Mrs. Shakespeare

SH-masksYou can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

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This week, we find Faye Bennett back in school taking an unexpected class in improvisation. The problem is, Faye likes her life a little more ordered.



Faye Bennett did not like masks. It unnerved her when she couldn’t see the ripple of emotions across a face.

Suffice it to say, Halloween was not her favorite holiday, and as for acting and drama classes, well they came in dead last in any competition with any other subject.

So why was she sitting cross-legged on a mat in the high school gym on the first day of school facing a teacher whose last name, don’t laugh, was Shakespeare?

As in Beverly Shakespeare.

Because if there’s anything guaranteed to make Faye Bennett do something she does not want to do, it’s a dare. And this dare had come from her older brother, Wil, which made it especially potent.

“Look Faye, Intro to Improv fulfills one of your humanities requirements, you’ll learn more than you think possible, and Mrs. Shakespeare is really fun,” Wil had said as he watched his sister puzzling over her schedule for the coming fall.

“Nope, no thanks.” Faye picked up the list of optional choices, and scanned it once more, hoping to find some acceptable humanity for her third period slot. But as a budding historian and a (secretly) wannabe writer, she couldn’t find anything she hadn’t already taken.

Except Intro to Improv.

“Why don’t you want to take that class?” Wil asked as he sprawled across their kitchen table in order to watch his sister’s face with greater ease. Wil thought it an important brotherly duty to make her squirm from time to time.

Faye rolled her eyes at him. “It’s hardly useful, is it, learning to be silly in front of a bunch of other people. I’ll just end up feeling stupid.”

“Look, Mrs. Shakespeare…”

“Did she make up that name?” Faye interrupted him. “Or did she decide to go into theater to take advantage of it.”

Wil shrugged. “Does it matter? She’s really cool. Are you afraid you won’t get an A?” Wil asked.

“Hmph, as if.” Faye scooped up her scheduling paperwork. “I just don’t want to waste my time on frivolous stuff like ‘Intro to Improv.’ I’m surprised the school even puts it on the schedule.”

Wil leaned back in his chair. “So you are afraid of not getting an A. Man, wouldn’t that just ruin your report card?”

Faye stormed off toward her bedroom, unwilling to let Wil see the tears in her eyes that his truth-telling had prompted. She slammed the door behind her, and wedged a chair under the knob to keep him out.

Wil tilted his head so he could watch the minute hand spin around the kitchen clock, counting one, two, three. Then he stood up, and quietly padded down the hall until he stood outside Faye’s door. He’d expected to get a rise out her. Otherwise his teasing would have been a waste of time. But her vehement reaction troubled him a little.

He remembered how anxious he’d been in his first Improv class, how he avoided looking at anyone else as they settled on their circled mats in the gym. But his nerves disappeared as soon as Mrs. Shakespeare asked her first question: “Okay, how many of you are cringing inside because you don’t want to make fools of yourselves in front of one another?”

Heads snapped up, and then a few hesitant hands rose in the air.

“Okay. How many of you have known one another for more than a year?”

Lots more hands went up. In fact, Brian Lambert’s hand was the only not raised because he was the newest kid in school at that moment in time.

“So of all you sitting in this circle, the only one who should be nervous is Brian because he hasn’t known any of you for very long.” Beverly then pointed at Wil and Brian. “I see you two walking together in the hallways quite a bit. Would it be correct to say you’re friends?”

The two boys nodded. “Yeah. Totally.”

Beverly looked around, and then said: “Here’s the thing that’s really bothering you—the word no. You all walked in here just like every other class that’s ever walked in here carrying the word no in your heads. No I can’t do this. No I don’t want to look like a fool. No, no, no, no.”

She indicated that she wanted Brian and Wil to stand. “The key to improv is in these simple words—yes and then what. Let me demonstrate.”

She held her hands up, palms facing each other about nine inches apart, and cupped them. “I am holding a basketball.”

Then she moved her hands in and out a couple of times. “Hmm, seems to be soft. What do you think Brian?”

She handed him her “basketball” and Brian took it, moving his hands in and out. “Yeah, I think it could use some air.” He stopped moving, and looked at Mrs. Shakespeare. “Now what?”

She grinned. “You’ve got a basketball that needs air. I know you’re on the school’s team so what do you do with a deflated ball?”

Brian shrugged a little but then turned to Wil. “Hey man, can you hold this while I go get the air pump?”

Wil took the ball, saying “okay” in two long, doubt-filled syllables as he looked at the teacher for clues about what to do next.

She grinned, and said: “Yes and then what?”

With a twist of his face, Wil pushed his hands together as he held the “ball” up to his ear. “I think it’s got a leak.”

Brian leaned in close to listen, and Mrs. Shakespeare let her eyes slide quickly around the room to note that all of her students were now attentive, waiting to see what would happen next.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Brian said. “Who’s got the keys to the supply locker so we can get another one?”

A girl named Patty stood up at the back of the class. “I do but let’s see if we can fix this one first. Anyone got a patch kit?”

Wil grinned as he stood outside his sister’s door as he remembered that first class, and how much they had laughed as they tried to fix the deflated “basketball,” creating more and more ludicrous scenarios. He didn’t want Faye to miss it. She could be so rigid sometimes, and he didn’t want her to pass up the chance to learn “the power of yes,” as Mrs. Shakespeare called it.

He knocked softly. “Hey Faye, why don’t you give it a try even if it’s to prove me wrong. If it doesn’t work out, you can drop it and take some other class. They’re always looking for people to fill the seats in physics.”

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