Author Mel Ryane has traveled many roads, and her latest route is an inspirational one. After a successful career as an actress, Ms. Ryane embarked on a second career as a teaching artist in middle schools. The challenging task of teaching Shakespeare to teens and pre-teens was made even more daunting by the fact that many of these children had never even heard of Shakespeare before. Her inspiational story about finding and giving fulfillment (where it was least expected) it is the subject of her book “Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn’t.”
The book takes us on a day-to-day journey with her students and follows the twists and turns in her own life. It is at once funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking. Hers is a story of triumph over both inner and outer demons – one that gets to the heart of why Shakespeare is such a powerful force.
As the children evolve from disinterested students to enthusiastic participants, Ms. Ryane shares, in candid terms, her roller coaster ride of commitment, frustration, exhilaration and fear. In the midst of the hurlyburly, she discovers that children have an uncanny ability to relate to Shakespeare’s big themes: Revenge, Power and Love. And she finds ways to engage the students using all three.
It is, perhaps, the rawness of the children’s own stories that are most poignant. They range from one student’s insecurity around her classmates, to another student’s sadness over losing a loved one, to a student struggling to overcome his anger. Ms. Ryan is a patient guide, a stern task master and an empathetic ear.
The story culminates, as one might expect, in an exhilarating final performance, where the students achieve what every actor hopes to accomplish: they find personal connections to their characters that lend a depth to their performances that affects everyone in the theater.
We invite you to visit the State of Shakespeare, where you can hear more about Ms. Ryane’s story. To get the latest State of Shakespeare episodes delivered automatically to your mobile device, simply subscribe to the podcast (free of charge!) on iTunes.