Category Archives: Parenting

How Drama Can Help Children With Their Reading.

Charles Dickens party.

We used Drama to get Will to read and now we are using to try to encourage other kids to read, act, film and write.

 

An often overlooked subject is Drama and yet it is one of the most valuable tools in giving children the desire to read for themselves.  Sometimes, when we think of drama, we think it is something which children go out to and learn from other people with stages, costumes and lighting.  Well, although I am a huge supporter of drama schools, I want to point out that you can use drama at home too at little cost and energy even before you start thinking of sending your child to drama classes.

After three years at school, my son became a reluctant reader which was a huge shock to me as he had grown up in a home full of books and had been read to constantly.  Books have been a huge part of my life and have given me a sense of joy; they have also helped me through my darkest hours and for my son not to have this advantage seemed like a dreadful waste to me.

Once children have been put off reading, it can be difficult to get that desire back – in fact, the more you try, the more they seem to back away from it.  One of the most useful tools you can use in a situation like that is a children’s play which is funny and has a subject which the child is interested in.  When Will was seven, he loved history, he still does, so I bought a copy of a play called “Claudius’s Head” which I was going to provide a link for but I cannot find it on the internet now, strangely enough.  We read the parts out with a bit of acting and Will was more than happy to join in, I think it was because the focus was no longer on him reading.

I also used this idea on other children when they came over to play to see what happened.  The children who struggled with reading and were therefore put off reading, enjoyed it because there was so much laughter at the play and the acting.  In essence, they didn’t seem to notice they were reading.

I found that it is not even necessary to do the acting, you can sit with your child reading the play and it is totally different from them reading to you or vice versa.  It is a shared activity; therefore it is more like playing.  It offers the child a sense of being equal and that it the key to the child being more relaxed.  When they are reading to you, it can feel as if they are being tested, no matter how relaxing the atmosphere.  When you are reading to them, you are in charge and they feel as if they have to sit and listen.  I am not saying that there is anything wrong with reading to your child or them reading to you, in fact, I shout the benefits loud and clear and these times can be some of your most precious memories.  However, when a child has been put off reading, it becomes an extremely sensitive issue and therefore the two of you being equal often helps to redress it.

Children who have been put off reading, have often been made to feel stupid whilst learning to read.  Every time they have to read, the dreadful memories come hurling back at them.  It becomes a vicious circle, the child feels at a disadvantage and the adult’s desperation can often be sensed by the child and make them feel worse about reading.  When you read a play together, everything changes in the child/adult balance because you become other people in the parts that you play.  This often eases the tension which a child who is sensitive about reading feels.  When we fuse becoming other people with reading a dialogue instead of narrative, the child is no longer in such a sensitive position and can possibly forget the feeling associated with reading.

Using these methods worked with Will who had been put off reading whilst learning to read at school.  I have to stress that there is a difference between reluctant readers who have been put off reading this way and children who suffer from Dyslexia.  With reluctant readers it is usually an emotional cause, whereas with Dyslexic children it is that their brain can often display the text differently to them than it is.  Therefore, Dyslexic children might need specialist help and definitely need as much understanding and attention as possible.

Will thrived using drama to get him over his reluctance to read.  From there, I used other plays like “Jennings and The Roman Remains” (a radio play) and gradually Will lost the emotions associated with reading and became the avid reader he is today.  Reading plays with Will, when he had been a reluctant reader, is one of the reasons I wrote “Frankenstein’s Revenge – a play full of shifty manoeuvres and time travel”.   I am truly grateful that Will now loves reading and if anything I write or do goes on to help other children to become enthusiastic readers then the cycle will have been completed.

Frankenstein's Revenge

Frankenstein‘s Revenge – a play full of shifty manoeuvres and time travel.

Have you had a reluctant reader in your family?  Or maybe you were a reluctant reader yourself and have strong memories.  On the other hand, you might have come across a wonderful way to get children interested in reading.  I have a strong interest in children and reading so please feel free to comment on your own personal experiences.  I would love to share them with you.

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A Summer’s Night Shakespearean Dream.

