In 2005, I was at a creative dead-end. After a long career as an actor, acting coach, and director, I was ready to leave my Hollywood ambitions but had no idea what to do with myself on the outskirts of showbiz.
In my youth, I scoffed at “ordinary” careers like those of teachers. I wanted to be remarkable and create amazing art in the theatre and on film. I studied my craft, I was lucky to work with many of the greats in my field, I went to film school, and I coached actors on film and television sets.
However, the side effect was becoming someone I didn’t like. I was slipping into a land called “bitter” and I did not want to live there.
What was my purpose? What should I be doing with all I learned? What else am I qualified to do?
As these questions popped around in my head, I opened the front door to find a letter from a local group of parents asking their community to help advance a local public elementary school. My husband and I do not have children, this was a happy decision for us; but I like kids well enough and decided to check out the school.
I started volunteering as a reading mentor for a couple of first graders. The two hours a week I spent with these little ones was a surprisingly easy and enjoyable experience.
I had read a great deal about teens dropping out of high school and wondered if somehow they could have been made to feel capable at an early age would that confidence keep them going.
What could I do? What could I offer?
And I remembered what I knew: Shakespeare.
Four years ago, as a volunteer, I started an after-school program I call The Shakespeare Club for third, fourth and fifth graders. To date, the children have performed adaptations of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Twelfth Night.” In 2010 they will take on “Macbeth.”
These are children who have never seen a play, let alone acted in one, and let alone, Shakespeare.
Every year, they learn big, new words like: Irony.
Every year, I too learn big, new ideas like: Irony. “I would never do something like teach,” my young self said.
It is possible that all my years of studying plays, the theatre, and the craft of acting were meant for these kids.
And I’m A-Okay with that because they give me as much as I give them. They have made my life richer, funnier, and sweeter.
They gave me purpose.