sixth graders that got some really sweet responses. I told them they could "write" their postcard to anyone who wasn't in the room.

My seventh graders liked the non-verbal check in, though I couldn't get them to understand that they didn't have to guess what other people were trying to communicate.

Fun stuff.

3-2-1 Contact: Ergonomics

Greetings from the Dallas Crew! Enjoy a trip in the wayback machine we found on the internets...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Of Blogger Accounts and Breakfast

Hello, all.

I finally got a Blogger account -- mainly as a way of posting progress on my novel project during National Novel Writing Month in November (thanks for turning me on to this great event, Craig!). Feel free to follow my progress (or my gradual decline) by visiting my blog.

On Sunday morning, I mixed some cheese and mushrooms in with my scrambled eggs to make them more like the eggs at Smith College. I purchased some "craisins" to put in my hot cereal. I'm even toying with the idea of making up little table-tent signs for "Shakespeare," "Microbiology," and "The Western Wind" to set up all over my house...

Nothing seems to help. I'm very homesick.

The Institute is home.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Christine's Intense Weekend Intensive

Photos are posted at Kodak gallery from my intense weekend intensive with S&Co. Dennis was great. I realized just how much we all really learned this summer. Sharon and I had a very civilized evening at the theatre to see a very mediocre production with a very wonderful Cynthia Nixon and Betsy Hogg (a former student) in a very dated play The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (it's about teaching and fascism, the two are interchangeable, no?). Betsy is next to Cynthia! Jess, Dave, and I had a very uncivilized evening with some union builders and electricians just down the block! I also threw in a photo of my just turned 14 year old Captain of his undefeated soccer team son, Ciaran (he's the tall one).

Happy fall.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Are Viola's synapses firing?

Saw 12th Night last night! It was a wonderful production. The concept was 1950's beach party. Annette and Frankie, only Frankie's a girl.... It was fun, a little weird, but overall very enjoyable. The set was very minimalist though really interesting. It was kind of a surreal beach. Large, smooth, undulating wooden planks ran the width of the stage and were built above the stage up stage and slowly worked their way to the actual stage floor the further they progressed down stage.

There were a few moments that really reminded me of Shakespeare Camp: Even though the actress playing Olivia did a wonderful job, I couldn't help missing Christine's lusty rendition. Orsino had a spooky resemblence to Quinn as did Viola to Ariana. As the play progressed, I became more and more aware of a sphere suspended above the stage that would at times be lit and at other times be dark. It was representative of the moon, but all I could think was, "Are Viola's synapses firing?"

Thinking of you all!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

How I Wish I Had More Of You On Speed Dial!

I might have called all of you this afternoon if I did!

A local theatre company is starting a ClassicsLive touring program. Today, they did a performance of their three touring shows (Midsummer Night's Dream, Antigone, and Beowulf) for local teachers. We're already scheduled to take all our Sophomores to their non-touring production of Julius Caesar next month, so I wanted to see what the new program was about.

For starters, the shows are good. Their Beowulf used shadow puppets and choral speaking--so moving! I can really see it playing beautifully in a small space! They are willing to negotiate their already reasonable performance prices, so on some level, we're in for the tour. I'll find a grant. It will happen.

In the post performance chat, they start talking about the workshops they do as part of the package. For Beowulf, they let the kids play with shadow puppets, for Antigone, it's mask work. As the touring director talked about the Midsummer workshops, things begin to sound familiar. "We let the kids interact physically to the text. We might do some reading of the text around a circle and talk about what emotions come up for the words. We talk about the sonic meaning of these words..."

My head is spinning! Are you my cousin, lady?

During the obligatory post show snack time, this woman introduces herself. She remembers my name from email correspondence, is excited that we're bringing so many kids to JC, blah blah...

"Listen," I say, "I like the approach you're taking with your workshops. I spent a month this summer with Shakespeare and Company and..."

"Oh. My. Gosh!!" She exclaims, "Tina Packer came to the University of Oklahoma and did a workshop when I got my MFA!"

"No way!" I pipe in, "get some wine in me, wrap my head up in a bedsheet, and you can hardly tell us apart!"