Dogberry painted by Marks

Do events ever happen to you and you feel as if you’ve dreamed it?  Well, that happened to me the other night.  Will (the fourteen year old) and I are doing an exploration of Shakespeare and comedy this summer.  Firstly, we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” to compare and contrast them.  We have watched David Tennant and Catherine Tate at the Wyndham Theatre  ( Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare) and also watched Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh’s film version. (Shakespeare – Sexy Or Strangely Funny?)  The other night we went to see an outdoor professional production – or so we thought before we went.

Beatrice

Over the years, I have been to many glorious outdoor theatre productions.  I thought I was going to something similar.  At this point I must say that I think there are times when I am a bit dense.  In the past, all the ones I have been to have been in the grounds of stately homes.  This one was in the grounds of a school but me being me; I simply thought that it was a way of getting people to watch more  theatre.

I had bought my tickets over the internet not chancing buying at the gate, in case of large crowds and a sell out.  My suspicion was aroused when I was given the shooting arrow eyeball look for buying tickets over the internet.  Four ladies, positioned like sentries, guarded the table that held the cash box.  There was a certain amount of disdain in the chief’s voice as she said “so you’ve been on the internet for your tickets.”  All their eyes were on us and I began to feel like a pervert to say the least for buying my tickets in that manner.

Benedick played by Garrick

Once we were inside and passed the bouncers, I was beginning to see what we had actually come to.  We were on a school playing field, the stage was a small platform which resembled a sheep pen but could have been set up for a hanging gallows and there were about sixty people sitting around it eating from their Tupperware boxes.  We set up our chairs and Will mentioned that this really was like going to a performance from the past.

Claudio accuses Hero of being unfaithful to him at their wedding.

I bought a programme from one of the actors and Will and I settled down to look at it.  Instantly, we were approached by a white haired, extremely well spoken lady.  She asked me if she might look at my programme.  So I handed it to her.  She then says “You don’t mind if I go off with it, do you?”  Will and I stared open mouthed as she sauntered off to her seat and started reading our programme.

Ellen Terry’s Beatrice will never be forgotten.

In front of us was an elderly man and his wife tucking into their picnic.  A hairy, round man in an Hawaiian shirt approached the elderly couple.  “George, you need to go up there and thank the town council, the Lions and the Ladies Guild.  Oh and tell them where the toilets are.”  George put his sandwich quickly into his Tupperware box and shouted “What?”  Hawaiian shirt then replied, “You’re the chairman – you have to go up and make a speech.”  George shouted “What do I have to say?”  After a lot of whating and  whoing – it was then suggested that George wrote his speech down.  At this point, I was beginning to wonder if that was part of the entertainment.  George frantically scribbled on his scrap of paper and Hawaiian shirt kept repeating town council, The Lions and toilets.

The actors announced that the play was about to start and Hawaiian shirt bustled back to his seat.  George looked flummoxed, he half stood up, hesitated and then landed heavily back into his seat.  I wondered if his moment of glory had passed.  White haired lady rushed over and handed me back my programme.

This version of the play was set in World War II with Beatrice and Hero as land girls and Dogberry and Verges as the Home Watch.  Incidentally, Beatrice and Hero doubled up as Dogberry and Verges with strong Welsh accents.  The play started and the audience had to sing “We’ll Meet Again.”  Well actually, “Much Ado About Nothing” didn’t start, it was a sub play which was about Land Girls waiting for Harold to come home from the war.  The sub play was performed intermittently in “Much Ado About Nothing” to give the actors time to change as there was a lot of doubling up going on.  It was a bit like having advertisements whilst watching the television.

Dogberry and Verges.

“Much Ado About Nothing” began and my heart sank as I watched Beatrice and Benedick in their movements.  For those who don’t know, to get a play ready for performance, the movements of the actors have to be worked out.  This is called “blocking”.  There was an obvious choreographed blocking sequence which was meant to look comical but it simply wasn’t rehearsed enough and it looked like a clumsy rehearsal.  Other times, actors were standing like spare parts waiting for their turn to speak.  Beatrice is one of my favourite Shakespearean characters but this one thought she was playing a principal boy in a pantomime.  All the way through the play, I expected her to heartily slap her thigh.

The interval arrived and the white haired lady rushed up to my seat and asked “You don’t mind if I take your programme again, do you?” and off she went with it.  This time she was standing behind the audience talking to another elderly lady and wafting my programme about proprietorially.

