Sunday, October 6, 2013

Shakespeare for Kids blog has moved!

Well, I finally did it, I revamped my website and moved from Blogger to Wordpress.  You can find the new blog and new posts here:

And, for all my books, you can find them here:

And just general Shakespeare for Kids fun:

I'll talk with you at the new site!


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Getting YOUR kid in a Shakespeare play

Did you know every single year all over the country, actually, all over the world, there are Shakespeare festivals in almost every major city? What's really great about these festivals, is that they all, usually, have a place for kids in one of their plays. Most the time it's a small part, but what a great opportunity and experience for your kid to be exposed to Shakespeare. Most of the time the roles are not filled. And if they are, it's played by a young looking adult that has another part in the play.  However, you can sometimes come up to the director and let them know you have a kid that is interested, and they will usually try to find a way to put them in. So if you're looking for a way to expose your kid to Shakespeare, and they're excited about theater, go ahead and find a local Shakespeare Festival.  If you do a simple search on Google you will usually find one near you.  Happy hunting! For more ideas about kids and Shakespeare, visit our site. There are great links, videos, and FANTASTIC Shakespeare for Kids books. Http://

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Great way to reach kids with Shakespeare

Recently I got the opportunity to explore a whole new way to reach kids with Shakespeare.  This came in the form of "Flocabulary".  What the heck is flocabulary?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  I had an opportunity to talk with Aliza, the editorial director of Flocabulary, and this is what she said:

What exactly is "Flocabulary"?
Flocabulary makes educational hip-hop music. Our songs and lessons are designed for grades K-12. We tackle lots of different subject areas: everything from vocabulary to social studies to math to Shakespeare. You can listen to songs and view some of our videos at

How did Flocabulary get started?
The idea came to co-founder Blake Harrison in high school. He wondered why it was so easy to remember lines to his favorite rap songs but so difficult to memorize academic information. When he presented this idea to musician Alex Rappaport, years later, they decided to give it a try.

A month later they had a demo recorded. Six years later, Flocabulary’s programs are being used in more than 15,000 schools. 

You have done Shakespeare this way, right?  Can you tell us where we can find some?
We have indeed. We created an album called Shakespeare is Hip-Hop, which features 17 songs covering Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Othello. And the album was co-produced by Grammy Award-winning artist 9th Wonder! The Shakespeare is Hip-Hop CD includes original Shakespearean lyrics rapped, as well as modern interpretations and classically performed monologues. And we have a teacher resource book with full curriculum to accompany the songs. You can listen to a song from Shakespeare is Hip-Hop (, or watch our Macbeth rap video ( 

And recently, we created a new song for Much Ado About Nothing ( In the hook, you'll get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Shakespeare rapping. 

Can you Flo us down some Shakespeare?
Absolutely. This is part of our Much Ado About Nothing song, where we rap about the two couples:

So Beatrice and Benedick, that’s two B’s,
And these two B’s always seem to disagree,
Always buzzing ’bout something, but it’s never sweet,
No honey, their insults sting, it’s never peace.
But what if we set them a trap, you heard?
And have them fall in love like the bees and the birds?
“That’s not bad sir but ... ”—if you please,
I’ve got another idea that’s the bee’s knees.
For Hero and Claudio it’ll be love at first sight,
Like they don’t even need the audio.
They don't talk, they just sigh a lot,
So they figure they’ll tie the knot.

What is your overall goal of Flocabulary?
We believe that a motivated student is a more successful student. We work hard to make songs and curriculum that will get students excited.  The goal is to make learning fun and accessible without making it less rigorous. Students of all backgrounds deserve to be engaged.

This is such a great avenue to approach kids with, that it almost seems silly not to try it.  Flocabulary is great, check it out!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Autistic kids taking Shakespeare to the Next Level and the Woman that got them there

Recently through Twitter I had the good fortune to find a very special lady, Heather - aka@AlaskaGrace. This is a little bit about her story of working with special needs kids and Shakespeare and the amazing growth their parents and educators saw as a result. I’ll start you off with a taste... a quote. It's the passion of her heart that got me hooked on her…

You just have to experience it. That's all I can say. Even if for a moment, it changes their lives. And for a very precious few, it changes their life forever.

Tell us a little something about who you are.

