This Tuesday we had another successful rehearsal at Higher Achievement. While our numbers keep dwindling slightly, we still have a pretty good amount of students. There are some different kids there each week because they often get rotated based on their behavior (if they’ve been good- they come with us, and vice-versa), but we usually have pretty much the same children each week. It has been really fun getting to know the kids a little bit more and to see them come out of there shell. I’ve spent a lot of time with one girl in specific while we are in our small groups. She was very shy at first but now she just wants to rehearse her lines and participate a lot more, especially in our small groups.
This week we started off rehearsal by playing the mirror theater game (they love the theater games). We had two children come up at a time and one was assigned to be the mirror and the other was the mirror-er. The kids could not talk and we encouraged them to focus on mimicking exaggerated actions and facial expressions. The kids really got into it because they became super competitive, seeing who could do the best facial expressions. This escalated into the children doing dance moves, which made it even more fun because it was kind of like a dance off. I think they liked this game a lot and it helped them with their self-expression and performance confidence. We played this game for about 20 minutes and then broke up into our same small groups to practice their lines. This was beneficial because we read the lines closely and I was able to help the kids with any mispronunciations or questions they had. With about 10 minutes left in rehearsal, we had some of the kids come up to the front of the room and recite their lines in front of the whole class. While they still did pretty good, it’s clear were going to have to work on certain things like vocalization and not holding the script in front of their face. We definitely still have a way to go but the rehearsals have been going well and the children seem to be really enjoying it.
We moved on from reading the script last week and began blocking. The kids are really coming out of their shells and it’s great. Behavior and cooperation aren’t perfect, but considering where we started it’s much improved. We didn’t really get to acting. This practice was more about who is on stage at the same time, where they should stand and enter from etc.. The kids are still fighting the Shakespearian English. Every practice we get the “why can’t we just do this in normal words” fight. Nia threatened to go rogue during the actual performance and “tell it like it is.” I figure if that actually happens, oh well, at least it will be amusing. Next week I think we will split into groups again and focus on actual acting and integration between actors.
This past Monday, our group showed up to John Marshall to find one student who stayed after school to participate in the rehearsal. Since Mrs. Ramsey had no way to contact us via phone, she was unable to let us know that no one else was showing up for rehearsal that day until we arrived. Apparently half of the students have after school activities, but the other half just felt like going home that day. She believes that she has less of an authoritative stance to get the students to stay for rehearsal than if Molly, Allison, or I were to ask them to stay.
Mrs. Ramsey asked if we had any ideas to get the students to stay and be more accountable. I said food always attracts people (I would know from personal experience). We also discussed possibly emailing the students the weekend before to inform them on exactly what we will be doing at rehearsal as well as asking them who will be able to commit the night before, that way we know our numbers ahead of time. Maybe by telling them what we plan on doing they will be more inclined to show up. Mrs. Ramsey sent their emails to Molly, so we will definitely try that out for next week.
Hopefully we are successful!
After last week’s success, Lydia and I decided the kids were ready to come together and begin acting out the Act. Well, that wasn’t quite what happened. When they are all together, they are very distracted and loud to the point that Lydia and I cannot achieve much. That being said, we successfully did our first run through and some of the boys that didn’t read at all in the first two weeks were reading large roles! I am confident in the Athenian’s acting, but I am a little nervous about Oberon and Puck. Our Oberon frequently says how he isn’t going to come to the show and barely cooperates (even though he did a great job last week). Our Puck hasn’t shown up in two weeks…
I think we are going to separate the kids between the Athenians and the Fairies again this week so we can go over lines more and begin blocking and actual acting. Hopefully in doing so we will be able to run through the script twice before going to play basketball. As far as my personal relationship is concerned, I can tell boys look up to me, even if they won’t admit it. They love playing sports with me after our read through and they respond to my “demands” significantly more so than the first few weeks. I am hoping to leverage this trust to get them to actually begin to act, rather than just read.