George rushed for the stage and very politely asked the audience not to use the trees or the grass as there were toilets in the school.  I think that was meant to be a joke.

In the past, I had always sought out very good productions for us to watch.  However, to help Will’s critical skills, I had told him that we will be going to all sorts of productions as I feel that it is as helpful to see bad productions as it is good ones.  I always feel it is helpful for children to go to live theatre if it is at all possible.  They have to study plays at school and it is a whole lot easier to write critical essays about drama if the teenager has been to quite a few performances to make it real for them.

Will’s eyes were wide during the performance.  He is very serious about both Shakespeare and acting.  His first words when we came out were “I thought we were going to a professional performance.”  It wasn’t irony; he thought that I had forgotten to tell him that we were going to an amateur performance.  He was happy to be there because he said that he had learned something very important.  He is appearing in a comedy on Saturday night and had been worrying about his comic timing.  He could see how off the actors were in their timing and that made him realise that he doesn’t need to worry about his comic timing because he obviously understands it.

Beatrice and Benedick from yesteryear.

The play did not get any better in the second half but I am glad I went.  There was a certain charm to sitting in the field watching the actors in the play and the people in the audience.  I never did discover what George was chairman of, but to be honest, none of it seemed real – it was more like a dream.  Maybe I went to see the wrong play.

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Filed under Education, For Teens, Inspiration and Us, Literary Criticism, Parenting, Shakespeare Diary

Shakespeare, Sexy Or Strangely Funny?

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

 

Shakespeare – Sexy or Strangely Funny?

 

This summer Will (the teenager) and I are exploring Shakespeare and comedy.  Initially, we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” to discover how widely interpreted the comedy can be by the director and actors.  Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed not read.   The audiences were  the ordinary folks of the day, mostly.  I often think that objective has been lost.  I think all too often now, Shakespeare’s plays, for many people, are thought of as something which the kids do at school. Unfortunately, if we don’t demonstrate to teenagers and children that this is not so, that they are to be performed and watched with pleasure, even if we don’t have to, this notion will be perpetual.  (For those of you who are not fans of Shakespeare, I am not only referring to his plays, I also include plays by Marlowe,  Johnson, Aphra Behn and all the other wonderful playwrights from around the world of yesteryear.  It is our heritage.)

 

The first viewing was of a filmed version of a performance at the Wyndham Theatre starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.  This version was hilariously funny using visual action to elevate the humour in the text.  For more on that read “Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare – David Tennant and Catherine Tate”, under “Shakespeare Diary on this site.

 

The second version is the film starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.  This is made as a film in that the setting is an integral part of the whole performance.  Branagh’s version is mainly a love story as opposed to the one starring Tennant which is mainly a comedy.  Comedy in Branagh’s version is kept to Dogberry and Verges – the constable in charge of the watch and his deputy.  It is in keeping with much of Shakespearean comedythat the laughs come from the lower classes.  Well, that is how it is supposed to work out.Cover of "Much Ado About Nothing (1993) (...

 

I have seen Branagh’s version four times before I watched it with Will.  It is set in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany, Italy.  We see a large Tuscan home surrounded by lush gardens.  Girls in long, white, floating dresses languish around the garden and there is Tudor music playing accompanied by the sound of Hey Nonny Nonny.  The setting is a typical pastoral idyll.  It is a spectacle – there can be no other word for it.  Next, the men arrive.  We see young, handsome soldiers all in smart uniforms arriving in a perfect line on their horses.  They have got long boots on with tight trousers and buttoned jackets.  The whole scene is one of distinction between the sexes.  The ladies are at home waiting for the men to return and looking soft, gentle and dreamy.  The men ride in and look masculine and sexy.  Before I continue, I have to say that I have never been a floating, feminine, dreamy sort of girl.  My grandfather taught me to get a sneaky left hook in at the age of five and I can write feminist essays which will make the eyes run.  However, I have always thought that those men riding on their horses looked deliciously sexy and have always been transported by the whole scene.

I relished being transported to 16th century Tuscany and waited eagerly for the men to arrive on their horses.  They arrived, dismounted and marched up to the house in a line.  Will hooted with laughter.  He stood up and puts his hands on his hips imitating them.  He said “we are devilishly manly with our tight trousers and long boots.”   I wanted to shove the Crunchie I was eating up his left nostril.  I could see exactly what he meant but didn’t really want to.