My younger brother Philip and I grew up in Memphis, TN. Our parents are both classically trained musicians and we spent a great deal of our time as kids at orchestra or play rehearsals. I grew up watching musical theatre on a stool sitting next to my dad in the orchestra pit. Later, when our parents' paths split we were blessed with a loving and involved step-father. When he naturally ended up spending time waiting at the theatre for my mom during rehearsals, we put him to work in the sound booth, lol. As time went on, I became even more involved in make-up, sets and other behind the scenes stuff.

After receiving my teaching degree from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis), I moved to Alaska in 1992 and accepted a position as a special education teacher with the Anchorage School District. Today, I am mom to two step-kids who have grown up and (mostly) left the nest, along with two special needs children my husband David and I adopted in 2003. Our family has now lived in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley north of Anchorage for almost 14 years. In 2009, I retired from teaching.

How did you get into teaching Special Education?

I had a dear friend in junior high who was hearing impaired. I took sign language as a class in high school and joined the National Junior Association for the Deaf. I decided I wanted to be a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing, but my school didn't offer that as a major. The closest I could get was a degree in Special Education.

Why did you choose to teach and perform Shakespeare with the Special Education group?

I didn't. It was their idea- I actually tried to talk them out of it! I had always loved Shakespeare, but I had no idea how to teach it! There was a young man in one of my classes who asked if I would teach them Hamlet. “Oh, you don't really want to do that, do you? A Shakespeare play?!” Well, yes, he did. So I said to the class,

“Come on, you guys really don't want to do this, right? Raise your hand if you want to do Hamlet.” Darn if every hand didn't shoot up into the air! I was pretty-much stuck.

So I went down to the English Dept. book room, found the Shakespeare plays, and dusted off about 10 copies of Hamlet to take back to my classroom, mumbling to myself the whole way. At what point had I lost control? I've got to read this and figure out how to teach it. Wonder if I bring donuts maybe they'll forget about it? Of course, in the light of 20-20 hindsight, it now looks like a brilliant idea, as the kids were successful beyond my wildest dreams.

It is clear that you do not see a ceiling with these kids; as a result, they rise to the occasion. What were some of the reactions that you received from parents, therapists, and fellow teachers regarding what you had accomplished?

Well, first, it’s not what I accomplished. It is about what the kids found within themselves to accomplish this. When we started, there were no sets, no props, no costumes- just an overhead projector to provide “stage” lighting. We were performing for ourselves. Then I thought that, since the kids have put so much into this, I might as well have my department chairman and a couple of teachers come down to see it. Afterwards, they asked the kids questions about their characters and about the plot, and by golly the answers they got showed that the kids knew their stuff! So I got an approving “atta girl” and that was about it. We never looked back- within a few years I had parents coming. From such a tiny start I wound up with parents of autistic kids and of non-readers in the audience crying over something that I just took for granted.

It was in talking with these parents that I soon came to realize that what I was seeing in my classroom and on our “stage” was not generally what was being seen at home. The really amazing thing, though, was that some parents had begun to see positive changes in their children that appeared to be connected to what we were doing at school. We all started putting the puzzle pieces together and realized something truly significant was happening. At the time, the high school I was teaching at was going through extensive changes in being remodeled and organized into communities of learning and “houses”. As a result of all those things, and support from the administration, other teachers became aware of what we were doing . We now had a common indoor courtyard area which became the perfect spot for us to move out of our classroom and into a practice area. With this added visibility, word spread even further.

I talked to the Life Skills teacher about a student during his senior year, a student I had in my classroom during his freshman year. He was autistic, had inappropriate responses in social situations, would perseverate on things, and would get upset and frustrated easily if touched or if someone entered his personal space. My special education English class was the first class he was able to leave his life skills classroom to attend. By his senior year, he was attending general education classes, with support. The teacher I was talking to said that the change started with his participation in our class's production of Taming of the Shrew. It had made all the difference in the world for him. I had never realized this- I had just seen the kid around the school over the years and figured it was a natural progression from the program he was in. But what his teacher said hit me right between the eyes. This student came out of his shell, began to understand how to be more socially appropriate, and WANTED to be that way as an apparent result of having the opportunity to participate in our little home-grown Shakespeare program. He was no longer afraid to let others hear his voice, and to speak his mind.