(Originally written September 26, 2015; Posted now)
Despite our excitement to immediately work with the students on Monday, we had to cancel due to the highly anticipated bike race through Richmond. Laura and I had been emailing back and forth in order to create and tweak plans for when we would arrive at John Marshall. Earlier on Monday, she emailed me and mentioned that school was sending all of the students home. We agreed that we would be meeting our students for the first time on Monday, September 28th!
In spite of this little mishap, we were able to accomplish a lot of work in class. Previously, Taylor, Molly, and I read and timed the act; We transformed the act onto a document and all edited together. We associate our act as the act that solves all of the major plot holes so we wanted to eliminate extraneous sections that did not help with this ideal. For example we discussed the idea of eliminating Bottom and the Mechanicals. We wanted to simply the act to make it funnier and easier on our student playing Bottom. After many revisions, agreed on including it into the cut script. This decision was made with several considerations. One was after talking to Dr. Bezio, eliminating this mechanical interaction could potentially eliminate the fluidity and continuity between the fourth and fifth acts. Another reason was the fact that we had no idea how many kids would appear. We wanted our script to be flexible so that any of the students could present.
We took the film and we are adding flourishes to make the women more prominent and powerful in the play. For example when Theseus and Hippolyta are hunting and find the young lovers, we want Theseus to use Hippolyta as an advocate. We envision the relationship as cheesy between Bottoms and Titania, with Marvin Gaye music, and as an opportunity for comedic improvisation.
(First written September 19th, 2015; Posted now)
This past week, Molly, Taylor, and I started our discussion about Act IV of Midsummers Night’s Dream. We systematically started to figure out the logistics of our scene including its duration, characters, and plot. While Molly and Taylor read and timed our act, I contacted the site contacts: Verenda and Laura. They seemed excited for our arrival. (It was a little relaxing to know that this was their first time with the Jepson Shakespeare project too!)
We knew little about our group but we wanted to familiarize and modernize Shakespeare. Granted we picked a pretty fun, comedic play that would allow for our students’s personalities to shine. We wanted to assign characters a little later so we could get to know our students. Being that we were working with high schoolers, I was excited and hesitant to work with them. I was just in high school a little over a year ago, I understood the angst and stress of high school. I had many questions before we started our endeavor at John Marshall High School.
1) Being only a few years older, would they listen to us? How should we interact with them – as a mentor or teacher?
2)Do these children know who Shakespeare is?
We do know that the students are reading Midsummers Night’s Dream in class so they will have an understanding of the play, the characters and their motivations, and etc. They may even be able to help us with staging because they may envision the blocking differently. When I emailed Laura, she estimated that approximately 15 students would show up. Are all of these students in her English classes? So is this a supplemental class or project to her class or is this an after school activity. I guess that we will find out when we meet Laura and the students!
This past week turned out to be a very successful visit to our school. In order to get the children excited about acting and what it entails we started our visit with a theater game. We made up situations that would have noticeable emotions they could act out. The other students were able to guess the action and emotion. The group as a whole had a fun time with it and everyone was into the game and didn’t want it to end. Only a few girls were shy about acting out but as the game went on they became more comfortable and joined in. It was a good chance to let everyone get up in front of the group to practice being on stage in a sense.
After playing the game we broke the students into three groups and each of us took a few students. In our groups we highlighted some of their lines and had them review them. Then they had the chance to read aloud in their small groups. This allowed us to gauge their reading abilities and help pronounce some of the tougher words so they could try and start remembering how to read them. Overall they did really well and seemed to enjoy being able to practice reading through the lines and start understanding their parts. This coming week should be just as fun and successful.
Due to their schedule changes and our fall break, we did not go to Higher Achievement the weeks of October 6th and 13th. While we did not visit with the kids, we made progress in making a prop list and planning how our next meeting with them would go and our second meeting went really well!! We went last Tuesday and the kids were so excited to see us. Devani, Melissa, and I were very impressed at how motivated they were to start working with the play. We had to go through the plot line again with them, but some remembered it and a few of the boys were eager to play out their characters. We started off the session with a theatre game, similar to the one in class with the different scenarios, but without incorporating the characters. For example, two scenarios were getting an A on a paper and breaking your arm. As expected, the boys were the first to volunteer to act in the game. However, as we went through more scenarios, the few shy girls in the group became more comfortable and volunteered to take a turn as well. This was one of my favorite parts of the night because it gave us hope that everyone would act in the final production with some encouragement!