 

His main criticism however, was the way Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro was depicted.  (Don John is the villain behind the plot when Hero is set up to look as though she is unfaithful to Claudio before their wedding.)  Will, rightly felt that the depiction was too much of a stereotypical villain to be believed.  We had a strike of lightening at one point before he entered a room.  Will was waiting for his villainess laugh – it came, although it wasn’t too cackling.  He felt as if the Don John in the performance at the Wyndham theatre was far superior.  He was slightly camp and not too obvious.  Villains of that nature work far better as they are far more likely to fool us.

DOHN JOHN

DOHN JOHN (Photo credit: URBAN ARTefakte)

If any readers of this have got teenagers, I would recommend that you try doing this yourself as an experiment.  It doesn’t have to be this particular play – it could be any.  Get your teenager to watch two or three different versions.  You will be amazed at how it helps their critical skills.  It is far easier to form a critical opinion of something if you have something else to compare it with.

 

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Six Great Reasons To Do Family History With Kids.

I love family history, I get to be the detective, I couldn’t be in reality.  I have been doing it with my son since he was about nine.  He is now fourteen and does it without me as he is crazy about history and has got a deep interest in particular families he has discovered we are descended from.  This isn’t a post about how to do family history – there are many great books and articles out there to help.  This is a post which explains a few of the reasons why it is good to share it with our children.

My great grandmother, Alice Escritt.

History becomes a reality.  When our children do history at school, it is always other people’s history.  It might be about monarchy, political leaders or wars.  It is nearly always about the folks who are known by many but actually connected to a few.  When anything is covered about the ordinary folks it can seem as bland as my cooking.  Growing up in Lancashire, we covered the cotton industry in history at school.  I remember wishing aliens would come and cause chaos as Mr Hall droned on about the warp and the weft.  Oh how that man knew how to kill any interest in The Industrial Revolution –  that in itself was a talent.  However, much as I would love to indulge myself in remembering Mr Hall’s secret educational weapons, I won’t.  When we look at our ancestor’s lives during these periods, we truly get a sense of reality, especially in periods which cover the censuses.  For instance, finding out that your great grandmother shared one room with ten other people and had to go into the street to get drinking water, really makes us think about the reality and hardships of their lives.  Family history brings history to life for children because it is about folks they are directly connected to, people whom they share DNA with.  It doesn’t get more personal than that.

Family History Mormons

Family History Mormons (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Research skills.  Whilst having lunch with a teacher friend of mine, we decided that one of the most important skills a child can learn is to be able to research well.  Family history is a  productive way of doing this.  Children love to discover something about their ancestors and then grandly announce it to their parents.  When my son discovered that he had a 10X great grandmother called Frances Poo, he adored breaking the news.  Of course, I thought he was joking and had to check it.  He was right, of course.  The point is that family history makes children feel like real live detectives.  The more they find, the deeper they wish to go.  It is amazing how much this aids their research skills whilst having fun.

Francis Poo

England, Marriages, 1538–1973

marriage: 24 Jan 1598 Pocklington, York, England
spouse: William Fallowfyeld

Bonding process.  In this day and age, it is all too easy for families to be in the same house and yet not really be connecting with each other.  A lot of the time, families are all doing their own thing, even watching television programmes is done in separate rooms these days.  This is where family history really helps us bond with our children.  There is something really powerful about the moment your child and yourself discover something fantastic or heart breaking about a shared relative.  It is potent and strange and something which they could not get with friends, neighbours or anyone except the family.  When I first discovered that a great grandfather of mine had spent the last twenty years of his life in a lunatic asylum –I was totally shocked.  I was new to family history and it was the first of many sad or brilliant shocks which were to come.  The only people I could share it with, initially, were my son and my mother – both of whom were from the same ancestor.

