Because Higher Education was closed for Columbus Day, we were not able to have rehearsal. Unfortunately, we still have a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t really know how large our group of students will be or what they will be like. Will they be excited to perform? Or will their overall reaction to the idea be similar to that of the small group we worked with 2 weeks ago? These questions won’t be answered until next week when we finally return. In the mean time, here are some questions I will be considering:

  1. Casting. This is the thing that is worrying me the most. As someone who likes to have plan, I am struggling to be okay with inconsistent attendance at HE. I’m thinking it might be a good idea to have several students on call for the main roles we have in our scenes.
  2. How to structure rehearsal. Rehearsal then games? How do we fill an hour and 15 minutes?
  3. How to get the students interested in and excited about the play, without making them rowdy. I tend to encourage kids’ bad behavior because I think it’s funny. This is not something I should do during rehearsal (but inevitably will).
  4. How to explain the plot of the play without boring them. Also, how to explain the characters, the themes, anything else they might need to know. And how to do all this while they are trying to run around the auditorium.

My plan is for my next blog post to be answers to these questions, a detailed plan for our first real rehearsal. I have to graduate and find a job soon but for some reason this play is the thing giving me the most anxiety.

Monday’s rehearsal ran a little differently from past rehearsals, as only about twelve students attended (in the past, Bliss and I have had twenty+ students attend rehearsals). At first, Bliss and I were a little thrown off by the lack of students, especially since we had planned to hold auditions. However, we went ahead and held auditions even though we had students missing, as we do not know for sure if the students missing will be returning in future weeks, and as most of the students we have been considering for major roles were present. Many of the students who auditioned were exceptionally talented. This made Bliss and me feel relieved, as we will have no problem filling some of the more line heavy and challenging roles- such as Prospero, Miranda, and Caliban. However, as expected, there were also a handful of students who requested smaller roles, and who were fairly timid when it came to reading the audition monlogues. Bliss and I will be giving these students smaller and less line heavy roles, such as the Roman goddesses and the Boatswain.

As we were able to find good fits for the major roles in the play, Bliss and I still left rehearsal feeling pretty good. Further, our moods were lifted by the enthusiasm the students who were present demonstrated towards the production at rehearsal. For example, one student (Lauren) asked if there would be costumes in the production, to which Bliss and I replied that there can be costumes if the students want to do them. Lauren then responded that she loves sewing and designing costumes, and that she would be more than happy to make costumes for the show. Bliss and I also received a few questions regarding stage makeup for the production. Next rehearsal, Bliss and I will introduce the students to the script, which we’re very excited about. Bliss and I have also decided that if students who were not present at Monday’s rehearsal come to rehearsal next week, we can hold a second round of auditions at the beginning of the rehearsal.

Unfortunately, due to the severe weather this week, we were not able to meet with our 25 fifth graders this Thursday. Judging by the varied reactions to the prospect of performing Shakespeare we received last week, I don’t think our group was upset by this setback in the schedule. Last week, after playing an introduction game, Julia and I attempted to introduce the plot of The Tempest as a whole, as well as our part in the show. The children were very disappointed to learn that no one dies in this play, as their only prior knowledge of Shakespeare included Romeo and Juliet. However, they were satisfied to learn that they didn’t have to perform a large part of Miranda and Ferdinand’s love story. The idea of a king, a duke, and a wizard intrigued them, so we will have to give each interested child equal opportunity to try out these bigger roles next week.

The challenge with this group is twofold, considering our large group size. While we have to entertain those who are incredibly interested in taking on the larger roles, we also have to maintain the attention of those who don’t seem to care much about the project. After the first half hour of our first meeting, our group started to warm up to us, so they finally got into the game of Zip, Zap, Zop. Using games they all enjoy and in which they can all participate seems to be the best way to keep everyone interested. Hopefully, now that we’ve completed our script, we can work in some extra sailors and fairies around the island. Some of our most dramatic kids insisted that they didn’t want a large role, though once we finished describing the plot, we had about 6 of those same kids offer to act as Prospero. Next week will be a challenge in keeping the group on track (as much as possible with 25 fifth graders) and splitting up roles in an equitable way.

Caroline and I drove over to Henderson expecting to meet with our supervisor, Brandie, and talk about how the program would work going forward. We had no expectation of starting on Monday.

But as we discussed in class, flexibility is key.

