The Play's the Thing (May/June 2012)
by Hannah Weverka, age , California
A nervous seventh-grader creeps to the front of the classroom. She waits anxiously. A woman in colorful clothing waves an encouraging hand. "Go, sweetie."
Abruptly, the girl's entire demeanor changes. She sets her stance wider, her eyes narrow, and her mouth curls into a smile. "Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts! Fill me from the crown to the toe-top full of direst cruelty!"
After she finishes, a sixth-grade boy walks up. "Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn--to burn bright! It seems she hangs--she hangs upon the, the, the cheek--" He cannot finish. He dissolves in giggles, overcome at the idea of a girl being anything but the bane of his existence.
"Next," says Mrs. McKuen. "Unless you want to try again, sweetie."
These are the auditions for Shakespeare Club, an assortment of "rude mechanicals," in the words of the Bard himself. Twice a year, we banish our worries about looking silly in front of our peers and speak words that were written almost half a millennium ago, but still resonate today. Our fellow students groan with Caesar as Brutus stabs him, laugh with Puck as Titania makes a fool of herself, shiver with Macbeth as Lady Macbeth whispers dreams of power in his ear, and wait in torturous indecision as Hamlet considers suicide. The words change, but the fundamental ideas are the same with every generation: Love. Power. Loss.
Every fall, Gina McKuen holds auditions in her classroom. The girls recite Lady Macbeth's summoning of evil spirits. The boys recite Romeo's words of amazement when he first sees Juliet. The lucky six or seven who pass the auditions are let into a world of laughter and words.
Shakespeare Club meets once a week, at 7:00 AM. The early time scares off many people, but the members know that lost sleep is a small sacrifice to make compared with the benefits of Shakespeare Club. Mrs. McKuen writes scripts for the play we're showcasing that semester. Every performance includes a few scenes explaining to the audience what's going on. The other scenes are pure Shakespeare, full of laughter and murder and love and greed.
When the club meets on Fridays, as it does often, Mrs. McKuen will bring doughnut holes. We dive into them, showering ourselves with sugary goodness and cursing the fact that some of us have P.E. first period.
We do a read-through of our scripts, then leap onto the stage and become the words. Macbeth freezes in terror as an imagined dagger hovers before him. Hamlet curses the knowledge of life over the unknown of death: "For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?" Some of the cast sneaks onstage and makes fun of Hamlet's seriousness, making blah blah yakkity yak motions with their hands and pretending to stab themselves or Hamlet. Mrs. KcKuen laughs and encourages them.
After four or five months of easy, laid-back rehearsal comes Crash Week.
"We've got five days until the performance!" Mrs. McKuen yells.
"I don't know Scene Four!" wails one of the members.
"NONE of us know Scene Four!" shouts another. "Will someone quiz me?"
"Someone quiz ME!"
"I still need a mask for the Calpurnia scene!"
"You don't have a mask?"
"I need fairy wings!"
"I told you all to get fairy wings by last Friday!"
"Can I wear bat wings instead?"
On Thursday, Mrs. McKuen magically provides doughnuts, and we pile onto her in a huge hug. We are allowed to miss our classes for rehearsal on the performance day, because we provide entertainment for the student body; besides, they get to miss class to see us. We wait out first period, scraping the doughnut box for bits of sugar we've missed, chanting our lines over and over under our breath. Our hearts are beating like rabbits'.
Finally, performance time rolls around. We pull ourselves into our costumes for our first scenes, glancing at each other and smiling nervously. Marty gets an idea and grabs one of the foam swords from the pile. She and I post ourselves by the door, crossing our swords over the entrance and demanding name, quest, and favorite color of each class that piles in.
The performance for our peers rolls right through the day, and soon it's time to go. We head to our parents' waiting cars, unless we're walking home, and chant our scripts under our breath. There is one more show.
And at 7:00 that night, we are ready.
A head peeks through the door. Someone shrieks. "JAKE!"
"And Alex too!" They are former members, high-schoolers now, come to visit us and see our show. Mrs. McKuen shrieks with joy. I inform the eighth-graders that if they don't visit us when they leave for high school, they will suffer an exceptionally painful death. Then come the parents, grandparents too, amazed that their little actors have all grown up.
To some unseen signal, the crowd quiets. We dash backstage. Mrs. McKuen talks about how wonderful Shakespeare Club is. She walks back. And then, and then, and then...
Or not to be in Shakespeare Club. That is the question. And the answer is obvious.
This Muserology was first published in January 2009.