Week 10 was a big one – on Thursday we had our final meeting with our students at St.Joseph’s Villa and on Friday was the final performance, also at St.Joseph’s villa.

We went into our final rehearsal a bit apprehensive knowing that the show was coming up the next day and that we had never made it through a full script read through. Because of this we walking into rehearsal on Thursday ready to be efficient and get through what we knew we needed to. Prior to the meeting Lexi, Matt, and I had established how many lines each character had in our act and did our best to assign the students we had in the past to roles that we thought would be fitting for them. We based these assignments primarily off of factors of enthusiasm, projection, and reading speed. Luckily none of our students was particularly dead set on a character, so we knew we had the freedom to move some assignments around in order to make the final production go as smoothly as possible.

We had 7 students show up on Thursday and the first thing we asked all of them was whether or not they would be at the performance the next day and they all said YES! This was very exciting for us because up until that moment we really had no idea who we could expect to show up on Friday. We spent much of our time on Thursday going through Scene 4 as it was the one scene we had never gotten to during past rehearsals. Luckily, Matt brought the prop swords along to rehearsal which got the students especially excited about this scene and we had a great run-through. We felt great leaving St.Joseph’s on Thursday, but were worried about one little issue – we had never gotten through the entire act, let alone more than 2 scenes in less than an hour. Yikes. That being said, we trusted Dr.Bezio’s words from the day before that she “wasn’t worried” and hoped for the best.

Immediately upon our arrival on Friday (final production day), Lexi and I gathered the scripts that Dr.Bezio had printed for us as well as the extra copies we brought along and made a personal script for each student. All of the students aside from KT were only playing one part, so we highlighted that character’s lines throughout the script and gave each student the script that belonged with their assigned character. We were able to stay relatively consistent with the character assignments from rehearsals, but had to move a few students around with the hopes of keeping our act within the right amount of time. All of the students seemed content with their roles, especially Charles who got to play drunk Sir Toby Belch. Christina was slightly frustrated with us that we had switched her role, but she got over it quickly and took her new assignment with stride. Rufus also showed a bit of resistance around being Malvolio, especially when we were suiting him up in his cross-gartered yellow “stockings,” but he too was able to overcome his frustrations.

We were lucky enough to have a solid amount of time with our students before the production, so ACT IV, who shared the same students, teamed up with us and we worked together to organize the students, their costumes, and their scripts and explain to them what would be occurring over the next few hours. We decided to do a read through prior to the performance and unfortunately only got through our act because it took so long, but I think this read through definitely made our students feel a lot more comfortable with the material before going on stage.

And then all of the sudden… it was 6:00 – show time! We gathered the scripts and rounded the students up before heading to the audience to watch Acts I and II perform. Unfortunately due to the acoustics in the church and the shy, quiet nature of many of the students it was close to impossible to hear what was being said. Dr.Bezio suggested that going forward, all acts should be performed in front of the stage rather than on it, a fact which we prepared our students for.

40 minutes later and it was time for our act. Jayvon, who had never shown us much emotion up until that point, expressed that he was nervous, Christina couldn’t sit down out of excitement, Dale locked himself in the bathroom less than a minute before he was supposed to go on stage, and Rufus’s cross-garters wouldn’t stay up – but otherwise the performance went down without a hitch. It was so fun and rewarding getting to see our students on stage performing what they had been practicing for weeks. They were so much more excited and confident than they had been in rehearsals and many of them really came to life on stage. The majority of our students have a tough time reading and speaking, so to see them power through a whole performance was really incredible. It was also very special to see a lot of their families and friends in the audience, they were all clearly very proud of the students and impressed by what they were witnessing.

Overall I think it was a great success and I do believe that in one way or another we had an impact on the students that we worked with throughout the semester. It would have been nice if each and every one of them could have made it to the production either to perform or to watch, but I couldn’t be happier with how the final 7 students took control and put on a show.

We had our final rehearsal last Thursday – the day before the performance, and we knew we had a lot to cover in a short amount of time. We had not yet rehearsed all of our final scene, and we still did not know all our roles. Fortunately, we had 7 people, who ended up being the same 7 we had the following day for the performance. Lexi, Eliza, and I had figured out during our in-class workday how many lines each character had, and we had a rough idea of who we wanted to play each character in order to minimize the overall time of the act. This meant that Charles would be playing Toby, and he was ecstatic when we told him that he would get to pretend to be drunk for his new role. It also meant that Dale would be playing the officer, with by far the fewest lines in the act. We compared our script length to the other groups, and saw that after cutting it down 4 or 5 times over the course of the semester, we were actually around the class average.