We dove right in, and although our group was smaller on Monday than it will be going forward, we still had to fill the time and get to know these kids. When we told them we were doing a play, all but one of the kids immediately started complaining. They clearly had no idea what they has signed up for, and had no intention learning how to read and perform Shakespeare. However, after a few quick theater games, this overall feeling of boredom and frustration evaporated, leading to one of the most spirited zip zap zop games I’ve ever witnessed. They were laughing and playing by the rules and getting excited about it.

We played a few more games, and the more we played the more we got into it. Every now and again we’d talk a little about the play and they started to get behind the idea. We even picked out our Caliban, as he jumped at the opportunity to play the character who was to be drunk and rolling around on stage.

As someone with no theater background, I started to wish I had done this when I was their age. A young Joe would’ve had the exact same reaction: I would’ve felt forced at first but quickly would’ve gotten behind it. I think that’s what makes programs like this so important. Based on what life as a middle schooler or elementary schooler is like, kids don’t always consider activities like theater as an option, but programs like this make them consider it going forward. I hope we get a similar reaction from the kids that are joining us next time.

On Monday (10/1), Joe and I went over to Henderson to meet with Brandy, our supervisor. What we thought would be a 30-minute orientation turned out to be our first day on the job. After Brandy told us we would be starting that day, we had to quickly consult and come up with a game plan. We decided to take our time learning names and introducing ourselves, giving the scholars an introduction to what we would be doing, and then playing some theatre games. Unfortunately, we only had 6 or 7 students in our group because of a scheduling error. (Brandy told us that our group would actually be about 20-25 students.) The whole situation was… awkward. The scholars did not know we were coming or that they would be participating in a play. When we told them what we would be doing, there were loud groans. A boy threw himself onto the ground in disgust/anger. One girl said she didn’t want to come back if she had to be in a play. When I asked her why she didn’t want to be in a play, she said, “Because the 8th graders will laugh at us.” Only one scholar was excited to speak onstage. The rest requested to play trees.

I tried to get them interested in the play by telling them a little more about it. We asked who their favorite actors and actresses were; the overwhelming favorites were Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. I tried to use this to our advantage, telling them that they play would be funny, and that they would get to be like Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. That got them a little more interested. They were even more interested when I told them there was a drunk character and cursing. This probably wasn’t the best thing to say on the first day, but they were really not into the idea of doing a play, so I felt we had to get them excited somehow. It worked.

Going into our next rehearsal, which won’t be until after Fall Break, I’m pretty nervous. I’m not sure how we’re going to get these kids motivated. We could hardly control 6 kids playing Zip Zap Zop; I don’t know if we’ll be able to handle directing 20 kids in a scene! It’s also concerning that they had no idea about the play. They definitely didn’t sign up for it, so I’m not really sure what happened there. For next rehearsal, I want to sit them down and explain the plot, explain our particular scenes, and describe all the characters. After that, we can do a quick read-through. Hopefully this will give us a good idea of who we can cast in which part and how the overall attitude will be concerning the play.

Overall, I was fairly content with how the second rehearsal for The Tempest went. Bliss and I started off the rehearsal with introductions for the students who were not at the first rehearsal. We had about four new students, and I did not notice any students missing from last week. The large number of students we started off with combined with the new students and the high retention rate of previous students from the first week to the second week leads me to believe that we may end up having more students in this production of The Tempest than we have had in previous years, which I’m excited about. After introductions, we played a (very) long game of Zip Zap Zop. The students were much better at this game this week than they were last week, and the game ended up taking around 20 minutes. During our rehearsal debrief, Bliss and I decided that we will not be doing this game next rehearsal due to time constraints. After Zip Zap Zop, Bliss and I led a Shakespeare lesson. The Shakespeare lesson consisted of a combination of the history of Shakespeare and fun facts about Shakespeare. To my surprise, many of the students already have a large amount of knowledge regarding Shakespeare, and are already familiar with some of Shakespeare’s plays. At the end of our rehearsal, Bliss and I handed students a sheet with descriptions of the different characters in The Tempest.

Bliss and I are excited to begin the casting process; however, we are slightly concerned that some students will be upset at the roles they end up with. For example, almost every female student I have talked to about casting has indicated that they want to play Miranda. Bliss and I think that in order to meet this desire we may cast understudies for certain roles, as this would increase opportunities for students.

Of all of the things that surprised me about the kids involved with the production, the biggest thing that stood out to me was this:

I liked these kids.

