I could not make it to practice this week, and I felt really bad about leaving Oliver to fend for himself. Luckily Corinne and I set up a call to discuss a plan of action after the rough week before (why Corinne didn’t feel like helping earlier… who knows, but better late than never). She planned to sit in on at least the beginning of practice to keep things under control, so I hope things went smoothly for Oliver. Corinne and I went over some potential disciplinary tactics and ways of handling certain bad behaviors. It was nothing very inventive, but I was glad to know we’d have her help and support in the final weeks before the show.

A late post about a rough Thursday two weeks past:

I was totally not having this practice. Oliver and I were reassigned to a new room. Clearly the Youth Life coordinators put little thought into what sort of room would be conducive to practice theatre. It was a regular class room with tables and chairs, but it was too cramped to reposition any of the furniture, so there went our stage space!  Also the move proved to be way too distracting for the kids. No one was cooperating. Strange kids were banging on the door and interrupting us.  Everyone was having side conversations. People were being rude and disrespectful to each other. I decided I was over it, stopped giving instructions and gave up on them for the day. It was disappointing and defeating. I was honestly just tired of trying. They are two practices out from performance day and shouldn’t be acting like this.

We actually did not meet this week due to Thanksgiving break!

I’m not sure if we will meet again before the performance aka this Wednesday?? However, even if we don’t I feel our group is very prepared and excited about performing! Our ring leader has been sick the past 2 weeks but I have no doubt that she will be better by then and more than up to the task of performing. The show must go on of course!

Hope everyone had a good break!

This week will be our last rehearsal before the performance next Friday.  Where has the time gone! You know what they say time flies when you are having fun. It has been a great experience so far and I know we are all very excited for the performance.  The plan this week, hopefully everyone will be able to attend, is to run through the script a few times without interruption to make 100% sure there is no confusion.  All of the actors seem comfortable with their lines and know their stage directions.  We are prepared to step in and help another group fill in any gaps that arise in their cast and look forward to seeing all of the other groups in action!  We are still going with modern dress for our costumes and incorporating the icon associated with each character throughout the performance.  This week we will also go over the protocol for the beginning of each act.  The performers will file on stage introduce themselves and tell the audience who they will be in the play, to help the audience have any hope in following who is who in each act.  It should be a great event filled with laughter and opportunities to learn.  Can’t wait to meet with my group on Wednesday.

Mrs. Ramsey replied to my email this week, and let us know what had happened: she was out of school for the time being because her husband was in the hospital. In her email, she also told us that she was going to put Verenda Cobbs in charge of managing the project while she was out, and that she was going to urge her students to show when she could. She really empathized with us about the students not showing, I empathized with her being in the hospital! That’s awful.

We don’t know when she will return to John Marshall considering the circumstances, and as a group, we felt it would be inappropriate to push or press her about scheduling because she is handing a family situation. That being said, we could not go to John Marshall this week (11/16) because we got no word/info from Verenda Cobbs, who, according to Mrs. Ramsey’s last email, would be notifying us when to come back to John Marshall for rehearsal.

It is definitely frustrating dealing with these communication issues, but we have agreed that we have to be patient. Our project is not the only thing going on in these teachers’ or students’ lives- we know that. We really want to be a priority, though. Our production won’t survive, or have the effect it could have, without being at list among the list of things these people care about. We are hoping to hear from Verenda or Mrs. Ramsey ASAP- she has all our contact info, my personal cell number, my email, and we just have to trust her or Verenda to update us. Surely by next week, things will be up and running. If not, we are going to continue doing everything in our power to make things happen, and continue to be honest and upfront about what’s going on with Dr. Bezio.


Update: Laura Ramsey was ready for rehearsal on 11/16, but never sent us word (she had my cell and email…) She did contact Dean Soderland and they are having a meeting this week, hopefully to discuss what the heck is going on. Fingers crossed!

On Monday 11/9, hopes for a rehearsal were dashed.