On Friday, I arrived at St. Joe’s with TJ, AJ, and Dylan after my Ethics class, and saw that Eliza and Lexi had highlighted the scripts for each character, which would help people keep track of when they had lines. We also went through the entirety of our act beforehand with the Act IV group there, but unfortunately we still took too long to go through the entire act (sorry guys!) and the other group did not get to rehearse. I think that we needed that though, because it was the very first time we went through the whole thing from start to finish, and I know that it helped with confidence for our actors.

When it came time to perform, I was a bit scared that Rufus would not want to be Malvolio anymore because he tends to get upset about things easily, but he already had the socks and cross-gartering on way ahead of time, which looked good with his signature sunglasses and jacket with the hood up. Everyone was ready and exciting to for the show, and they all did great. Christina was a little bit nervous, and even though she stumbled on a few lines, her passion for acting really shined. Keteira was a great Olivia, and Talya did a great job with Viola. Jayvon, who was completely indifferent to Shakespeare when we first met him 10 weeks ago, was asking me during the act if he could say, “Why art thou fighting?” instead of another line because he thought the language sounded better, and he did great. Charles was without a doubt the star of the show, and probably the best Sir Toby Belch any rendition of Twelfth Night has ever had, wine bottle and all. The only hitch was Dale, who mysteriously disappeared into the bathroom 30 seconds before he had to step on stage. Recognizing this, I grabbed his captain hat and script, and nailed the performance on his behalf. He then stepped up and did a good job for his role in Act IV.

I was so proud of all of our actors, but I felt even better seeing how happy the performance made their family, friends, and teachers. I am going to miss our group at St. Joseph’s Villa, but I am happy that we were able to do something that hopefully had an impact on their lives.

Aleeza, Caroline, and I arrived at St. Joseph’s Villa around 2:30 p.m. on final production day. We organized costumes, decided where our group members would stand during certain scenes, set up our music, and mentally prepared for the rest of the afternoon and evening to come. About 30 minutes before the students were expected to arrive, Dr. Soderlund informed us that there was only one bus picking up students at one school, when we originally had 2 buses picking up at 3 different schools. Aleeza, Caroline, and I were in a minor state of panic. Finally, 4:30 p.m. rolled around, and the front Church doors swung open. I noticed Ms. Kiesha walk in, with Andy, Betty, and Selene trailing behind her. 3 of our 15 students had showed up. Rather than freak out, we decided to reassign roles and have the students go through their lines right away. After an hour, every role had been casted, and we successfully read through our entire Act. The show was a success, and our students had a wonderful time performing.

Our final rehearsal with Higher Achievement was our best yet. Aleeza, Caroline, and I went to T.C. Boushall with the plan to split into groups by scene and go through the students’ lines. We were sent to the Mural Room. Right when we got there, we asked the kids if they were aware that the final production was the following day. Some students knew, while others did not. We then announced that we were going to split up into groups based on what scenes that students were performing in. I had Scenes 2 and 4 of Act 2, but only 2 students out of the 4 that were supposed to be in my group were present. Therefore, me, Teddy, and Selene moved off into a corner of the room and went through lines. I read the lines of our missing students. Near the end of rehearsal, Ms. Kiesha, one of the Higher Achievement coordinators, came in and one by one pulled the students aside to call their parents to remind them to send their child with a completed permission slip the next day, or else that student would be unable to participate in the final production. Some students’ parents were native Spanish speakers and did not speak any English, so the students had to call the parents themselves.

It still hasn’t really set in that we’re done with the Jepson Shakespeare Project. Maybe writing about the final performance will help it sink in.

AJ, Dylan, Matt, and I arrived to St. Joseph’s Villa around 3:30 after our ethics class. Luckily we had already highlighted our scripts so our lateness didn’t affect us. It was nice to finally see the “stage” on which our students would perform. I was worried about staging because typically in rehearsal the kids would just stand and read their lines, using little body language. Occasionally they would look at another character when addressing them or throw in a sassy head turn, but do little to utilize the space of the “stage” where we rehearsed. I was also concerned because our rehearsal space was a very plain room and when our students we’re actively reading their lines they often meandered about the room or would sit down in the “audience”. The stage at St. Joseph’s was a lot of room to fill, but ultimately the stage shifted downward to the floor in front of the audience so issues of space were not as pressing.