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Days Out.  Sometimes, it is hard to think of something new to do with our kids or even somewhere different to go.  We often seem to do the same activities and visit the same places.  We’ve had some great days out though visiting the places where our ancestors lived.  It can be good fun to take photos of the children in front of the church where their ancestors got married two hundred years earlier or even just discovering a market town which your ancestors lived in but you haven’t been to before.  I found a fabulous pair of Punch and Judy doorstops for £5 in an antique shop whilst visiting one of the market towns my ancestors once lived. in  Although saying that, it can sometimes backfire.  We visited some record offices in Ashton Under Lyne in Lancashire – that was fine.  We then planned to find an address where some of our ancestors had lived in the early 1800s.  It had turned into a monstrously busy road with huge trucks zooming up and down it. It made me totally stressed so I really do not know what my 4X great grandfather and grandmother would have made of it if they had travelled forward in time.

 

Meeting Wonderful New Relatives.  We all have an amazing number of ancestors, so logically that means we are related to an amazing number of people whom we have never met.  We were lucky enough to be found by a wonderful Australian lady whose great grandmother was sister to my great grandmother.  When she came to England, she brought her husband and children to meet us and we all had a rare old knees up together.  My son found lovely new cousins whom he bonded with immediately.  It makes family history become real for children when they get to meet the descendants of people who are simply names and numbers on family trees.

Lancashire

Lancashire (Photo credit: Neil T)

 

Logic and Maths. When children do family history, they have to do lots of mathematical calculations and estimates.  It isn’t the hardest maths in the world but it means lots of practise with basic maths in a productive way instead of filling in one maths worksheet after another.  In the same way, they have to work in a logical manner.  Finding out about our ancestors means working methodically backwards and making sure all the facts fit.  We cannot start in the middle, we have to be systematic and it becomes a habit.  Children who take part in family history projects become adept at careful note-taking and fact checking.  They have to do the maths to make sure that what they have discovered is both logical and correct.

Happy hunting!

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Inspiration and Us. Enid Blyton is to Blame!

Enid Blyton helped make me the person that I am today so much so that my son’s middle name is Blyton.  Before anyone suggests throttling this author, who is no longer with us, for all the pain of Loony Literature which is thrust upon you – let me explain what I mean.

I love detective stories, they comfort me when I am depressed, ill or simply exhausted – that makes me sound like a bundle of fun, I know  – but I think you get what I mean.  I would go so far as to say that detective stories are my adult comfort blanket.  I can see I am digging myself further in here – chocolate, ice-cream, a glass of wine or even loud music are the usual comforters – stories about murder? Never!  It is all down to Enid Blyton.

The first story in the series.

The first ever detective stories that I stumbled upon were Enid Blyton’s Five Findouter Mystery series.  I am surprised that although most people have heard of the Famous Five and The Secret Seven, a lot of folks have not come across The Five Findouters Mystery series.

There was one aspect of these books which made them different from all the other books I read as a child and that was the character of Fatty – Frederick Algernon Trotteville.   Fatty’s life intrigued me.  It was how I wanted my eight or nine year old life to be.  He had a shed which he used as a headquarters and in it, he had disguises galore.  Fatty would use his disguises to fool villains and solve crimes.  I was so taken with Fatty that I started rifling my mother’s clothes and anyone else’s I could get my hands on.  I distinctly remember dressing up as a Russian spy and talking in a Russian accent – well, it was my idea of what a Russian spy was like in the late 1960s.  The point is that I still have dressing up trunks, masks and long gloves – the enjoyment has never left me.  When I have parties, they are always costumed and sometimes people are given different persona’s.  The character of Fatty is still sitting on my back, watching and motivating me.

Fatty in disguise as an old gypsy woman.

About six years ago, I stumbled across Enid Blyton’s eldest daughter, Gillian Baverstock purely by chance at a literary festival.  Unfortunately, I missed her event, however, I told her how much her mother’s books had meant to me and the lovely lady talked at length about her childhood with her mother.  It was heavenly.  Sadly, she died shortly afterwards.

Enid with her daughters, Gillian and Imogen.

Of late, we have had a television drama about Enid Blyton which was not exactly a rosy portrait of her as a mother and we have heard her books being slammed for not being politically correct.  I would like to say that her daughter, Gillian spoke with lovely childhood memories of her.  Furthermore, we live in different times from when the books were written, I am not condoning anything which is not politically correct – I believe in absolute equality and respect for everyone.  However, I think that if we try to remove all trace of past deviancy with language, we remove the memory of how it should not be – that, I think is dangerous.