What advice would you give other special education teachers who would like to take on Shakespeare?

First, there is no right or wrong way to teach our kids as long as they are learning.

Second, you are the educator who knows your students the best. If things begin to bog down when you are sticking strictly to the lesson plan , switch things around and do something fun. I start each year’s “Shakespeare” plan with a movie so the students gain an understanding of the basic story (my guys all thought Elizabeth Taylor was a hottie!), then we would start reading the play. This part can take a long time and a lot of patience, especially working with students with low reading skills. My first couple of times doing this project, I insisted on reading the entire play, which I came to understand was too much. In later years we focused on certain parts of the play we were working on. If I had five classes, I had each class pick a different scene or sometimes an act. By doing this we’d end up with nearly an entire play at the end. Each of my classes would focus on their portion of the play, making sure each student understood his and her character's motivation and the things that had lead up to the character’s current situation. We’d break the reading up with days where the kids write in their journals as their character. Doing this breaks up the reading and provides the students a chance to work on writing skills. For the teacher, it gives an opportunity to check on understanding.

Through practice the students would learn to read their lines and by the end each will have mastered quite a list of new vocabulary. My experience was over the years that this can all be done in just bite size chunks well suited to a class period. There are also numerous opportunities to work with each individual child’s disability. For example, if you are working with an autistic child, remember that what you are teaching besides the play is that it is okay to make eye contact if that is what the character would do. It is okay to touch someone's arm or grab their elbow and shout, “Evermore cross'd and cross'd; nothing but cross'd!” If I was teaching emotionally disturbed students with anger issues (who, by the way, ALWAYS choose Act V of Hamlet!), I found myself always marveling by the time we were at the end at Laertes and Hamlet holding each other's arms and declaring, “But till that time, I do receive your offer'd love like love, And will not wrong it.” Horatio gently holding Hamlet's head, “Now cracks a noble heart: Good night sweet prince, may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” I always made sure the discipline principal would see that one!

So, tell me some stories...

I can tell stories that would break your heart. There was a 16 year old boy who was afraid to pin some material to a pattern because, “I never do anything right.” He confided to me he was doing community service for getting into some trouble and the person overseeing his work at the local thrift shop was always getting on him because he couldn't understand what she wanted him to do. He wound up making an achingly beautiful Horatio crying over his lost prince.

There was the native Alaskan girl, a senior, who would never look up, never look you in the eye, never raise her voice enough to hear, wore a size 20, and who was ready to quit school. As soon as she donned Queen Gertrude's dress, you could see the light come up in her beautiful eyes.

One year, we were doing Taming of the Shrew. We had borrowed costumes from the school’s theatre department (they had just done Merchant of Venice, how lucky was that??). We carved Styrofoam into castle walls and gates, painted, made delightful messes, and had kids who said there was “no way I was going to get them up in front of anybody.” “Just go ahead and give me the ‘F’.” In the end, one of those kids wound up bringing in a hinged frame he made at his vocational school class to help support the set pieces, and suddenly he became a part of it; became involved. When I brought in the things to put our lights together, dumped the boxes on the floor and said “have at it, here's the directions”- well, talk about teamwork! Reading, following directions, hands name it. Then wait 'til you turn the lights on them for the first time when they are reading their lines. Oh, my God. Something happens. It's almost tangible.

I have special memories of the time when all we had done at that point was just our performances for ourselves in my classroom. As they went far better than I ever imagined, I went next door to the teacher who ran the Seminar Program. His students were used to presenting in front of each other in groups with the rest of the class providing constructive criticism. The teacher said his class would love to watch our class and do what they would do for their own classmates. I ran back to the room, announced to the kids that we were moving into the courtyard area in House 2 (we had clusters of classrooms around an open area which could be used for a variety of purposes). We grabbed our sets and lights and hauled everything down the hall, plugged in the lights, got everyone in position, and here came the seminar students. My kids started to get real nervous. I just told them to do what they had just done. If they could do it for themselves then they could do it here. The added stress took its toll on one of the spectrum kids, more rocking back and forth, and the occasional hand flip, but the other kids in the scene with him gently cued him and he took the cues and made it through. After the scenes were done, my kids gathered together and called upon the seminar students. The seminar kids in turn would ask questions of particular kids, commenting on how clearly they spoke, or if someone needed to face out towards the audience more, or if they stayed in character well, etc. Very polite, respectful, and my students took it very well. We got back into the classroom and my kids could hardly contain themselves! It was the most amazing feeling! The kid who swore at the beginning he was just going to take the "F", the girl with the cutting issues who played Katharina with her head held high, my autistic Petruchio who grabbed Katharina by the elbow and with raised angry voice said, "Go on, and fetch our horses back again. Evermore cross'd and cross'd; nothing but cross'd!" and pulled her back through the archway! This is a young man who would not make eye contact, who wouldn't touch another person, who was worried about yelling at the girl playing Katharina! You just have to experience it. That's all I can say. Even if for a moment, it changes lives. And for a very fortunate few, it may change their life forever. I know it changed mine.

