We were unable to meet with the students at St. Joseph’s Villa this past Thursday because of an off-campus field trip that would not bring them back in time for our 1:00 time slot. We were excited to delve into working with them on the script, especially since we figured out roles for most of the students, but that will have to wait until we meet this week. At this point I almost expect to receive a text from Timone, the coordinator from the Villa,  every week saying that something has come up so the class in cancelled, but I have faith in the abilities of our students to learn their parts under the time crunch.

This week was a bit more hectic than the last. Caroline was unable to join us, so Aleeza and I directed the rehearsal. We rehearsed in the band room, as we always do, and the students insisted on constantly messing with the instruments, an act that they all know that they are forbidden to do. When they all settled down, Aleeza and I thought we would try skipping the theater game because we didn’t want to rile them all up for no reason. This was our first mistake. We jumped right into assigning roles and told the students to raise their hand if a role/character sounded like something they would be interested in. They were allowed to raise their hands as many times as they wanted for as many roles/characters as they wanted. We wrote down each student’s name next to the part that he or she was interested in. On our workday in class on Wednesday, we will distribute the roles accordingly.

Explaining each character and revealing how many lines they had took up a good bit of rehearsal time, and the group lost focus. Therefore, Aleeza and I decided to end rehearsal with “Zip, Zap, Zop” because the students had been so fond of the game the week prior. Many of the boys refused to participate and, even though we threatened to tell Mr. Allen (the head director of the after-school program) they said they “didn’t care.” As we attempted to play Zip, Zap, Zop, many of the students ran across the room, chasing each other around, fighting, hitting each other. Every now and then, some student that was standing in front of the door and scream, “Mr. Allen is coming!” and everyone would run back to the game and act as if they had been participating the entire time. I felt badly for the few students that were in fact interested in playing “Zip, Zap, Zop,” because they consistently voiced their frustration with their peers that weren’t letting us go through one round smoothly without disruption.

At the end of rehearsal, Aleeza and I stayed late to speak with Mr. Allen about what tactics we could use to get everyone to focus and participate. He told us about green feathers: tokens that the students use towards raffles and other fun activities through the after-school program that result in prizes. Mr. Allen said that we could bribe the students with green feathers in order to get them to participate. He also recommended writing a visual agenda for rehearsal up on the blackboard in the band room before the start of each rehearsal. Many of the students are visual learners, and seeing what needs to get done between 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. may entice them to cooperate. Fingers crossed that Mr. Allen’s advice will work at our next rehearsal.

This week’s rehearsal was unique in a few ways. For one, this was our first rehearsal without our biggest personality, Adrian. We were also missing Khalil, another regular attendee. This allowed AJ, Dylan, and I to focus our attention on Marcus and Tamiyah as well as frequent attendee Janiyah. Our rehearsal was also unique in its productivity for the time we had our students. There were no behavioral mishaps which have interrupted our previous rehearsals. We practiced reading lines and also discussed costumes, costume changes for students playing multiple roles, and overarching plot lines and themes in the play as a whole. By the end of rehearsal Marcus asked to take on a third role. His willingness to take on multiple characters is very reassuring. He is certainly enthusiastic about the play, but shows his enthusiasm in a subdued way such as volunteering for extra parts, rather than with the extroverted exuberance of a student like Adrian. This provides a good balance within the group which I hope translates into great on-stage dynamics in the long run and another successful rehearsal next week.

I can say without doubt that this was our most productive week at youth life in regards to the Jepson Shakesphere project despite the fact that we only had three of our students present. For whatever reason it just seemed like this week everyone wanted to learn and was very enthusiastic about the performance, something that we really had not seen in weeks past. In some scenes, we were even able to move past simply reading lines and introduce some basic acting in the play. Given this success, our rehearsal time this week was limited. We didn’t get started until 5:15pm because snack had ran over the hour before and we had to end early so that we could let the kids watch the cheerleading elective perform at 5:50pm. Even given these challenges, we still managed to get a lot done. Given this week’s success, look forward to next week’s rehearsal with great enthusiasm.

Monday 10/17 was our first rehearsal in three weeks. Needless to say (especially based on my last blog post), I was very nervous. However, Maddie, Natalie and I went in with a solid plan, and that made me feel good. Hopefully, having a well-organized rehearsal with the right balance of games and play discussion would spark interest.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with how rehearsal went.

We were back in the chapel, and when we arrived Timone only had Aisha with him. Luckily, a few minutes later more students walked in. We were taken aback by the fact that these were all brand new students: Christina, Talia, Kendra, Jacob (not to be confused with yours truly), and Rufus. But we were immediately motivated by seeing how excited a few of them were. Christina especially was very enthusiastic. She has done theatre before, and is quite familiar with Shakespeare. It will be great to have that constant enthusiasm from Christina in rehearsals. And some of the others, like Jacob and Kendra, weren’t as outspoken as Christina was, but were still smiling and seemed ready to go. Great vibe for the start of rehearsal.

We started off by playing some Zip Zap Zop. It took a couple tries for them all to get the hang of it, but eventually we were going very smoothly, and most everyone was clearly having a good time. Then, we played one-word story. Though the story we ended up with certainly won’t be hitting any bookstore shelves any time soon, everyone was doing a good job when it came to building off of each other. Between Zip Zap Zop and one-word story, there was one student I wasn’t sure of, however. Rufus didn’t seem to be too expressive, and wasn’t smiling much. I took that as a potential unwillingness to participate fully. (Spoiler alert: I was waaaay wrong)

Then, we handed out scripts to the students, and decided that we were going to try reading some lines. We split the students up into two groups, and had one group read the beginning of Act IV, Scene II while the others listened. In the first group, Christina played Feste, Aisha played Malvolio, and Rufus played Toby (I whispered to Maddie, “give him Toby,” thinking back to my earlier concern). We knew from previous rehearsals that Aisha was great with the lines, and this was no different — we plan to give her Malvolio, and she will be great. Christina was very committed to reading and performing the lines, and even though she was a slow reader and had trouble with some of the longer words, she persevered through it. It seems pretty clear to us that as soon as she knows the lines a little better, she will perform with ease. Now, remember that spoiler alert? Here it is. The biggest surprise was Rufus. Though Toby only had about 10 lines, Rufus read them with ease. There were long sentences with long words, and he read excellently. And while earlier in the rehearsal Rufus was very hard to understand, here the clarity with which he spoke was incredible. I think he could be our Sebastian.

Before the next group went, we explained the scene in modern language (using the translation we did in class). It worked really well, and I’m so glad we did that translation.

The next group went: Talia as Feste, Kendra as Malvolio, and Jacob as Toby. Kendra is very shy and quiet, but she was reading well. We will have to work with bringing her energy up, but I think we can! Jacob didn’t seem too enthusiastic about reading at first, but he got through it just fine. The star of this group was Talia. She is very hard to understand (due to speech impediments), but that certainly did not stop her from giving 110%. It was really cool to see her perform it that well. I think this whole rehearsal reaffirmed for me that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover.

We finished off with a game of Bus Stop – highlight’s included Christina’s Taylor Swift and Jacob’s Donald Trump (Jacob has great energy and presence on stage, so we will just need to work with bringing that to the Shakespeare!)

I’m so excited for next rehearsal. We will need to see who comes and who doesn’t. But right now, even if we have too many students, it’s clear to me that we have the makings of a fantastic Act IV cast!