Enid Blyton is also guilty of inspiring me to write.  The Findouter Mystery series has stayed with me all these years.  I think that as I entered my teenage years I realised that in reality I was not going to be a freelance detective who solved crimes whilst in disguise.  Subsequently, it went on the back burner until a couple of years ago when I was inspired by my son to create Will Blyton – The Alternative Detective.  It’s not the perfect solution to my yearning to be Fatty but I can be him in my mind – sort of.

Will Blyton having a detecting moment.

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Hurrah For ‘The Hunger Games’!

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

Most of us have seen the huge success of The Hunger Games, first the books and then the film.  We have read reviews, heard talk of the volumes of sales and realised what a huge success it has been in financial terms.  That is not what it is getting my cheers for though.  Let me explain.

Yesterday, I went to get my hair cut.  The young man who cuts my hair is twenty one and is a wonderful, young man.  He told me about two months ago that he doesn’t read books.  I have to add that the young man in question is a young man with vision.  He works part time in a salon whilst he is studying for a degree in business studies.  So the reason he doesn’t read is not because he’s lazy or not bright.  He doesn’t read books because after a few pages, his mind wanders and he puts the book down for another time.  In essence, it takes him a few months to get through a book and he’s simply got fed up and decided that reading for pleasure is not for him.  Basically, he just hadn’t found the type of books which transport him into book world.

We were discussing how Doctor Who has a cult following and the young man told me that he had also followed a cult, or sort of.  My heart sank; I wondered what was coming next.  He then went on to tell me that he had been to see the film The Hunger Games and was totally besotted with it.  So much so, that he had instantly gone out and bought Catching Fire (book two) and Mockingjay (book three)  He had then read Catching Fire in one sitting.  He said that he was not sure whether it was for kids or not but he was totally into it.  I explained the YA category to him.  I then swooped in and told him to get on the internet and type in this category to get other YA writers.  I also explained how he could order books from all over the county and have them delivered to his library.  He could actually try them out to find out which other YA writers he might like.

So The Hunger Games has reached rural England and persuaded a twenty one year old non-reader to become a reader.  This is what it is all about.  Therefore, all YA writers – this is a call to arms – GET WRITING – no excuses about lack of confidence or anything else – this is a question of duty.  When you don’t feel like writing, in fact, you would rather clean your lavatory than write, think of the boy in rural England and all the others in the world like him – I think you get the message.

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Why It Is Good To Perform Shakespeare As Terribly As Possible!

A circa 1884 poster for William Shakespeare's ...

A circa 1884 poster for William Shakespeare's Richard III, starring Thos. W. Keene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you decide you have never heard as much rubbish in your life – lend me your ear and I will explain.  I am positive that children can really enjoy Shakespeare if they are primed properly for it before they are thrown head first into the text in their teens.  Acting out monologues can be a useful starting point.  However, to get our wisdom across we have to have laughter and lots of it.  If we tell children they have to do it badly, they lose all their fear – they cannot get it wrong.  As confidence affects every decision we make, trying to be good at something as odd as Shakespeare when you are ten means that you want to disappear.  When you are told you have to be as terrible as possible at it, it doesn’t matter if your peers laugh at you – they is what they are supposed to do.  The bigger the laughs, the more successful you are.

Okay, so that deals with the confidence factor, now we can move onto actually teaching them something about the monologue and how it is meant to be performed.  I have added a Loony Literature video here to demonstrate what I am talking about.  The main actor is fourteen years old and is auditioning for Richard III.  The young actor in question is extremely serious about acting and can do a very convincing Richard III.  So much so, that when he performed the same monologue for a LAMDA exam, he got a distinction.  However, do you think he enjoyed filming this?  Indeed he did, he was in his element and he’s fourteen.  Younger children, therefore, will positively love being told to do something badly.

You can use the video to demonstrate how utterly badly it can be done.  Ask your child or group what is wrong with the way Horace Gaup is standing and delivering the text.  In fact, you can be sure that they will want to have a go too after seeing that!   If the children are particularly enjoying themselves, you could film it.  Playing it back would cause more hilarity and enhance discussion greatly.

Once the terrible deed has been done and the young thespians have done their worst, you can talk about the way they moved and held themselves.  We can ask them what they think is wrong with it.  How could they do it better?