I always had to struggle though with priorities. Mine versus the school district's, or those of the No Child Left Behind Act. Could I afford to take an entire quarter to do this with my students when there are exit exams (Alaska’s Graduation Qualifying Exams) they had to pass? We continued to write and do "English", but not with the intensity other teachers might in preparing for the exams. I was constantly faced with whether I should teach to the student or to the tests. The best way I can answer this is to note one young man in my class for a couple of years who was full of anger. Freshman and sophomore years he was always blowing up in class at the teachers, any authority figure, and peers. His writing and reading ability were very low. We did Hamlet, and I believe he was Hamlet (or Laertes, can't remember) in scene 5. It had a profound effect on him. When it came to his senior year and English electives, he got out of special education English and took the Shakespeare class; not the easiest elective English, and passed. He made it, and I think I know why.

At the end, as I reflect on all this, I see clearly that the success my students enjoyed had very little to do with me. I was just there to give these kids an avenue in which to find themselves. We, as teachers, are just the guides on this incredible journey of discovery. My advice is just to do what you always do- give the kids what they need, and at a pace where they can gain the most from every moment spent. If it takes 9 weeks to teach a Shakespeare play, then it takes 9 weeks.

You are an amazing woman. What is next on your bucket list of items to take on?

If I had my dreams come true, I would find a way to open a performing arts center for children with disabilities. I am not exactly sure what that would look like. It's just a dream.

There is something magical that happens when teaching Shakespeare to special needs kids, especially to kids on the Autism Spectrum. The first time it happened, it was an interesting surprise; the second time made me sit up and take notice that something special was happening. The third, fourth and fifth times- well, they speak for themselves. And why Shakespeare, you ask? There is the language, its rhythm, imagery, imaginativeness and power, and the relevance that his great works have today.

To learn more about Shakespeare for Kids books, Playing With Plays, or Brendan P. Kelso, check them all out here:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Interview with Pursued by a - (part 3 of 3)

This is a continuation of PlayingWithPlays' interview with (you can find the other two interviews here: Part 1 & Part 2) This is the final interview of the trio that runs this wonderful site, Cassius (no not, from Caesar). Well, Cassius is her nickname, at birth she was given the name Meryl Federman, and I'll let her take it from here.

You can see a video version of the Q&A here.

Tell me a little something about who you are and what you do.

My name is Meryl Federman, I am currently a student. I'm about to graduate and go on to a sort of a starter career in financial consulting, which is exciting because I do a lot of quantitative stuff. I like Math, so that's sort of up my alley there. I get to look at a lot of numbers, which is kind of what I do as an Applied Math Major right now. I also minor in French where I do a lot of drama, and drama really is my second love. I like classical theater. I do hope at some point to do Energy Policy, so my life is kind of all over the place. I like the quantitative stuff, I like policy things, I like the worldly stuff, I think it's very interesting, but sort of as a break from that, I really like this classical drama which kind of taps into these universal themes. Not being a professional right now, I don't have a lick what I do yet, but I hope to create that in the years to come.

Why Cassius?

Cassius is absolutely one of my favorite characters, I generally love the choleric types (Cassius, Hotspur). I particularly love Cassius because he is so passionate, so personally touched by what probably started as an entirely political antipathy. He's self-sufficient and anti-religious, meaning that he tries to wrench power away from the gods, and be the master of his own domain.

Math and Drama?