By the time our students arrived we had organized our props and scripts, trying to make things as easy as possible. AJ shared some stories about our rehearsals and everyone was excited to meet our students. We had a full cast for the first time in weeks with Khalil, Adrian, Janiyah, Tamiyah, and Marcus all in attendance. They were excited to get their props and there was only one small disagreement over who would wear a gold chain, Khalil or Adrian. Khalil got the chain, but Adrian was given a crown to even the score. We did a run through of our act onstage and only had a few hiccups. But it ran longer than 10 minutes which made me worry about time. It turns out our act was not the only one with a time problem. After our run through our a few students went to get stage makeup from Dr. Bezio. Impressed by the beard Dr. Bezio gave Marcus, all of our students paid her visit to at least entertain the idea of getting stage makeup.

By 6:00 PM the play began. It was really cool to see the other Acts perform. It was great to see the investment that the other students had put into the play come to fruition. The fact that other acts also featured the song “Juju on that Beat”  It was also awesome to see Jacob play a role in all five acts; his stage experience seemed to reassure the students in their own abilities and his enthusiasm rubbed off on some of the other actors. Aside from running over time, everyone did a great job. The large space created some issues with acoustics, but despite some of the audience not being able to hear all of the performance things went well.

When it was time for Act V to begin, our students were nervous to even go out and introduce themselves before beginning the act. Thanks to some last minute encouragement from Dr. Bezio they built up the courage to perform. We only had a few issues with meandering off stage and no fights broke out which was certainly a positive. The closing dance number to “Juju on that Beat” went off with out a hitch and there was even some dancing after the music ended because our students had so much energy. I am very proud of the job they did at the performance and of how far they came over the weeks of rehearsals. I am incredibly grateful to Dylan and AJ. We worked very well together and kept things cool even when issues arose. Dylan was amazing at deescalating worked up students and AJ always knew how to refocus the group by relating our work to basketball or something else relevant to the kids’ lives. I am also grateful for our friend, Chris, who helped out a ton with our rehearsals from mid-October onward. He was in the audience showing his support. I am so glad to have had this amazing Shakespeare Project experience and such awesome people to share it with.

After writing this, I guess it has sunk in a bit that the Shakespeare Project is over. Luckily I have this blog I can look back on when I start to miss it.

“But that’s all one, our play is done” – Feste (Act V, Scene I, Line 339)

Well, we did it.

For real this time.

Even though this whole process was a never ending mix of fun and exhausting, I am really happy with how our first and final performance came together.

We got St. Joseph’s Villa early enough to figure out everything from where the props would be stored to how to simulate a shipwreck, and even though we still were not sure who was going to show up even three hours before curtain, we actually had a great turn out.

Of our original consistent cast of actors, only Orsino was not able to come, so we, like the rest of the acts, casted Jacob as our fill in.

We were all set to have one of the three of us play Viola as well, but then one of our troupe members, who had until that day sworn she would only be a crew member, volunteered to take the part.

Although the actual performance was a joy to watch and direct, I’d say my favorite memories of the day came from interacting with our cast right before the show started.

Seeing our youngest boy in his makeup beard is a visual I’ll treasure always and having the entire cast want to color in more of the ship was pretty sweet too.

If I had to pick a favorite though I would say it was when after warning our two boys that any sword fighting with their fake swords would lead to a swift removal of said prop pieces, I went ahead and later said “screw it” and told them they could act one out as long as they went to the back of the church.

It was really interesting seeing our often times “too cool for school” cast admit to being terrified of going on stage between acts, but they all went out there regardless, and they all seemed to have a fun time if nothing else.

If I could change one thing, it would just have been to have them act below the stairs leading up to the “stage” so that the volume could have possibly been better, but otherwise I’m satisfied with how it all went.

There were times when I was skeptical over whether we’d be over to pull this off, and there were definitely times when I wondered if they would even notice if we didn’t show up one day, but that being said, I am really happy I was able to have this experience and see so much of what we learned in class in real, live scenarios.

I know I’ll have more to say in my parts of the final paper, but I guess if I had to say anything to any future participants in the program, it would be to just take a deep breath and try to deal with whatever comes your way.

Whether it’s random additions to your cast on a weekly basis or rowdy middle schoolers, trying to pull this all off will feel like a impossible task at times, but I promise the final production is worth it.