We sent out an email to the students asking them to let us know if they couldn’t come, and in reply, one of our most reliable students, Amelia, dropped out. She emailed Allison and said she just didn’t have the time. She was supposed to be our Hippolyta, and was someone we were really counting on and were excited about. She seemed excited too! She was pretty diligent, always asking us about University of Richmond, questions about college, etc. Maybe that’s what’s bogging her down? She’s worried about the college search/paying for college?

Anyway, we called John Marshall High School on our way there, in order to make sure at least someone had made it to Mrs. Ramsey’s classroom that afternoon.

Well, thank goodness we called, because it turned out not even Mrs. Ramsey herself had made it to Mrs. Ramsey’s classroom that afternoon.

When the front desk secretary told us Mrs. Ramsey was not in her classroom, we inquired if she was there at all. She let us know that she was not present at school at all that day, and no volunteers should plan on coming. So again, we turned around. Pretty downtrodded. I fired off an email to Mrs. Ramsey letting her know what happened and asking if we could count on being there next week…I guess we will see how that goes.

Monday, 11/2, was a sad turn of events. We sent out our first email to all of the students who signed up for the project on Monday, hoping they would be checking their emails while at school and this would be a casual reminder to get them to stay after. We did not want to email too early, like Friday, because we didn’t want them to forget. However, maybe sending it on Monday was too late? We didn’t get any replies…

On the way to John Marshall, I called Laura Ramsey’s office to check in and make sure her students were in her classroom, and planning on staying (so we wouldn’t be turned away again…) She told us that no students had stayed, and we might as well turn around. Ouch.

So we see a pattern forming that is really worrying us. When we call Mrs. Ramsey, we almost invariably get bad news. But we have to call her, because otherwise, she does not communicate with us in any way that plans for rehearsal have been called off. Honestly, The Jepson Shakespeare Project does not seem like it is a priority for the students, and that really makes us sad.

We have big ideas: we want to empower Hippolyta’s character, play up India’s natural style to play quirky and ethereal Hippolyta, and reinforce Dante’s natural charisma and hilarity (he’s a great story teller!! He was killing us a few weeks ago with a story about a lady on his bus.) to make Bottom really shine with dimension.

But none of this can come to fruition if the students don’t show. We are going to send a more timely email next week, and check in with Mrs. Ramsey on our way again, hoping for the best!

***Note: Ditto with the last post. This post was written and meant to be published the week of 10/26, but it as saved as a draft mistakenly.***

Alright. Things, once again, did not go as planned. When only three students showed during our last visit, I asked Laura Ramsey for her cell number so that we could communicate with her most closely and quickly to prevent attendence from slowing. Well, we called Laura on my phone on Monday, to make sure things were good to go, and it seemed to be the wrong number. Well, it was definitely the wrong number, because a dude answered who had no idea who I was. So we also emailed Laura so to remind her we were on our way, since it had been a few weeks. No reply. She’s a busy public school teacher, so that’s understandable.

However, from the moment we got in (with the help of a random janitor in the parking lot, since all the doors were locked and there we didn’t know how to contact Laura) it felt like we weren’t supposed to be there. We came up to Laura’s room at our regular time, and only one girl was there. Laura said, “Oh, I should have told you guys not to come. You should just go back.” We stayed to talk with her though, and discuss what we could do differently to make sure this didn’t happen again and we got our production on track.

During this meeting, Laura told us that from now on, getting the teenagers to rehearsal was our responsibility. Okay. So I got the emails for each student from her in order to communicate with them ourselves. We also brainstormed other ways to attract the students back to our project. Food? Fun games? More explanation? Should we try to come earlier? We bounced ideas off India, the only girl who attended, and got her feedback. She said the students really had no reason for not being there as far as she knew; they just didn’t feel like it.

So as a team, the three of us are really strategizing about how to take on this responsibility and get our students to rehearsal. We are going to send out an email next Sunday to remind the students of rehearsal, let them know about our fun ideas, and encourage them to reply/let us know if they cannot attend for any reason.

