Carlyn and I arrived at the Cousins Theater around 3, not knowing what to expect. The first hour was spent on doing Carlyn’s makeup (she makes a really good fairy), and waiting for the kids to arrive. Our group was the first to get there: they were all really excited and ready to go, and the boys were even asking us how much makeup they could get on their faces (not expecting that one). We did their makeup as other groups started arriving. It was a zoo; all the kids were running around like the theater was a playground- I was already starting to feel the exhaustion. Of course, our kids joined right in: I can’t even remember how many times I had to tell the boys to stop running. It seemed like the show was never going to start- how could it with everyone running around?
Partly to waste time, and partly to make sure the sound cues were ok, we had the kids run through their scenes on the stage. It didn’t look promising. They weren’t focused, and Caliban decided to do push-ups under the tarp during scene 2. We hoped it was just pre-show jitters and being distracted by all the other kids that was causing this complete change in performance.
It was pre-show jitters. They were wonderful. After sitting backstage in the dark, not listening to a word I said, they were anxious to have their turn on stage. I watched part of the first act from behind the curtain: the kids kept messing up their lines and giggling on stage. I figured some of that would happen with my group, just because it’s a completely new experience for them, but I was wrong. All the mistakes they made in rehearsals went away. They all said their lines perfectly (Trinculo even did some improv when she missed a line). Gonzalo/Stephano pretty much stole the show- multiple people came up to us saying how great she was. I couldn’t argue with them- Carlyn and I wondered if she would actually use the British accent and flawless drunken behavior that she had used in rehearsals on the real stage, and she did. She was hilarious.
The only part that diverged from flawless was when Caliban forgot to stand up in scene 2, but nobody noticed but us. Other than that, we got compliments from parents, teachers, and our classmates on how great our group was. After all of our worrying about not having a lot of kids, and the fact that they were only 9-11 was for not: despite some of the rehearsal stress they caused, they really came through in the end, and I was so proud of them.
Carlyn and I were actually sad when they all left. We had spent a lot of time (well maybe not a whole lot) with them working on this play, and learned to really like them. We discussed possibly stopping back at William Byrd just to say hi and thank you for all their hard work. I had a lot of preconceived ideas about how this show was going to go down, and it seemed that other groups proved those ideas to their group leaders, but our group completely shattered my expectations. This is an experience I will never forget.
Our plan for today was to run through the whole act as many times as we could, answer any question the kids have, and iron out any details that need work. We got through the whole scene once with relatively little issue, however going through a second time was apparently too much to ask. I’m not sure if it was because it was Friday afternoon, or they all had too much sugar, but the kids pretty much lost all focus and productivity. Carlyn and I got really frustrated with them, especially the girl who plays Gonzalo/Stephano (she’s a bit of a diva). By the time the clock struck 5:30 we practically ran out of there we were so fed up with them.
While I felt fairly confident about the show prior to today, now I was beginning to get concerned about their attention spans, and whether they would be this difficult the day of the show. Hopefully it was just a situational thing, and they’ll go back to being wonderful next week. Or they’ll be completely awful on stage, and not do anything that we practiced.
Today was our third, and second to last meeting with the children. Carlyn, Chelsea and I had discussed during our workday that our main objectives would be to first practice speaking loudly, and second make sure we go through at least scene ii since we didn’t have time last week. We bought candy to reward the kids for projecting their voices during exercises we had planned. Chelsea seemed excited to finally be able to go and meet the kids (this is the only practice she’ll be at, because she can’t go next week either). We also have the prop box for the first time, and I was hoping it would be more of a helpful tool than a distraction.
The exercises we did to help them speak louder seemed to really help. Especially for the girl playing Alonso/Trinculo who had trouble projecting last week. The two boys seemed to benefit from these exercises as well.
