Today I’m blogging about someone else’s book! Surprised, huh? Lately, I’ve been considering creating another blog specifically about books focused on theatre and writing reviews about them. Should I do so? Would that help anyone? We’ll start with this one.
A Pinterest Friend
This review began because of a pin on Pinterest. Wouldn’t you know it? I saw this fellow’s pin and thought it would be helpful to me and my writing. Brendan, the author, and I emailed each other several times since that pinning. I was not asked to write a review. I offered it to Brendan. Although I don’t walk around calling myself an expert on youth theatre (because that sounds so pretentious to me–I’m just a hard working, really old teacher-haha), I can confidently say that I am well versed in drama education and youth theatre in general. And besides…more press for someone’s book can’t hurt, right?
Playing with Plays
Playing with Plays is the publisher of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids. This great little book is packed with three versions of Shakespeare’s beloved play. Each version of the play is around ten minutes in length. More importantly for a teacher, it has three different cast sizes! Oh my, that is very useful!
As a drama teacher of over thirty-eight years, I continuously sought quality resources for my students. Each year, I perused publishers’ books for new approaches to classic plays. Playing with Plays has figured out what is needed for teachers like me– fresh approaches to teaching drama, etc. Several times I have taught with the book, Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare which is a bit misleading. The stories are those of Shakespeare’s plays not some other stories that Shakespeare authored. I think Playing with Plays is a better introduction to the plots for students and young readers.
Brendan calls his versions “Melodramatic Modifications to Shakespeare’s Plays”. I appreciate that description and think that’s a fair depiction of these playlets. Brendan isn’t trying to be Shakespeare, but has created clever versions of the Bard’s play that is palatable to all students of various ages and abilities. Oh, I like that too!
I appreciate that Brendan has high-lighted the particular lines from the actual play. For a child or beginning drama student or Language Arts student, this is tremendously helpful– a reader can clearly discern which lines Shakespeare wrote and which Brendan penned. Yeay! Also, a teacher could lift those lines very easily and use them in a class discussion. Anything to help our teachers; that’s what I say.
Integrity of the Story
I have read A LOT of plays, produced, directed and acted in many plays and musicals. I’m a purist. I don’t appreciate classic literature to be bastardized. I dislike parodies or “skits” of fairy tales, beloved plays or musicals. As an artist, I know it is difficult enough to get butts in seats and to encourage audiences to appreciate the work, as is. Sometimes all people know is “that really funny middle school play version of Red Riding Hood.” Can you imagine? Ugh. I appreciate that Brendan hasn’t done that with Midsummer Night’s Dream, but he has plucked the most important pieces of the plot.
Playing with Plays created other Shakespeare plays: Rome and Juliet, Macbeth (my person favorite0, Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Much Ado About Nothing and several more. You can purchase Playing with Plays scripts in bookstore and on line at PlayingwithPlays.com.
If you have a chance, check out his website, too. There is a lot of helpful information for anyone teaching Shakespeare. I bet you find something there you can use in your next lesson. That can’t be said of every educational website.
So, check out Playing with Plays. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Shakespeare and Bomb Diggity
Here’s the story of Shakespeare and Bomb Diggity. Recently, one of my cast members in Lil Mermaid, which I was directing at the time exclaimed “Bomb diggity!” over something she thought was really neat. I asked her what “Bomb diggity” meant. She said, “Oh you know, it is way cool, Mrs. B. Like you!”
I don’t know if I’m way cool, but I think William Shakespeare’s work is “way cool”. Some times I forget about people I admire. Out of nowhere, something will remind me and I am struck all over again with that person’s bomb diggity-ness. Well, anyway did you know that he created phrases that we use all the time? I mean it; all the time. Here are some of Shakespeare’s phrases which we use that come directly from the old Shakes:
- Green eyed monster
- A fool’s paradise
- A sorry sight
- All of a sudden (That’s a new one to me!)
- As dead as a doornail
- Fancy free
- Fight fire with fire (Get out! I didn’t know this was his, did you?)
- In a pickle
- Love is blind
- Night owl
Shakespeare and Bomb Diggity
In my book, Meanie Bea’ (I am really wanting you to read my book someday in the near future. Can you tell?), one of the main characters adores Shakespeare. She is only in eighth grade, but she has read all of his plays and can recite at whim many passages from them. Now, when I was about her age, the best I could do was memorize the poem “Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood” by Robert Frost. And that was required of me by my English teacher!
I wasn’t introduced to Shakespeare’s plays until high school and that was only “Romeo and Juliet”. I would have never used the phrase, “Bomb Diggity” that’s for sure! But some kids nowadays are hugely sophisticated in that respect. I teach an introduction to Shakespeare class to middle school students and I am certain that many of them know the material better than I do. They are just too nice to say so. You would think that if I am such a fan of Shakespeare, I would be like my students and able to expound upon his plots. Nah. I can’t even remember what I had for lunch yesterday. My brain doesn’t work that way.
Shakespeare and Bomb Diggity
But Michiko’s brain does and that is one of the reasons other students veer away from her. She is very unusual in a sort of I- am-in-my-own-world way that other students can’t understand. She is out spoken, impetuous, mercurial, passionate, intense and energetic. At first glance, you might think she was completely opposite of Beatrice. Well, she is. But she isn’t opposite of Beatrice’s alter ago, Meanie Bea’. I think that’s why she gravitates toward Beatrice–she sees herself in her.