I think that having a scientific background makes me analyze plays a bit differently than someone with a humanities background, but other than a slight shift in tone when discussing the more nit-picky literary stuff (I'm less likely to end up thinking about the literature in fancy formalist ways), I don't think there's much of a difference here

What’s your background with Shakespeare?

I'm not professionally involved in Shakespeare, but I fell in love with Shakespeare when I was fourteen. I started reading the plays as fast as I can get my hands on them. I'm still amazed when I look back at that time; How much better I understand the plays now. I do have several years of Shakespeare under my belt. I love watching the plays, seeing the plays. When I got to school, I became heavily involved in the Shakespeare company on campus (The undergraduate company, which I was President of for three semesters,) during that time I directed two Elizabethan Tragedies: One Shakespeare, Richard II, and the other is a Thomas Kyd play, The Spanish Tragedy which was a heavy influence on Hamlet. It was the first modern revenge play, a very Elizabethan verse drama, very tragic, lots of death, and all that good stuff. I did have a small part in The Spanish Tragedy, actually, as the Viceroy of Portugal, so I've had the opportunity to present some of these roles but as a woman, it is kind of hard to get cast in the very few female roles that they typically have. I've produced Shakespeare as well, a production of Pericles (a really weird, weird late play that is, but it was a great production,) so I guess I've really done all sorts of things with Shakespeare, but mostly I'm an avid reader and consumer of Shakespeare productions. I'm really excited always to see Shakespeare plays and to sort of delve into the questions that they raise. I mean, I've debated Hamlet zillions of times. I debate Richard II a lot, which is the play that I directed (with an all-female cast, by the way, so there's quite a lot to debate on my take on the play.)

What was the reason that started you doing Shakespeare videos?

I'm a born critic. I like to look at things, really dig into the choices made. Video reviewing is as fun as any a way to do that, and I do hope to continue doing that when I'm living in New York. I hope to get into the “critic” kind of mode as I see things, because I do have something to say. I've thought a lot about Shakespeare, I've read it, and I've studied it academically a lot, so I do feel like I have something valid to say. I'd like to get a great experience of viewing under my belt so I can really make these comparisons a little better.

How long have you been doing Shakespeare-related productions?

Four years. Freshman year, I was in a production of Twelfth Night as Curio (I had four lines. It was awesome.) It was a fantastic cast, just a really great experience to see Shakespeare up close and personal, it was a grand production. My Sophomore year, I was tangentially involved in a Hamlet production, and I ended up getting very involved in it. I was Assistant Stage Manager and Prop Mistress and Light Operator, so I really got to see the background of a production there. My Junior year was when I directed Richard II and produced Pericles, and Senior year, I directed The Spanish Tragedy in the Fall, I Assistant Produced Antony and Cleopatra at the same time, and I am currently in a production of Measure for Measure, and I'm the Provost who has to execute Claudio, and I get to interact to all the people I just directed in The Spanish Tragedy, and that's great because they're awesome and I love them.

Was it intimidating at all to approach Shakespeare through this type of format?

I don't think so. I think that because of my years of experience, I do feel like I have something to say, and I have the right to say it. It's definitely not as intimidating as trying to delve into the text of a play like Richard II and put on that production. That was the first production I did, and it's a really advanced text, so that was the most intimidating. I had done three Shakespeare scene exhibitions where I got to do little bite-sized bits, but it wasn't the same, so I feel like after things like that and a production of The Spanish Tragedy, which is this massive Elizabethan play. Obviously, doing something like this is putting yourself out there, but I feel like it's not as risky as some other stuff that I've done in my Shakespeare experience.

What’s your one piece of advice for other educators trying to reach students with Shakespeare?