After practicing being loud, we started with blocking for scene ii. We gave the kids the costumes (they were really excited to have hats/props), and they ran through the scene fairly easily. The three that are in scene ii did a really good job for the most part, continuing to make me feel good about the upcoming performance. Our 9 year-old playing Sebastian missed last week, so he had a lot to catch up on. He ran lines with Carlyn during scene ii, then jumped right in when we practiced scene i. I was really impressed with the other boy in our group; he usually has difficulty paying attention, but he really stepped up and tried to help the younger boy out. The only real difficulty we ran into was that the boys couldn’t stop playing with the swords. We tried to explain that they are not toys, but props, and it got a little frustrating at the time, but then I remembered they’re 9 and 11 year-old boys, and I couldn’t really blame them. All in all it was a good rehearsal, and hopefully we are just as productive next week (our last meeting before the show).
As confident as I am that our kids will do well in the performance, there a still a lot of details to iron out. We have our 3rd meeting with the kids this friday (for Chelsea, it will be the first time meeting the kids). In order to prepare for our next meeting, we had a work day in class. We finalized our costumes, Carlyn got her fairy wings (the loss of our 5th child left us short an Ariel), and we set up a lesson plan for Friday.
Two of our kids are naturally quiet, so one of our main goals for Friday will be working on getting them to project their voices so everyone in the audience will be able to hear them. We decided to use some positive reinforcement (candy) to encourage them to speak up. Other than that, our main focus is to continue blocking and reading over the scripts so the kids feel more comfortable. We are planning to bring the costumes with us so they can feel more in character while we practice.
Carlyn and I went to Henderson for our second meeting with the children. Our plan was to give the kids their parts, read through the script one more time, focusing on different emotions we thought the characters would display, and start blocking if we had time. When we arrived, only 3 of the kids were there. As it turns out, the girl who had missed the first meeting dropped out, and the other boy who wasn’t there would supposedly be back at our next meeting. Not the best start to the day, but the three kids that were there were enthusiastic and ready to start rehearsal.
The kids were very pleased with their parts (we gave the part of Gonzalo back to one of the other girls who had originally wanted it). After we did some warmup exercises, we started reading through scene 1. For the most part, they had no problem expressing the emotions we asked them to while reading their lines: Alonso was solemn, Gonzalo was optimistic, and Antonio was sarcastic and rude. Our only concern was that two of the children weren’t speaking loudly enough for an audience to hear. The kids were excited to start acting out the scene; we faced some resistance from one boy, but I think if we can get him to focus he could be really good. The second scene went even better. We didn’t have time to block, but as we were reading through it, the kids seemed to know exactly how we wanted it done, and one girl even did exactly what we had written for blocking without us even telling her. After the second meeting, I am even more confident that our group is going to put on an excellent performance.
We had a very productive work day in class today. First, I discussed with my group how the first meeting with the kids went on Friday. Carlyn and Chelsea were just as excited as I was to hear how enthusiastic the kids were, and how well they could read the scripts. Our next task was to make casting decisions. I told them what I thought, since I was the only one who interacted with the kids. We took the kids choices into account as well. Our only challenge in casting was that one of the kids was not at the first meeting. We wanted to give here a decent sized part, but we were unsure of which part considering we knew nothing about her. We also felt bad depriving one of the other kids, who showed a lot of interest in having certain roles, of the parts they wanted. In the end we gave the girl who was absent the part of Gonzalo, figuring we could always change things around if it didn’t work out.
After we assigned all the roles, we started blocking the script. As we read through it, it was fairly easy for us to agree on what would look best on stage. We tried to make it as entertaining as possible, and had a lot of fun making up silly or sarcastic ways for the kids to act out their part of The Tempest. Having already met the kids, I was able to help our group decide what would be successful and entertaining in terms of blocking with consideration for the kids’ personalities. As we ourselves acted out the scenes trying to figure out how each line should be said, and what movements would work best, I could really visualize our Act with our kids. I have full confidence that we will be able to put on a successful Act 2, despite or limited meetings and rehearsals.
I cannot believe how well today went. Only 4 of the children were there, but I was so impressed by their reading ability, and enthusiasm for the play. I started the session by explaining the project in-depth, and reading them a story-version summary of The Tempest. Then I went into detail what our section, Act II, was about including what the characters were like. The children seemed really excited that they would get to perform at U of R with costumes and an audience. We did a couple of warm-up exercises, and it was obvious that these kids all have outgoing personalities (the 9-year-old was a little more reserved, but he still seemed to fit in well with the older kids).
