Read Across America Day is March 2 and one local author is teaching Central Coast kids that learning and performing William Shakespeare’s plays can be both fun and funny.
Three years ago, Brendan Kelso quit his engineering job to pursue writing and teaching full-time, but his passion for classic literature began much earlier.
Fifteen years ago he re-worked Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” for a middle school class to perform. That experience prompted him to launch his company, Playing with Plays.
“I always call it creatively editing,” Kelso said. “Basically, I take Shakespeare’s plays, I truncate them to a 15-20 minute melodramatic, funny, engaging, mostly me being funny, and I sprinkle in Shakespeare’s lines throughout.”
Over the course of those 15 years, Kelso has “creatively edited” 22 different plays and books by famous authors, including Jane Austen and Rudyard Kipling.
“The goal when it started was just to see if I could publish a book and to see if it would take,” Kelso said. “And now, really my vision is, I want every kid in the world to love Shakespeare.”
Now, he works with local schools, afterschool programs, spring and summer camps and more to bring his plays to life.
The pre-teen and teenage students at San Luis Obispo Classical Academy are rehearsing Kelso’s version of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac. What is usually taught at a high school level is a hit with these students.
“We get to kind of put our own little twist on the story,” said 11-year old KyanTucker. “It’s really like broadened my view on how acting is. I’ve just learned so much in this class and it’s just so much fun.”
Kelso’s plays are used for all ages all over the world, including China, Germany, Singapore, and Turkey.
Kevin Ashworth, a sixth-grade teacher at Bellevue Santa Fe Charter School has been using Kelso’s plays for eight years. He says his students look forward to the plays every year.
“It’s a light-hearted tone and the kids just eat it up,” Ashworth said. “Students you don’t expect to really shine, it becomes their thing, just over the years you’ve seen so many great things.”
Kelso’s plays are doing much more than just teaching students about literary greats.
“Creativity is something that’s not really taught in school. Some people just assume that creativity’s just a gift, it’s not, it’s a learned skill,” Kelso said.
If you’re interested in learning more about Kelso and his plays, click here.