I have not taught Shakespeare, per se. I've directed people with various levels of experience, especially in the scene exhibitions. I have sort of helped bring it to life, and people who have to teach the plays, very often in an Academic or Literary setting, have to remember is that these are people, this is how they talk, and I would really urge any educators to put the play on its feet, show people productions of plays, get into the questions that are raised by actually trying to do it, because I think that talking about the literary questions of things is fantastic and it's great, but it inevitably leads to “How does that look on a person, who has to feel those emotions and say those things, and deal with their fellow characters?” I would say, have them act out plays informally. I would necessarily make it a graded thing or anything, if that's part of what's going on, but have them put it on its feet and look at scenes sort of side by side from different productions. (I would stay away from a late '70s BBC productions because it's very high-flown, very “let's flog the text halfway to death.”) I love the text, don't get me wrong, but the text is part of how people talk. There's a reason why iambic pentameter is used: If you listen to hexameter, it sounds like a song, it doesn't really sound like speech, but Iambic Pentameter kind of does, and I feel like it's wrong to lose sight of that. You have to show them productions where people really own the text and make it sound like directed, focused, highly emotional and highly logical at the same time. Obviously, there is a formality to it that natural speech doesn't have, but I feel like it's important to show them that, because looking at it on a page, it can get very confusing with as many notes –or footnotes-- as you have and that's not how people were meant to experience it. The main thing is, “Make it real,” I think is the simplest thing that I can say because it is.; These characters are so compelling, there's no reason that students should think otherwise. They're very, very real. Make it real.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?

Julius Caesar, which is kind of a bizarre choice. I love politics. It's a brutal story about motivations and alliances,and personal emotion and everyone is so deep and interesting. They have these public faces, these private faces, what they really believe and what they have to end up acting on, and manipulation of others. Everything is just so brilliant. Brutus and Antony and Caesar are obviously super-interesting characters, but even the minor characters. Octavius Caesar is barely in this play, and he's a brilliant character. You see him coldly moving through, building his power base and undercutting Antony. Everything in Antony and Cleopatra is there. That rivalry between the two of them is there in Julius Caesar. Antony has that great soliloquy where he's just in awe of what was done, but he is not above using this ruthlessly to his own ends. I can't help loving it. “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” what else can I say?

Who is your favorite Shakespeare Character(s)?

I love the choleric characters who just feel so strongly that it just trips them up, like Cassius, and also like Hotspur, from Henry IV-1. Hamlet is, of course, a brilliant character, I just think there's so much there that I sort of can't help loving Hamlet as well. Again, Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke, I sort of see them as two sides of the same coin, not to say that they're mirror images of each other, but I feel like because of just how opposite they are, they really bring a great sort of rivalry to life.

If you could spend an evening with the Bard, what would you do?

I would ask him some of the questions to try to pick apart some of the places in the play where things get a little funky. “How old his Hamlet?'” things like that. I would try to pin some of that down just to satisfy my own curiosity. I'm sure it would be an eye-opening experience because I feel like the concerns that we have as modern readers are probably things that would surprise Shakespeare. I don't think that, when Shakespeare wrote these plays, he had people coming to him backstage asking “How old is this character, anyway?” I think it was just a very different kind of concern back then. It was such a public, populist form of entertainment. I feel like he'd be surprised at how over thought his plays have become.

Any last comments?

Thank you so much! This is exciting. Farewell!

That wraps up our 3 parts series with

If you want to know more about getting your kid to love Shakespeare, check out some books we have written.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shakespeare's Birthday - and what he means to me...

Shakespeare. He's 447 years old now, or, better yet, he's been around for 477 years. So, what does Shakespeare mean to me?


That's about it, simple and easy, wrapped in one word. Although I should probably elaborate on why, however, it is that simple.

Why Happiness? Well, partially mine, somewhat teachers and parents, but mostly, kids. I write Shakespeare for Kids books. I got into writing these books because the kids wanted me to. Well, in the end it was that kids wanted me to. Truth be told, actually, it was my wife telling me I had to make some money if I was out of work. So, she set me up to do afterschool programs. So, at that point I did my first shortened Shakespeare script, Hamlet in a can, and let it rip. The kids loved it! Actually, they loved the sword play and dieing all over the stage... nothing like ending a play with 10 kids scattered around all melodramatically dieing! Great fun! It snowballed from there. I started writing more scripts and doing more performances for other cities and schools. As well as theater groups were requesting my scripts to perform to.

At that point, I actually had to get a real job. But, then came On-Demand Publishing. So I thought I would print a few, and see how it goes. Well, I must say, it is going better than I had imagined! The absolute best part is seeing all the emails from teachers about how much their kids LOVED performing my scripts, and, most importantly, how happy they were to play with the Bard. The videos I have seen are amazing. I have seen kids perform Macbeth while dancing to Thriller, I have seen chase scenes that have gone through the audience and back stage with parents rolling in their chairs laughing, and I have seen countless kids wanting more and more Shakespeare. Oh yeah, and I have seen hundreds of kids melodramatically die on stage!

