I am not normally one to tempt fate. And lightning rarely strikes twice. But after a surprisingly successful all-family brush with the Bard at APT last summer, I signed my 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter up for Shakespeare camp this year. We weren't quite ready for the Young Shakespeare Players yet. The idea of full-length and uncut scared the bejesus out of me. Not so much because I didn't think the kids could hack it--I have heard amazing things about the program--but because I was dreading spending the better part of my summer running two sets of lines in incomprehensible (at least to me) Elizabethan English. I'm still paying the price for being the only English major known to man who managed to avoid a class on Shakespeare in college.
Fortunately we landed a spot in Richard Hamel's Shorewood Summer program---a kind of Royal Shakespeare Company for Rugrats. A veteran Madison Metropolitan School District elementary teacher, Hamel runs a three-week, two-hour-a-day camp each summer that culminates in the performance of a highly abridged work, using all original language.
And this year they were doing Macbeth.
Was he kidding me? How about getting their feet wet with a little A Midsummer Night's Dream? Or Romeo and Juliet? My kids have at least seen West Side Story. And they know enough about the Twilight vampires to wrap their heads around the concept of forbidden love.
But Macbeth? Weren't they a bit young to be tackling themes of unbridled ambition and regicide? Wouldn’t they rather be memorizing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" than Lady Macbeth's "Out, damn'd spot! Out, I say!"
But my kids came home singing the praises of the program each and every afternoon. They learned the fine art of creative costuming and stage combat. They attempted Scottish accents that sounded suspiciously like Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons. And it's not every day that you get to discover that a cantaloupe splashed with red paint makes for a perfect "Macbeth's head on a stick" in the final scene.
But their daily joys could have never prepared me for the sheer pleasure of watching the final performances.
Trust me, Shakespearean tragedy in the hands of 4th through 7th graders can be far better characterized as The Comedy of Errors.
Every third cue was missed. A few of Lady Macbeth's lines were clearly improvised and may have been borrowed from an episode of Hannah Montana. The youthful Weird Sisters, sporting "pretty " vs. "scary" witch Halloween costumes, seemed far more Glinda than Wicked Witch of the West. It would not have been shocking if they had set the "Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble" lines to the tune of Popular.
And catastrophe, you will be glad to know, was narrowly averted during the cauldron scene. A word of advice, kids. Dry ice is nothing to be fooled around with.
Camp is now sadly over and both my kids are suffering from "post dramatic stress disorder""the after-cast-party letdown. And my son is afflicted quite badly. I'm not sure any of his other summer activities can top the high of playing the title role in one of the greatest works of English literature. Like Sir Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles before him, he got to proclaim to a (somewhat) rapt audience, "It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Except that it signified everything. He now wants to become an actor. Do you think they have sleep-away camps in Stratford-upon-Avon?comments powered by Disqus
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
I was greeted at the door by Tom Moen, who has served as executive director of what he likes to call "Madison's best kept secret", for the past 39 of the center's 47 years. Located in the middle of the subsidized Truax Park apartment complex, EMCC, with its vast array of offerings for kids, seniors and everyone in between, is unquestionably the heart of the neighborhood.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
My eleven-year-old daughter spent most of last weekend alone in her room, door shut. It wasn't a temper tantrum or an overwhelming need for tween privacy that led to her self-induced isolation, though. Instead, I didn't see her (except for meals) for two days because she was, in her words, "going through her closet."
Yes, the 2004 classic comedy Mean Girls is an absolutely delightful movie. But it's definitely not the smartest mother/daughter viewing as your child is about to enter her inaugural year of middle school.
Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.