After, we all sat in a circle and I handed out the scripts. I told them that Shakespeare can be a little difficult to read/understand, and that I even have trouble with it sometimes. I told them it was ok if they didn’t understand everything, or had trouble reading it; we would work together and I would answer all of their questions. It turns out that this disclaimer was completely unnecessary. Not only did these kids have almost no trouble reading the script (there were a couple words they mispronounced), but they understood the plot and what the characters were like. I couldn’t believe it. All of our worrying and apprehension about these kids, their reading level, and their willingness to participate was for nothing! Even the youngest boy could read and understand what was going on. I was so impressed, relieved and excited!
As far as casting, I could definitely see certain kids playing certain parts, and for the most part, these were the parts they wanted to play. I asked each of them to give me their first and second choice for parts in each scene, and explained to them that they may not get the ones they want, and not all of them will be able to act in both scenes. They were a little upset at this (which was great that they want to participate so badly), but they understood. I’m going to discuss casting with my group on Wednesday, when we have a work day in class. Hopefully we can figure out how to make most of the kids, if not all of them, happy with their roles.
Today, we went to William Byrd for the first time for Orientation. Carlyn, Chelsea and I felt like it was somewhat of a waste of time, since it was really orientation for other students who would be volunteering there for other reasons. We got a tour of the building, and learned about ALL of the different activities they have for children (again, it wasn’t really necessary for us to be there for all of this, but oh well).
We also got a confirmation that our children will be between the ages of 9 and 11, and there are only 5 of them. I am still highly concerned about how this is going to work. At this point, we are all prepared to have to take on roles and act in the play ourselves. I’m not exactly sure why William Byrd would volunteer for this kind of program if they were only going to give us 5 children who probably won’t even be able to read Shakespeare very well, if at all.
Also, Chelsea and Carlyn will not be able to attend our first meeting with the children, and I’m a little nervous about going by myself. I feel like I’m going to be overwhelmed and may not be able to take control, even though it’s only 5 children. Hopefully, someone else will be able to go with me, at the very least for moral support.
After talking to other U of R students who have worked with William Byrd in the past, we are a little concerned about the ages of the children we will be working with. Apparently, William Byrd is mostly elementary school kids, and younger middle schoolers (up to 6th grade). If this is the case, we are going to have our work cut out for us. My first thought was why on earth would William Byrd agree to participate in this project? 3rd and 4th graders are not going to understand Shakespeare, especially if they’re not on their age-appropriate reading level (which they’re probably not considering the education gap in Richmond).
At this point, all I can do is laugh it off. We have zero control over the situation. If they’re 8 years old and can barely read, then we are going to have to figure out a way to deal with it. Hopefully we can “dumb down” the script to a more kid-friendly version. Carlyn suggested we do what they did in Shakespeare Behind Bars and read the lines to the kids and have them repeat it until they know it. However, that would require a lot more than the time we will have with them, and even if we had all the time in the world, the kids will not have the attention span and patience for that style of learning (I don’t even think I do). Anyway, we don’t know who are kids are yet, or what their ages are; maybe we’ll get lucky and get a bunch of 8th graders who are really into theater. Fingers crossed.
After a lot of reshuffling of groups, we seem to have finally figured things out: Carlyn, Chelsea and I will be working on Act II of The Tempest. Today in class we went through the script for Act II. There was a lot of slashing and crossing out. We took out everything from difficult words, to entire conversations. There was something very liberating and empowering about taking out giant chunks of Shakespearean text.
We’re still waiting to hear about the group we will be working with. So far, all we know is that they can do Fridays, which works with our schedules. Hopefully they will have a good number of kids that will consistently be there. I am concerned about the reading levels and interest levels of these students. I remember reading Julius Caesar in 8th grade, and it was a struggle. I can only imagine how difficult this would be for a child in 7th or 8th grade who is reading at a 3rd or 4th grade level.