I’ve never acted in a Shakespeare production before, so who’d have thought that I would play four characters over five acts in the Jepson Shakespeare Project’s performance of Twelfth Night!? In all seriousness, I am happy that I was able to help all of the acts out! I appreciate that they all trusted me to fill the roles on such short notice.

After performing on stage with literally all of the students that the various groups worked with, I must say that I am very impressed with how flexible they all were. Here I am, a 6-foot, 20-year-old, big guy with full facial hair (not the drawn-on kind either!), performing alongside them! I towered over my Curio in Act 1, and had to hold back laughter about how absurd that image must have looked to the audience! I was also really loud (since the chapel was built for voices like mine!) Yet the students all thought nothing of it! The fact that I was able to slip in and perform alongside these students is a great testament to how well all of the groups did with preparing their students for the unexpected: convincing them to be flexible and to go with the flow!

I was also impressed by how well the students in the other acts did, given their ages! Acts III and IV had the oldest students, so it wasn’t as surprising to us that they were able to pick up the language relatively quickly! But given the ages of the students in Act V, and especially in Acts I and II, I’m very impressed that they were able to get through so much difficult Shakespearean text! Good work!

Moving on to Act IV, I thought our group did a great job! There was good emotion behind all of the actors’ lines, the stage direction (for the most part) ran smoothly, and our act ran the amount of time that it was supposed to run! It was also great to see how enthusiastic our students were to be out there! I know before the show, some students, like Christina and Rufus, were nervous about getting on stage. But I think a combination of other students going out before them and the three of us motivating them to go on boosted their confidence! All of our students were stars — even Dale got some laughs with his fake slapping of Rufus (though he still struggled with his lines…thank you Natalie for helping him out!)

Now, of course, it wouldn’t be a show without a few problems. We didn’t get to read through Act IV again before the show started because the same students were busy reading through Act III. We were worried that this might make our students uncomfortable, but it didn’t seem to be a big issue! Right before our act started, Rufus, who had played Malvolio in Act III, had the cross-gartering from his costume stuck to his shoe. It caused a significant slowdown. However, we were proud of Rufus, because even though he was pretty shaken by the shoelace issue, he went right out on stage and introduced himself and his character, then went to join Christina and get his props. Speaking of props, we also could have done a better job of transitioning props from Act III to Act IV (this is kind of our fault as directors, because we chose to have the students enter from two different doors, while all the other acts just used one door, which made prop transitioning much easier.) Christina’s pants were a little loose, and kept falling down a bit. Finally, our makeshift prison door started falling apart near the beginning of Scene 2, and we had to rely on Natalie and a very generous Dr. Bezio to lay there and hold it up like two majestic statues.

But for me, none of those problems detracted from how good our act was overall! Most of the biggest challenges happened before our act started, which is better than having problems mid-act and throwing the whole flow off, so I’m grateful for that. And all of our actors carried on like troupers. Charles was especially fantastic on the day of the show, doing new voices and being really committed to his parts. Charles really wanted to sing Bad Blood with Christina at the end of Scene 2, but Christina didn’t want him to, and Charles said that was fine (I was really proud of this conflict resolution.) Instead, while Christina sang Bad Blood, Charles ad-libbed random shouts (“Help!” “Let me out of here!” “It’s awful!”) I tried my hardest to hold in laughter, but a very loud “HA” escaped me. It was brilliant. When he came off stage, he apologized and said he did it because it was a torture scene. I appreciated his commitment to the character and his understanding of the part and the scene.

I’m very proud of Talia! Talia’s confidence shot through the roof over the course of this project. The first day she came, she was very quiet, didn’t have very good eye contact, and definitely seemed nervous. However, as she kept showing up week after week, she opened up more, and she was always willing to participate (even reading big parts like Feste at a few rehearsals). When she arrived for the show, she gave me (and Maddie and Natalie) each individual big hugs. That’s something I would have never expected her to do when we first met her. And she did such a great job as Olivia!

So yes, I am very happy indeed with how the performance came out! This has been a great experience, both in terms of theater and leadership. I truly appreciate the opportunity I had to work with these students on this project.

P.S. All of you who didn’t come to the post-show dinner… you MISSED OUT!

It was hard to believe that Monday November 28th was our last rehearsal! It’s been such a great semester working with these students, and I couldn’t be happier with how everything was going!