No, I didn't say that. I thought about it. Maybe I wish I did. I probably said something about how lifechanging the whole study was for me and that I really was excited to see them working here in my hometown. I gave her my card and told her we would be in touch to use her but that if I could play any part in what they are doing in the schools, I would be thrilled to.

Two lesson here, friends:
  1. Potential friends and great experiences are everywhere in this small world.
  2. If Tina can make it out here, what makes you think you can't?

I am off to put more of you in my speed dial. If something like this happens again, I have to catch one of you somehow!!

Did you need another reason to really let your kids talk and to really listen to them? This story I heard today reinforced check in for me.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Shakespearean Beatles? Huh.


Nonverbal Check-in

I realize I have neglected to post in the last few weeks. I have been wonderfully busy with my new job. I am working with 3rd,4th, and 5th grade. Over 90% of my students are Hmong, many have only been in the US for a few months. I still wanted to use check-in, so I have students use facial expressions and gestures to act out how they are feeling. It is amazing how much can be expressed without words. Check-in has even become a great way to learn new words because as students are acting out their feelings, my few native speakers will name the feeling " tired," "nervous" etc. This week I have noticed that more and more of my Hmong students are starting to connect words to their actions and feelings. It's a start!


My drama class is working on scenes from a varity of Shakespeare's plays for their final project. One group (about 10 students) would like to do a scene with dancing in it. Any suggestions?

Thanks -Mel

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New York, NY

Hello everyone! Sorry that it has been awhile since I have blogged. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of well wishes and check ins since the news broke of the plane crash in Manhattan this afternoon that I felt like I needed to post. Thank you thank you thank you to all who wrote. I feel so loved.

I am fine and everyone that I know is fine. The crash was about 20 blocks south of my apartment. This is significant to me because I was also 20 blocks north of the WTC on September 11. As tragic as this is for the people on board, I believe that there is a real sense of relief covering all of New York right now.

I found out this was going as school aides came into my classroom to check on the fact that they heard "a plane crashed into a building in Manhattan." They whispered it because protocol is don't panic the kids, but of course the kids were on the laptops for my class and of course they were supposed be typing their essays, but were online and saw the headlines.

By going to the local news feeds it was clear right away that this wasn't a terrorist attack, but an accident, but we all still were pretty shaken up. I think it being the 11th and it being a plane, as I'm sure everyone felt, it was just too familiar.

I don't know if it was psychological or if the smoke really had reached my apartment, but when I got home I could smell it. And it reminded me of the smell of September 11. A burning, ashy smell that I never wanted to smell again. I guess that it really will never go away.


Shakespeare for munchkins

I feel like I should try to be less negative, so I'll follow my negative post with a positive one. Think of it as an open-faced complement sandwich.

One of my night classes absolutely rocks. It's five girls, ranging in age from eight to eleven, and they're all awesome. I've got an eight-year-old dynamo playing Pyramus who's funnier than Kevin Kline. She was initially worried about overacting, but when I told her there was no such thing in Shakespeare, she cut loose.

Last night, during Thisbe's final speech over Pyramus's body, Pyramus kept scratching her nose. Thisbe tried ignoring it for a while, then she snapped. "Why do you keep scratching your nose? You're dead!"

Pyramus sat up and shrugged. "Well, I was thinking about how Pyramus mixes stuff up, like when he says he sees a voice. So I thought maybe Pyramus isn't that smart, so I kept scratching my nose. Like, maybe I forgot I was supposed to be dead or something."

Eight years old, and already smarter than all my high school students.

Part Three in an Ongoing Study: Things My Students Say That Make Me Weep For the Future

I needed my students to get into two groups for an activity, and I was tired of having them just number off, so I decided to try a new way to randomly divide them.

Me: If the last digit of your Social Security Number is even, stand up.

Them: We don't know our Social Security Numbers.

Me: Seriously? Okay, if the last digit of your school ID number is even, stand up.

Them: We don't know our school ID numbers.

Me: Okay, how about this. Everyone has a birthday, right? If the last digit of the day, not the month, is even, stand up.

