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.

Act V’s performance on Friday went well. All five of our students showed up: Janiyah, Tamiya, Adrian, Marcus, and Khalil. Having Marcus back definitely helped because we only needed a few Richmond students for the performance. Khalil being there was a surprise since last week the kids told us that he had quit. We were still glad to have him back, though we hoped his troublemaker tendencies would not make an appearance. We were able to read through a bit of our act, though the students got distracted towards the end by the audience filling up. We decided that would be a good opportunity to break for a snack, and then to get the students into their stage makeup. Adrian went through two makeup mustaches and two stick-on mustaches before he decided on one he liked. Even backstage up until the last minute, he was still trying to choose his facial hair. Janiyah was excited to have “girly” makeup for Olivia, while Tamiya chose a mustache to get into character as Cesario. Marcus was given a beard and absolutely loved it. When we asked Khalil if he wanted a beard or mustache, he pointed to his face and said something along the lines of, “I’m a man, I already have facial hair.” We divvied up the props, which was harder than expected. Khalil and Adrian fought over one gold necklace with a dollar sign on it. Khalil emerged the victor and, to ease Adrian’s hurt feelings, we let him wear a crown. He was hesitant at first, but once we convinced him that dukes were royalty and would certainly wear crowns, he felt better. We also had to deal with the issue of the students knowing their cues of when to come on and off stage. This was a problem throughout our rehearsals because they would get tired of standing or would not be paying attention and would go sit down. We told them to sit in the benches on stage if they really needed a break. When the girls started panicking about the audience, I reminded them that everyone was there to support them and knew they would do a great job. I pointed out to them that a group of my sorority sisters had come to the performance and that if I could read my lines in front of them, they could do it in front of everyone.

We got our students seated to watch the first three acts before we had to go backstage and get ready. It was obvious that our kids were nervous, especially about the size of the audience. They kept looking back at certain points to see the number of people there or to tell us about their nerves. When it was finally time for us to go backstage, the excitement and nerves were at an all time high. Since TJ, AJ, and I all had to be on stage at some point during the act, we told the kids that if they got nervous or had trouble, they could just look to us for help. We also tried to get them to understand that messing up a line was not going to end in disaster. We walked out on stage to introduce ourselves and our characters, and Khalil turned to me and whispered, “Who am I playing again?” I reminded him that he was Antonio and Sir Toby Belch, and, if I’m being completely honest, was very nervous for the performance. Thankfully, it turned out about as well as we expected it to. Though the students would wander off stage because they didn’t have any upcoming lines and it was hard to hear them at times, I’m really proud of how they performed.

When it was time for “Juju on that Beat,” I thought that we were in the clear. The kids loved doing the dance and would often ask to spend more of rehearsal time doing it. But during the performance, they seemed scared to be on stage and not willing to commit to the dance. Khalil showed off some of his moves but he too seemed frightened. As soon as the song ended, they became new people and ran off stage yelling and laughing about how happy they were to be done. As we started packing up, Adrian came around and thanked all of us for teaching him this semester. And in what came as a surprise for me, Khalil came around and expressed his gratitude to each of us for working with him and thanked us for introducing him to theater. Though I didn’t expect to be, I really am sad that we won’t be getting in the car and going to YouthLife on Thursday. It feels a bit like the end of a summer at camp, where you are in one part excited for what is to come, but sad about what you are leaving behind. I am especially grateful to TJ and AJ for all of their help during this process, and to Corinne at YouthLife and Dr. Bezio. Regardless of the times I just wanted to yell at the kids to listen to us or to walk out of rehearsal and not come back, I really am proud of each and every one of our students for their progress this semester. Though there were definitely days I was stressed beyond belief, I can say with certainty that this project taught me a lot and that I was glad to be a part of it.