The Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky’s music is defined by soaring but bittersweet melodies, a reflection of his own personal struggles and victories as a closeted gay man. His ballets focus on hidden identities and quests for freedom and true love, things that would elude him until his untimely death from cholera. The Nutcracker was the last of his three ballets, first performed only a year before his death. It was a commercial failure, although the big hits of act two were well received. But some thirty years after the composer’s death the ballet was revisited and became a smash hit globally. It’s now a permanent part of the western holiday tradition and a magical story for generations of children.

Activity: Watch the show!

There are many, many recordings of The Nutcracker. My two favorites are a stage performance by San Francisco Ballet and a cinematic version directed by Carrol Ballard with sets and costumes designed by Maurice Sendak. Dress up as if you were going to the theater, get some special treats, and enjoy the show from home!

Music in this Episode:

Royal Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of London. (1955). The Nutcracker [Vinyl recording]. London: Artur Rodzinski, Conductor. (1955)

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most accessible works to modern readers, and its themes will be very familiar to young people today, since they still have to deal with the issues of gossip, relationship drama, and toxic people who just want to tear others down. Teenagers will enjoy this play not only for its fantastic wordplay and raucous plot, but also they way it addresses problems that affect trust, friendship, and forgiveness that will be very familiar to them.

Activity: Essay Prompts

Use one of the following prompts for a discussion or written essay about Much Ado About Nothing:

    • If you were Hero, would you have taken back Claudio at the end after he had caused you so much harm? Why or why not?
    • When Claudio accuses Hero, at first her father believes him and not his own daughter. What does Leonato’s angry outbust say about him? Was this just a moment of high emotions or does it show that he isn’t as good of a father as he seemed?
    • Is it ethical for friends to scheme to get couples together, even if the intentions and outcome are good? Where is the line between encouragement of and meddling in others’ relationships?
    • Don Pedro gave his toxic brother Don John a second chance, and sadly Don John used this as a chance to hurt others. How can you tell the difference between someone who deserves a second chance at friendship and someone who will just continue to be hurtful if you stay close to them? What should you do if it seems impossible to know for sure?
    • If you have had a big fight with a close friend but you want to make amends, what is the best way to get started?

Activity: Modern-day Beatrice and Benedick

Choose a scene from Much Ado About Nothing in which Beatrice and Benedick have a “merry war” of words between one another. Rewrite the scene, using the same style of insults and teasing but with modern-day English. The scene could be written as a play script or in prose as if it were in a novel.