We can talk about the manner of the delivery – would it be better if it was louder, quieter, slower or speeded up.  Why would that sound better?

We can talk about what the text means and what is the best way to say it – for instance when Richard III is saying that he is so deformed dogs bark at him – what sort of voice would he say that in?  He would he be feeling whilst saying those words?

I hope this is helpful,l but above all I hope that you have as much fun as we had whilst making the video.  Happy acting.

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Inspiration and Us – Childhood Books – Shakespeare’s Stories.

 

Touchstone the Jester from “As You Like It.

Inspiration and us – that’s the name of a new category for the blog.  The reason I am calling it inspiration and us, instead of inspiration and me is because I want you to think about how our lives and our children’s lives inspire us.  I would also be extremely grateful to hear of your inspirational experiences.

 

As a child, I had many books which I loved but as this is about what inspires us, I shall be mentioning the main sources of inspiration.  One of my favourite books was one which was passed onto me.  I regret to say that I have no idea where it came from.  It was a big book which had many stories in it.  My favourites were some of the stories from Shakespeare’s plays.  They were the plays written in story form with some illustrations.  I read them over and over.  One which sticks in my mind is As You Like It.   It was pure escapism.  The idea of people running away from their everyday lives and living in a forest, appealed to me greatly.  As a child, I loved the idea of dressing up and being in disguise.  Subsequently, when Rosalind dressed up as a boy and pretended to be Ganymede, I was in the story with them.  This is a story which explores sibling rivalry, romance, has a wrestling match and a court jester named Touchstone.  I am proof that the story appeals to children.  If the play had been thrown at me at the age of nine, I would have been put off by its beautiful, poetic language.  However, I was lucky enough to have the plays as stories first and so Shakespeare‘s work was adored by me even before I had read a play or a sonnet.

 

illustration of William Shakespeare reciting h...

illustration of William Shakespeare reciting his play Hamlet to his family. His wife, Anne Hathaway, is sitting in the chair on the right; his son Hamnet is behind him on the left; his two daughters Susanna and Judith are on the right and left of him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

So how has this childhood book inspired me?  First of all, I think the greatest proof is that my son is called Will after Shakespeare.  Incidentally, one of his main ambitions is to play Hamlet at the Globe Theatre.  He has never had Literature forced fed to him.  I was worried that I would do that so I have always been careful and introduced it as the fun, mad and exciting subject that it is.

 

My educational route would suggest that Shakespeare’s stories also inspired me as I have an Honours Degree in Literature and an M.A. in Creative Writing.  However, I think that the most telling aspect of it is in my writing.  In my children’s book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, I have a small boy trapped in a stone called Hamnet.  He has had a curse put on him by the powerful magician Corspehound.  Not only is Hamnet trapped in the stone but the curse is on his tongue.  He can only insult people.  Hamnet is actually Shakespeare’s son who died at the age of eleven.  The Bubonic Plague was rife at the time.  Little is known about Hamnet and so I wanted to keep his memory alive by re-writing his story.  Instead of perishing before his young life had really begun, I have him living on as a huger than life character.

 

An illustration of an undertaker during the Bu...

An illustration of an undertaker during the Bubonic plague. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I have already written about introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults.  Children love language if they allowed to be playful with it – this is why they love insults – they are naughty and delicious.  This was part of my enjoyment when reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my story book.  There was great emphasis on the argument between Hermia and Helena.  It is Midsummer, they are lost in the forest, it is a time of misrule and chaos and they are arguing over men.  Hermia calls Helena – “You juggler! You canker-blossom!” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II Line 282)  Later in the heated argument, Hermia also calls Helena “Thou painted maypole.” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II, Line 296) The enjoyment of the insults as a child turned to inspiration as an adult.  In Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, Hamnet is a master of insults; most of them are aimed at Will.  The first thing he ever says to him is “thine intestines wilt be mine.”  This is quickly followed by “thou wilt regret this warty nose.”

 

Washington Allston's 1818 painting Hermia and ...

Washington Allston's 1818 painting Hermia and Helena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We cannot change our own childhoods.  However, we can be inspired by what was thrown at us and mould it.  As writers, we can turn our experiences into what we want them to be.  Although we cannot change our own childhoods, we can guide our children’s inspiration and education.  Catch them early on with Shakespeare in the form of his stories.  Talk to them about the funny characters like Bottom, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who gets the head of an ass for a time.  If you missed out on Shakespeare first time around – you might be surprised at what you find.  Who knows, you or your children might end up being so inspired that you write a book too.