It is a great feeling, that I have been given the privilege to create this avenue for kids to embrace Shakespeare, at such a young age. It makes the kids happy, it makes the parents happy, the teachers happy, and me... happy. And I am sure, somewhere, Shakespeare is happy as well.

Happy Birthday Bard,


Brendan P. Kelso

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Interview with Pursued by a - (part 2 of 3)

This is a continuation of Shakespeare for Kids of the interview with Pursued By a Bear, part 2. This interview is with Jessi Nowack, comedian, actress, and an all around fun person who loves Shakespeare.

Tell me a little something about who you are and what you do.

Jessi Nowack, internet voice actress and comedian. I do a show for called “Reading is Dum”. It dissects high school required books and makes them fun.

How did you get into comedy? With a name like "no-wacking" I can come up with about six reasons on my own :)

My friends have always told me I was funny, so when I began my voice acting career, I decided to make parodies that I could voice act in. Killed two birds with one stone. Loved it so much, I stuck with it. I love entertaining people. And yes, when your last name is Nowack, you have to have a sense of humor. :P

So, can you give us an example(s) of what the other kids would interpret when they read, "It is the east..."

Mostly they would just stare blankly, but if they took a guess at what it meant and failed, it'd be pretty funny. For example, when we were reading Othello and our teacher asked us to explain what a "green eyed monster" is, one kid was like, "I don't think that's appropriate to talk about in school." I think I know what he thought it was.

I like your concept of "reading is dum", can you give me a brief summary of it's goal and a link to see it?

The goal of "Reading is Dum" is to help teens learn and understand high school required reading and actually enjoy it, whether it be by explaining the book more thoroughly or by putting it into more modern terms. I hate that students just look up Sparknotes, memorize something for a test, and then are done with the book forever. I want them to enjoy learning about the book and, as I'm a teenager myself, it'll be a relief to see me teach the material rather than a teacher who's mad at the world and talks too fast for you to write notes down. Not that I'm saying all teachers are like that; just saying we've all had that teacher at one point. As for a link, check out my stuff here.

Where can someone find out where you are doing your next comedy act or production?

I update my site, Wack Attack, as often as I can. There you can find my complete resume, my blog, (in which I talk about what recent parodies I've been in, update on what videos I'm working on, etc.) and lots of other stuff. I'll also post when I come out with a new "Reading is Dum" so that's the best place to visit to see when I have new videos out. You can visit the Wack Attack at

What’s your background with Shakespeare?

(In highschool) I could understand things other students couldn’t. They’d see, “It is the East, and Juliet is the sun” and not understand a word of it, but I did. I had particular attraction to Shakespearean literature.

What was the reason that started you doing Shakespeare videos?

I transferred to a public high school for my senior year and I was sick of students falling asleep in class or paying attention, but not understanding. I wanted to give them a way of tolerating, heck even “enjoying” literature.

How long have you been doing Shakespeare-related productions?

Technically haven’t done one, yet. Waiting for things to slow down.

Was it intimidating at all to approach Shakespeare through this type of format?

No, no, been doing comedy for years. It is a natural, familiar style for me to be writing in.

What are your long term goals for

Stupid cliché, but just want to help kids. If I can help one person, then that'll be cool.

What’s your one piece of advice for other educators trying to reach students with Shakespeare?

Don’t be a record. Whatever you have to say in a boring way about a book, they’ve already heard it. Gotta connect with kids or you’ll lose them before the lesson even begins. Connect events in book with modern day situations and such. Oh, and for God’s sake, PLEASE do not rap anything in the lesson plan. Ever. Don’t. Unless you wanna end up as a viral video on Youtube.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?

Only read two, “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet”. Both were really good, really ironic twists. Preferred “Romeo and Juliet,” but bias: love “West Side Story”

Who is your favorite Shakespeare Character(s)?

Mercutio. Such a free spirit, punny, cool character Causes a lot of stuff to go down.

If you could spend an evening with the Bard, what would you do?

We’d probably find every copy of “Gnomeo and Juliet” and destroy them before the movie’s released. Then go have some pie.

Last Comments?

Stay in school, kids!

Check out the interview via video:

Part 1 of Pursued by a interview can be found here.