After the theatre game, we broke into small groups, handed out their scripts, and had them highlight their lines. They each read through segments of their lines and we helped them understand what they were saying and correctly pronounce any of the difficult words. All three of us were thoroughly impressed by how well they were reading Shakespeare’s language in their first attempt. In my group, we talked a lot about the content and story line of the play because some of the kids needed clarification. I was struggling to help them understand the love triangle that was unfolding. Just as I was running out of ideas to help them understand, one of the boys turned to the other and said “Ok so say you have Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, and Kanye” and proceeded to explain how one likes the other and created a love rectangle similar to that of Midsummer’s. It was hilarious and actually helped them understand it more. Once they got it, they were excited to keep reading their lines. After seeing how much progress we had in one day, I am really looking forward to working with them in the next few weeks and seeing how it goes!
Last week I did not post, so I will make this week’s post a little longer and talk about the plan we developed and the crazy events of yesterdays encounter.
While we believed that we would have a core group, we still may be short in terms of participants. That being said, we will more than likely need to act ourselves and may even need to recruit some other faculty to be a part of the play. The scripts have been somewhat cut. However we thought it would be beneficial for the students to also feel that they had some part in producing the play. We plan on having them cut some of the lines as well. As we comb through the act, they will give there input as to what props and costumes should coincide with the parts of the act. Our hope is to finalize roles by next week. Unfortunately, the plans that were put in place did not exactly workout.
Due to injuries and interviews, I went to St. Jospeh’s on Thursday alone. This did not phase me as I knew there was a core group that had pretty much been assembled. Of course as I called Haley before I left, I did NOT realize how wrong I was. In fact, over the week that we missed a few of the students had been fighting and were not allowed to participate. I figured this would still leave a pretty good group and when I arrived Haley still seemed a bit uneasy about the group. Nevertheless, we went to round the group up and started our first read through. As we got through may be the second page, a fight broke out outside of the building we were in. At this moment, I knew all attention was lost. The kids ran to the windows to watch and I was stuck sitting at the table looking at Haley and waiting for them to come back. There was nothing she could have done, I honestly looked at her out of sympathy as she has to deal with this on a day to day basis. She commented on how cool and collected I seemed, not knowing that I am no stranger to chaos. After the fight ended or the kids lost interest, they came back to the table. As I started to begin again, three students left. Haley gave them an ultimatum that if they were to leave they could not come back. They kids then stated some remarks that I don’t believe are appropriate to relay. By the end of the day, we had only four guys and one girl who was totally disinterested. As we look forward, a lot of extra planning will have to go into the act. Not having enough girls may be a problem, but we shall see.
I do think Haley wants to be a big help. Unfortunately the nature of the environment at St. Joseph’s Villa is a little difficult to maneuver. She has been courageous, and I truly understand why she may need a break. I am worried as to what is in store if she does leave. That will be for another blog.
This week at our run through we talked about how to bring to bring our characters personality to life. One of the Osher women sneezed during one of her lines as prologue and though this would be a great touch to bring his flustered, lower class persona to life. We also double checked stage cues and directions to determine the appropriate time for that actor to come on and off the stage. Though there only 5 of us at rehearsal it was fun for everyone to get to play different rolls from their assigned parts. I had fun playing Thisbe’s roll, and getting to die on stage!
One of the men in our group has never acted in a play and is doing this as an exercise to stretch his comfort zone. The first week of rehearsal he asked for a small part as he was nervous about having lines, we assured him that it was low stress and there was no need to memorize. He ended up accepting a larger roll and this week voluntary filled in for Pryamis. It has been fun to watch him grow though the process thus far and gain confidence with every run though.
We are taking a break from rehearsals next week, due to many of the Osher participants having trips to New York City, Europe, etc. (must be nice!), but look forward to having everyone present at the next rehearsal. This next week the three of us will plan what we can do at the beginning of next rehearsal that would be fun, since we have a pretty solid grasp on our scene at this point. If anyone has ideas let us know!!