 

Emil Orlik: Actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom...

Emil Orlik: Actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummernight's Dream, 1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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6 Great Reasons To Read To Teens.

6 Great Reasons To Read To Teens..

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Filed under About Loony Literature, Education, For children, For Teens, Parenting

How Drama Classes Give Teenagers Work Experience.

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

(As You Like It)

Last weekend, I watched the same rock musical for three nights running.  It was performed by a group of teenagers and children who are participating in Connections – a theatre festival/competition run by The National Theatre.  The National Theatre commissions ten new plays each year for Connections.  This year 180 theatre groups are taking part.  Each group performs locally and then performs at one of The National Theatre’s partner theatres around the country.  Eventually, ten groups are chosen to perform their play at the National Theatre in London.  Over the course of the weekend, I noticed how being in the production was similar to being in the workplace and how it could be classed as work experience for those taking part.

I constantly hear news items about how companies cannot employ teenagers because they haven’t got any experience in the workplace.  This gets me annoyed and I write articles about how great teenagers are to work with.  However, we cannot get away from the fact that teenagers need work experience.  It does not take a brain surgeon to work out that whilst school provides an education, it generally does not provide much work experience.  It cannot be expected to do everything.

One of the main differences between being at school all day and being at work is the timetable.  In school, teenagers might do Maths for 70 minutes, English for 70 minutes and P.E. for 35 minutes.  At work we might spend three full days doing the same activity over until we get it right.  Teenagers will experience this in a drama production.  I have no connections with a drama school; I am the parent of a teenage boy who attends weekly classes.  I am stating this to demonstrate that I am writing this purely as part of my mission with Loony Literature.  Over the course of the weekend, the teenagers spent eleven hours rehearsing plus four hours performing.  This was in addition to endless, weekly rehearsals.  I was astonished by the improvement in each performance I saw.  This is wonderful work experience for any teenager.

Confidence affects every decision we make.  Being a teenager can be a roller coaster of conflict as we agonise about our appearance and whether anyone finds us even a bit attractive.  For teenagers,  confidence is paramount, it affects their belief that they can pass examinations; it affects their career choice and their social standing.  No one wants to be a wall flower.   Being involved in a drama class insidiously installs confidence.  When I saw those teenagers singing and acting in such a positive and forceful manner, I knew that unless those kids weren’t 100% sure of themselves in that production, they would not have completely let go – they would have appeared reserved.  People who are not entirely comfortable in their parts can be seen to be acting; people who are entirely comfortable in their parts seem to be the truthful representation of what they are portraying.   It then occurred to me that this confidence came from being proud of their product – their product being themselves.  I cannot imagine a better tool to be equipped with when starting in the workplace.  We’ve all seen how the painfully shy teenager can appear bad mannered because he/she is too embarrassed to speak amongst older people and strangers.  Drama classes give the teenager the work experience which in turn gives them confidence to be social in a work environment.

On the first night of production, the bulb went in the changing area.  At this moment, my son and one of the girl actors had to do a quick costume change.  Unfortunately, the girl actor could not find her costume.  There was intense panic as both my son and the young lady in question scrambled around in the dark looking for the outfit.  It was nowhere to be found.  As they came out onto the stage, I remember thinking what a strange costume the actress was wearing – it looked a bit like an underskirt.  When I heard the story later, I roared with laughter.  The point is that the young woman had the confidence to go out and carry on with the show.  She also knew that this wasn’t like school where everything could be stopped whilst the costume was found; this was like work and many people were depending upon her.

Being part of a drama production teaches being a team player.  This is imperative in the work place.  Being a team player means being able to work closely with people both younger and older than yourself.  Often, when in schools, because of the vast numbers of pupils, children tend to work mostly with other children of exactly the same age.  It is often a shock to find that we are the only young person in the office when we get our first work experience.  Going to drama classes means an eleven year old will often work closely with a fourteen year old and an eighteen year old.  They get used to being with kids of different ages – it is like the workplace – age is of no consequence – the important bit is that you are a team player.

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