Before rehearsal started, I talked to Maddie and Natalie about whether or not we should start with a game, since this was going to be our last rehearsal. However, when our students arrived, they were asking for scripts and seemed ready and excited to work, so we decided to use the time more wisely by running our act. I’m glad that our students are so committed to working when they are at rehearsal. Big difference from our first two weeks.

In rehearsal, we had Christina, Rufus, Charles, Talia, and Dale, and we were able to pretty much confirm that all five of them would be at the show! With myself playing Toby and Maddie playing Mario(a), our cast was set! This was such a fantastic feeling, as we’ve been wanting to officially cast all semester long!

Before we ran through, we talked about details of Friday’s performance, and I went over the rules of theatre from last time. Then we ran the act twice. Everyone did such a great job, and it was clear that doing the act over and over was helping them get more comfortable. It was also clear that some of them had been practicing their lines, especially Christina and Charles! We still had a little difficulty with getting Dale to do his stage directions and say his lines, but Natalie decided she would go out on stage Friday as Fabian and help Dale with his lines.

The act ran extremely smoothly, and we were just at about 15 minutes. When we were done, we talked briefly again about Friday. Then, either Charles or Christina (I forget which one prompted it) wanted to do a group chant. So we all put our hands together and went “1 2 3 SHAKESPEARE!” I’m so glad that we were able to develop such good relationships with our students over this process!


The day of the final performance has finally came and went. It definitely did not go how I expected. When we arrived, we found that the bus was only picking up our kids from one school even though I’m pretty sure our group comes from three or more. Ultimately, Andy, Seline, and Betty showed up. I was really surprised that Betty came. She was in my group the day before and she really emphasized how much she did not want to be in the show. She told me that she would run, hide and go home on her own bus to avoid being in the performance. All the same, I am glad she came as her presence was very much needed considering only two other kids came. Overall I am proud of the performance. Andy, Seline and Maria did well in their roles, especially considering they each took on at least three parts throughout the act. I ended up reading for Sir Andrew and Curio throughout the act. It was fun acting up on stage, I’ve missed it if I’m being honest. However, I’m still having mini flashbacks of me being the only one dancing to” juju on the beat” especially when I had just learned it that day by watching youtube videos. I was so embarrassed. Every single rehearsal all of the kids were obsessed with that song and wouldn’t stop dancing it. But when the time came for them to dance in the performance, I was left dancing alone. I really wished they had danced with me, but I have to admit that it was pretty funny that I was the only one dancing, it took me a long time to realize I was the only one. I wish more of our kids had come, I’m sad that I won’t see the rest of them again at least for a while. However, I am happy with the final product. Andy, Seline and Betty all really stepped up in terms of our performance and I am very proud of them. They read their lines, even their new ones, quite well. They had a lot thrown at them when they realized that they were the only ones of their group who were performing and in my opinion they did a great job of tackling that obstacle.

The final rehearsal went better than I expected, especially considering we only had 20 minutes to rehearse. At Higher Achievement all of the the grades meet together for an activity before the breakout sessions. This week each grade designed a t-shirt to be submitted for a competition between the different grades. Our grade (fifth grade) ended up tying with seventh grade. I hope they won, apparently they were going to find out the results on the following Monday. In our twenty minute rehearsal we were able to breakout into the three separate groups and work on our group’s scenes. My group consisted of Jennifer (Sebastian), Angela (Antonio and Fabian), Betty (Sir Andrew and Maria), and Micah (Sir Toby). Izeah was not at Higher Achievement that day so I read the part of Malvolio. It went well. my group was in scenes one and five, we were able to run through both with no problem; I really think they’re finally getting into the play. It’s unfortunate that everything did not come together until the last rehearsal, but at least it came together in time for the show. At the end of the rehearsal “Miss Keisha” called all of their parents to get verbal confirmation in regards to the show. I am worried that no one would come. When we first arrived Alan said he had only received one permission slip back so far. He then asked the kids if there were anymore and he received another. He then turned to us and said not to worry that a lot were glomming. considering he only now had all of two permission slips, I am skeptical. We typically have between 12 and 15 kids each session, but I’m not sure if any of them will come to the final show. However, even though they had trouble staying on task and it didn’t come together until the very end, I am going to miss these kids. sometimes they can really be a pain in the butt, but sometimes they say the sweetest things. I wish I could do more for them. I might continue to volunteer at Higher Achievement next semester if I have the time, I really want to continue to help these kids.