These kids, who came from backgrounds vastly different from mine, who had been to hospitals or shrinks or had been suspended more than once, et cetera– they were genuinely kind and fun to be around.

Through the rounds of Zip Zap Zop, I immediately noticed one boy, covered in bandanas on his ankles and wrists and head, danced during every moment that did not require him to stand still. Even after I called him out on it and praised him for his smooth moves, he only shied away for a moment before he hopped from one foot to another.

Another girl, who was admittedly prone to interrupting, asked thoughtful questions about her scene as Miranda and was even able to calm one of the rowdier boys when he had a brief outburst.

As more and more students got ‘out’ from playing Zip Zap Zop, they watched the remaining players with intrigue and kept the noise to a murmur, often asking who was still in and who I personally thought was going to win.

I had been afraid of some of the young men making passes at Taylor and I, but we were met with respect all around, and Timon acted more like a watchful coach rather than a strict disciplinarian to the kids.

I quickly came to adore several kids who, though they seemed shy, immediately volunteered to read different ‘Head, Heart and Gut’ lines and understood my extremely vague synopses of their scenes. One boy, Chris, who had announced proudly at the beginning that he was now celebrating his tenth year cancer-free (and was met with whoops and applause all around) read for Caliban, and noted that his excerpt contained a swear word.

“Is it okay if I use that?” He asked.

“It’s what Shakespeare would have wanted. Let it ring out, dude!” I responded.

With a huge grin on his face, he read the lines with intense power, and practically screamed the word “ASS!” when it was time, which was, once again, met with encouraging whoops and applause from the audience.

As far as first impressions go, I am very excited to work with this group on Monday and to get them started on our next plan of action, which will likely involve more reading of lines from the show and a synopsis of the show, and Taylor and I will continue to analyze which people might fit certain roles.

On Thursday evening, Julia and I met with our project partner in order to go through the policies and expectations of Higher Achievement. We learned that we could have up to 25 fifth graders in our elective, which will probably be a challenge. That being said, I think it would be a good idea to begin our first rehearsal with an introductory game, like a name game or passing around a beach ball with get-to-know-you questions. Depending on how long this takes, we could play another game with the group, like Zip Zap Zop or Froggy Murder (a personal favorite). Following the games and introductions, we will introduce our part of the play, introduce the characters in Act I, and set expectations for the rehearsals that are in line with Higher Achievement’s expectations for the scholars. We could then ask the scholars whether they would like to audition for roles, have us decide, or just try roles out until they find a dynamic that they like. With a group of this size, hopefully some of our scholars will want to help us with staging things like the storm or Ariel’s magic. If we have time after discussing the characters, we can have some students go through some of the monologues if they like. However, with such a big group and such little time, it might be better just to end with a quick wind-down game. Overall, I am excited to meet our scholars and get started!

Bliss and I did not expect to have many students at our first rehearsal, and we did not expect for the students we did have to be especially interested in the Shakespeare Program we are leading. However, we ended up having about twenty students at our first rehearsal, and the students we had were fairly engaged in the activities we led (minus one student who kept playing the piano throughout the rehearsal). We started the rehearsal off with introductions, which was a fun way for us to get to know the students and for some of the students to get to know each other. Then, we played a game of Zip Zap Zop. In addition to serving as a fun activity for us and the student’s, Zip Zap Zop served as a great way to lead into our first acting exercise, as Bliss and I emphasized how the game demonstrates the importance of communication and collaboration between actors on stage. After Zip Zap Zop, Bliss and I led our first acting exercise. We used one of the exercises from The Basics packet, entitled “Head, Heart, Gut.” We chose the “Head, Heart, Gut” exercise because we felt it would be a good way to teach students how lines vary based on the context of a situation and the intention of a character. We used different monologues and scenes from Acts IV and V of The Tempest for this exercise, and provided students with background on the characters and context of the monologues and scenes.

In this exercise, three students stood out to Bliss and me. One student named Chris read a Sebastian line in one of the heart scenes and really got into it, experimenting with different tones, paces, and mannerisms. We feel as though he would make a good Caliban, as he read his line in a somewhat malicious way after he was provided with background on Sebastian and Sebastian’s intentions in the scene. Another student who stood out to Bliss and me was Lauren, who read for Miranda in the same heart scene as Chris. Finally, Bliss and I think that one of the students (whose name is Aaron) would make a great Ariel, as he incorporated dancing into the scene he read.

Overall, I am very content with how the first rehearsal went, and am excited to see where the next rehearsal takes us.

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