We all know how a friendship like that can end up–not too good, right? A counselor friend of mine told me to make sure, “You find friends who up lift you and inspire you to be a better person.” Wow. That’s an awesome thought. I think Beatrice and Michiko do that for each other by the end of the book.
But like I said, you will just have to find out for yourself when you read it.
Next time (and I promise my posts won’t be so far apart), we’ll talk about parenting. Whoa….that’s a great subject! I bet we have a lot of things in common concerning parents. See you then.
If you are interested, I provide drama education lessons and units on teacherspayteachers.com. I have a series of Shakespeare card games which might interest you.
In my ‘Tween book, Bumbling Bea, I wanted to explore “family-isms”. Beatrice’s younger and only brother loves to name family dinners after flags. No joke! Edmund LOVES flags. I didn’t even know there were people who studied flags. I mean they are pretty cool and all that, but study flags for a living?
Boy, was I wrong! People who study the history, symbols and uses for flags are called vexiollogists. (I know, I had never heard of that, either). And…people who love flags just for the sheer fun of it are vexillophiles. (How do you pronounce that? Is the “x” silent or something?) That would be Edmund. Although Edmund is a fictional character, I bet he would own several tee shirts with flags printed on them.
Knowing Edmund’s fervor for flags and that he is a ten year old boy (ten year old boys don’t care too much about how many times in a row they wear their favorites shirt), the shirts would be thread bare, frayed on the sleeves and really faded. That is a boy’s dream.
But back to flag dinners. Edmund names family dinners after flags because he thinks it’s funny and it sort of distracts him and Beatrice from whatever food their mother prepares. Beatrice’s mom is a great lady, but not much of a cook. On top of that, she is a vegan which the kids haven’t fully accepted. Beatrice and Edmund are subjected to strange meals all the time.
My mom used to make strange meals, too. I remember my mother feeding us black eye peas (yuck), brussel sprouts–the frozen kind (double yuck) , baked fish, beets and corn. In Edmund’s world, that’s a black/white/red /yellow/green flag or the flag of Zimbabwe. Now isn’t saying, “It’s a Zimbabwe dinner” more fun than listing the food? I think so, too.
The phrase “flag dinner” is what I call a “family-ism”. You know, those are phrase or words your family uses for things. For instance, some families have their own word for the paper covered wire ties that come with black garbage bags. You use them to tie up the bag? We call them “twistie ties”. What do you call yours?
There are lots of them. My family calls a poor theatrical production a “knee squeezer”. A knee squeezer is a performance of a musical or play that isn’t very good. We coined the phrase many years ago when my daughter and I were attending a play that was really weak. It was a small theater and many people sitting around us knew us well. We knew we couldn’t leave in the middle of the performance because everyone would see us cut out early, so we began squeezing each other’s knees when the play was dragging or someone would overact. You get the idea. So, now whenever we see a movie, play or musical that we don’t care for, we just say, “Boy, what a knee squeezer” and everyone understands.
How about you? Here are some other family-isms. Let’s see if you can figure out what they mean:
- Eraser noogies
- It’s soaking
- Farewell party
- No smokin’ on the tram
- Don’t come back here
Let’s talk about Shakespeare next time. He’s Michiko’s favorite playwright.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or BumblingBea.com
Okay, that statement isn’t really true. The beloved Kabukiza Theater has re-opened after a huge renovation but Michiko didn’t really attend. She is a fictional character from my book, Bumbling Bea’. However, if she could, Michiko would be there along with the thousands of other lovers of Kabuki Theater. I bet she would be first in line!
I don’t know if you know this, but Kabuki Theater is a really old style of theater in Japan. It dates back to 1600s.
In the beginning, women played the roles. It was very popular (kind of like Shakespeare and his plays) and people of all walks of life attended. But many of the women who performed in the Kabuki were…shall we say, “ladies of the night” and the government thought that it was inappropriate for them to be such a public sensation.
The men took over the roles and that’s how it has been performed since then. Figures…
The stories dramatized through Kabuki were very elaborate (like fairy tales or myths) and included male and female characters. The men portrayed everything from dragons to women’s roles. You should see them! They are amazing.
So this “Michiko girl” as Beatrice first calls her– what’s the deal with her? Whenever Michiko is in a play, she tries to put Kabuki theater into the show. You might say she is obsessed with it! Why is she so crazy about it? Michiko wants to keep the family business alive.
Michiko’s uncle is a celebrated Onegata actor in the Kabuki. Traditionally, when someone performs Kabuki Theater they have inherited their part from a family member. Usually, Kabuki is passed from one family generation to the next. Except in Michiko’s family, there is no male in which to pass the art form. (It is at this point that Michiko would stand up and say, “I will play the part! I want to be a Kabuki actor!”)
Things are a little more complicated than that, however. Michiko and her mother argue a lot in the book. It isn’t for the usual reasons, though (like staying up late on a school night or going to the mall with friends).
They argue about BIG things. Michiko’s mother thinks performing in theater is frivolous and a waste of Michiko’s time. She wants Michiko to study more intellectual pursuits, like music and science. Michiko has two challenges: wanting to perform in a theater that doesn’t include women and trying to follow her own dreams and not her mother’s.
Before you think you know all about my book, I must inform you: Bumbling Bea isn’t just about Kabuki Theater. In fact, it is only one part of my book. Next I’ll tell you about Flag Dinners. Yes, you read that right. 🙂