Them: ... What's "even" mean?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Meet my co-worker

Hello everybody. I thought you guys might be interested in meeting one of my former co-workers. We're all very proud of her.


more random famous people

I'm currently on "Outdoor Education" with the eighth graders. The people in the room next door to me are bodyguards. The people at the other end of the building are guardians. Who for? Oh, right, the daughter of the Sultan of Brunei. And that kid with the funny colored jacket that started at our school yesterday? The grandson of King Fahd.

Seriously, this is not normal. Generally we have some celebrities, but these kids are ROYALTY. Weird.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Google Calendar Adds New Dimensions To Loving Co-Dependence!

I have set up a Google Calendar of all the Birthdays that are listed in the last post. You can find it here. Log in with the shakesmith email account (found in the tech sheet Amanda put together) and you can access all the dates and add your own!

The calendar is private (because as we publish more and more thoughts, we get more and more visitors to our site who arrived through odd Google queries). Go and check it out. If you have important dates to tell the group about, feel free to add them here!

Friday, October 06, 2006


My boyfriend's birthday is coming up, and so is mine, and I got to thinking about all of you.


No, no, I'm kidding. I was actually thinking that if everyone tells me their birthdays I'll send you a card.

Mine is November 27.

Scenes for kids

I've been teaching my night classes for three weeks. We've been doing exercises and games, but I think they're ready to move on to scene work. However, I'm having a tough time finding scenes for my students.

The A class has five girls, and the B class has three girls. The A class is more talented, somehow, and I think I'm going to give them Pyramus and Thisbe next week. But I'm stuck on the B class. Do you know of any Shakespeare scenes of a decent length that could reasonably be performed by three girls? Or should I find three duets and have each girl be in two of them?

What about modern scenes to give my students? I looked through some of those "scenes for young actors" books, and they're just awful. It's all The Children's Hour and Peter Pan and other plays with stilted 19th century-type dialogue.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Help me, fellow directors!
We're setting "Much Ado" in Shakespeare's time, which makes for tricky costumes for my students. I'd rather not have them made, so I'm looking for suggestions. Any companies you know that are good for rental? What do you all do for costumes?

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I think we can all agree that check-in has really worked with our students. However, I'd like to know what are some of the ways you have checked in with your students. Check-in seems to work better, with my students at least, if there's some sort of "gimmick." I have used checking in as colors, cars, a weather report, and food.

Any ideas?

(By the way today's check-in was ice cream flavors. My favorite response? Strawberry ice-cream with cinnmon candies :)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

well, it wasn't shakespeare camp, but...

Hello All!
I spent Friday, Saturday, and today at the annual NYSTEA (New York State Theatre Educators Association) conference at NYU. It was really great, and so much of what we learned this summer came rushing back to me in the most wonderful way.
On Friday morning (after an enlightening and hilarious tour of Greenwich Village) I took a workshop on Rasaboxes. I enjoyed it so much that I stayed for Rasaboxes 2 in the afternoon. Anyway, the Rasa is about bypassing the West's tendency to intellectualize everything and accessing emotion directly through physical experience and breath, using Eastern philosophy and vocabulary. The use of Sanskrit terminology for the 8 emotional states of being and the concentration on breathing and physicality resonated very strongly with my yoga practice (it's all connected...I could go on an on). The focus on breath as a medium for emotional communication between performer and audience (aren't we all Eolian Harps after all?) was pretty enlightening. Most significantly, though, this showed me a completely new way for students to discuss, access, and control their emotions through multiple-intelligences-friendly student-centered exploration. Using the Sanskrit terms, which were a little difficult to grasp at first, was genius to me because it completely prevents participants from judging the emotion they are experiencing by the culturally ingrained standards of good and bad.
I was excited to share this with you all because, as you probably recall, I am not an indiscriminately zealous participant in theatre exercises. Skeptical as I may be at times, the experience I had using the Rasaboxes was so intense and genuine. I actually found it really empowering, too, and am so excited about bringing that to my students as well. I will definitely be using them in my class. I will post more info if anyone is interested, and I might even get in touch with the clinician to see if she can send some links to her work or a workshop schedule that I can post (she travels all over--or, if she's in NY again, you could come stay with me!!).

I hope you are all well--namaste :)