***It’s important to preface these posts by saying that I made a pretty awkward blog-novice mistake. I saved three of my blog posts as drafts, thinking that meant they were posted, since I could see thiem in the “All Posts” list. Oops. So I am going back in and pressing the PUBLISH button on them now, followed by my new updates from November.***

Though last week did not have the outcome we hoped for in terms of theatrical progress, it was a great bonding session, and a crucial lesson in the value of relationships when it comes to attempting to lead a group. One of the dissappointing scheduling outcomes, however, was that we found out we would not see our group for another two weeks. Our fall break is, well, now. So we will not see the kids until the 10/19.

So in the meantime, Taylor, Allison, and I have been discussing prop lists in order to get the ball rolling on our production. For one thing, we had a pretty big character switch in the last few weeks. Originally, our Bottom was going to be a very stylish girl from the group. Despite fairies and queens and fairy queens being presented as options, she volunteered to be the ugly donkey dude. Awesome! However, she has not been showing up and we were introduced to another one of Mrs. Ramsey’s students- Dante. Dante is the only boy in our production, and he is a fantastic kid. Theatrical, artistic, interested in the project, and he is our new Bottom. While our orginial female Bottom was going to go the unicorn route with costuming, Dante is feeling a more classic interpretation of the role- Donkey Head. We’re cool with that! So as far as the prop list goes, and important decision has been checked off.

We have also been discussing costuming in a more general sense, meaning, what the heck will everyone who’s not bobbing around in a giant donkey head be wearing? We are really thinking the best option would be to let the kids wear there own clothing for costumes. We want to go this route for two reasons: 1. Simplicity- not only is it cost effective, but our group hasn’t been the most dependable so far in terms of actually meeting with us. It would suck to get the ball rolling on some fancy (togas?) costumes, only to realize our main priority needs to be just getting human bodies to rehearsal.

2. Style- Our students have an extremely individualistic fashion sense. There’s blue hair, orange knee socks, and cool makeup involved in their regular school styling; they already express their characters through what they wear. So why not let them play it up to suit what they want? Besides a few sets of wings, we think this would be a fun way to hand over more control to our students.

Looking forward to next week when we will see our kids again and hopefully make more progress on the script!

(This blog post was written on October 11th, and saved as a draft by accident.)

A recent meeting at John Marshall went all wrong: only three kids showed up, the teacher told us to reschedule (until after fall break), and no progress was made on the script we had just perfected.
However, on our way home, Taylor, Allison, and I agreed that it might have been the best meeting we’ve ever had.
Here’s why: when everything went wrong, a lack of structure actually worked in our favor, and gave us the flexibility to bond with our students (the few that showed up) in a really special way. When we first arrived ready to go and excited to read through, we were met with some defeat. The teacher, disappointed with the turn out, almost immediately told us we might as well go home. But we’d made it all the way there, so we decided to stick around. A few minutes into our awkward hovering, Judah and Amilia starting asking us about college. How did we get in? How did we get scholarships? Did we play sports? Did we like art? How can they get into Richmond? What’s it like there? Is it hard to get a scholarship? When did you apply?
I felt transported to my confused, overwhelmed, and hopeful high school self-I hadn’t thought about these questions since then. They’d all been answered as life unfolded. But for these students, the questions remained. And they were hopeful. Amelia, especially, focused in on a conversation with me about college- and her questions were direct. “What kind of scholarship did you get?” she asked, “How did you get it? What do you need?” In response, we started asking the students what they cared about: what clubs are you in, what do you like to work on, what do you want to do? The answers were amazing. Amilia is fascinated by biology and animals; Judah started her own magazine and writes poetry. We assured them that they were smart and capable and had what it took to be good applications. As we kept talking, we learned more and more about the girls lives at school, at home, and what their dreams were. What started as a casual conversation with a few of our kids turned into a moment that helped build our relationship. The meeting was boundary breaking, and reminded me how important a relationship oriented leadership style is to the nature of our project.