BAR HARBOR — A lot of people find Shakespeare boring. Especially the plays based on history. But members of a small, local home-school class that has spent years listening to, discussing and speaking Shakespeare in a living room don’t feel that way at all.
The Crooked Road Shakespeare Kids are slated to present their first production of a full play, “Henry IV, Part I,” at the Neighborhood House on Friday, April 28, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 30, at 1:30 p.m. Admission is free for kids. Any donations from adults benefit the Neighborhood House.
“The history plays are really intimidating to adults,” said Tom Crikelair, who teaches the group in his home on the Crooked Road. “They’re taught in a sort of deadly way. I never read the history plays until I was in my 40s myself, and I love Shakespeare. The plays are complicated, and adults have a fear of getting swamped by complexity. But the kids don’t care about that. For them it’s just a fun story.”
Crikelair began teaching Shakespeare to his two daughters many years ago, at the suggestion of his late wife, Kirsten Stockman.
“I don’t have a degree in English literature or anything,” he said. “But Kirsten told me, ‘You love Shakespeare, teach them Shakespeare.’
“There are tricks to teaching little kids,” he continued. “I stumbled into my way of doing it. First of all, go slow. And also, with little kids especially, when you’re reading a play to them, they’re busy drawing pictures of the characters. We have a blueberry box stuffed with little baseball card-sized portraits of Shakespeare characters.”
The group has read plays including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Twelfth Night” and “Romeo and Juliet.” “Anytime the Harborside Shakespeare Company was planning a production for the summer, my class studied that play and went to nearly every performance,” he said.
Crikelair said he’s heartened by the timelessness of the plays and how often one finds Shakespeare references in other literature.
“Life is transient – things come and things go, sometimes really fast. But the kids are reading the same plays that Abraham Lincoln loved. This is something which endures.”
He said when his kids come across references to Shakespeare in other books, even subtle ones, they get really excited. “It’ll be something that if you’ve read Shakespeare, you’ll know that this author also knows Shakespeare. It’s like having the inside scoop on things.”
At the same time, they make some compromises with technology, like watching performances of different scenes on YouTube. “If you look up Act 1, Scene 1 of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ you’ll find eight different versions of that scene to watch – everything from feature movie versions to high school or college productions,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a couple of kids in the yard with a video camera.”
The kids have attended Shakespeare open mic nights at the Jesup Library hosted by Harborside, which Crikelair said helped them get comfortable with speaking the text loudly and clearly.
But this is the first full play the group has performed. Andrew Simon and Brittany Parker of the Barn Arts Collective directed the production.
“I’ve taught the kids what I know, but I don’t know anything about how to bring something to life on the stage,” Crikelair said. “So I called Andrew and Brittany and said, I have this home-school class, I’d like to do one of your workshops.”
When they all got together, Simon and Parker presented a workshop on meter in Shakespeare’s verse and on stage fighting. Then the students performed Act I of “Henry IV” for them.
“Andrew was enthusiastic,” Crikelair said. Simon gave the kids pointers based on what he had seen and worked on sections with them for awhile. Soon, Crikelair had decided to hire the Barn team to direct the play.
Local filmmaker Peter Logue is at work on a documentary, “The Crooked Road Shakespeare Kids,” a behind-the-scenes look at the group’s process. A “first look” trailer for the film is available online. Kristin Leffler is the film’s producer.
Crikelair said his goal is to give the kids a positive association with Shakespeare. “As they move on in their lives, I want their reaction to hearing the name to be, ‘Yes, I love it!’ They have their whole lives to learn it. My job is to show them that it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s beautiful, and it’s great.”