Unfortunately, due to the severe weather this week, we were not able to meet with our 25 fifth graders this Thursday. Judging by the varied reactions to the prospect of performing Shakespeare we received last week, I don’t think our group was upset by this setback in the schedule. Last week, after playing an introduction game, Julia and I attempted to introduce the plot of The Tempest as a whole, as well as our part in the show. The children were very disappointed to learn that no one dies in this play, as their only prior knowledge of Shakespeare included Romeo and Juliet. However, they were satisfied to learn that they didn’t have to perform a large part of Miranda and Ferdinand’s love story. The idea of a king, a duke, and a wizard intrigued them, so we will have to give each interested child equal opportunity to try out these bigger roles next week.
The challenge with this group is twofold, considering our large group size. While we have to entertain those who are incredibly interested in taking on the larger roles, we also have to maintain the attention of those who don’t seem to care much about the project. After the first half hour of our first meeting, our group started to warm up to us, so they finally got into the game of Zip, Zap, Zop. Using games they all enjoy and in which they can all participate seems to be the best way to keep everyone interested. Hopefully, now that we’ve completed our script, we can work in some extra sailors and fairies around the island. Some of our most dramatic kids insisted that they didn’t want a large role, though once we finished describing the plot, we had about 6 of those same kids offer to act as Prospero. Next week will be a challenge in keeping the group on track (as much as possible with 25 fifth graders) and splitting up roles in an equitable way.
Caroline and I drove over to Henderson expecting to meet with our supervisor, Brandie, and talk about how the program would work going forward. We had no expectation of starting on Monday.
But as we discussed in class, flexibility is key.
We dove right in, and although our group was smaller on Monday than it will be going forward, we still had to fill the time and get to know these kids. When we told them we were doing a play, all but one of the kids immediately started complaining. They clearly had no idea what they has signed up for, and had no intention learning how to read and perform Shakespeare. However, after a few quick theater games, this overall feeling of boredom and frustration evaporated, leading to one of the most spirited zip zap zop games I’ve ever witnessed. They were laughing and playing by the rules and getting excited about it.
We played a few more games, and the more we played the more we got into it. Every now and again we’d talk a little about the play and they started to get behind the idea. We even picked out our Caliban, as he jumped at the opportunity to play the character who was to be drunk and rolling around on stage.
As someone with no theater background, I started to wish I had done this when I was their age. A young Joe would’ve had the exact same reaction: I would’ve felt forced at first but quickly would’ve gotten behind it. I think that’s what makes programs like this so important. Based on what life as a middle schooler or elementary schooler is like, kids don’t always consider activities like theater as an option, but programs like this make them consider it going forward. I hope we get a similar reaction from the kids that are joining us next time.
On Monday (10/1), Joe and I went over to Henderson to meet with Brandy, our supervisor. What we thought would be a 30-minute orientation turned out to be our first day on the job. After Brandy told us we would be starting that day, we had to quickly consult and come up with a game plan. We decided to take our time learning names and introducing ourselves, giving the scholars an introduction to what we would be doing, and then playing some theatre games. Unfortunately, we only had 6 or 7 students in our group because of a scheduling error. (Brandy told us that our group would actually be about 20-25 students.) The whole situation was… awkward. The scholars did not know we were coming or that they would be participating in a play. When we told them what we would be doing, there were loud groans. A boy threw himself onto the ground in disgust/anger. One girl said she didn’t want to come back if she had to be in a play. When I asked her why she didn’t want to be in a play, she said, “Because the 8th graders will laugh at us.” Only one scholar was excited to speak onstage. The rest requested to play trees.
I tried to get them interested in the play by telling them a little more about it. We asked who their favorite actors and actresses were; the overwhelming favorites were Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. I tried to use this to our advantage, telling them that they play would be funny, and that they would get to be like Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. That got them a little more interested. They were even more interested when I told them there was a drunk character and cursing. This probably wasn’t the best thing to say on the first day, but they were really not into the idea of doing a play, so I felt we had to get them excited somehow. It worked.
Going into our next rehearsal, which won’t be until after Fall Break, I’m pretty nervous. I’m not sure how we’re going to get these kids motivated. We could hardly control 6 kids playing Zip Zap Zop; I don’t know if we’ll be able to handle directing 20 kids in a scene! It’s also concerning that they had no idea about the play. They definitely didn’t sign up for it, so I’m not really sure what happened there. For next rehearsal, I want to sit them down and explain the plot, explain our particular scenes, and describe all the characters. After that, we can do a quick read-through. Hopefully this will give us a good idea of who we can cast in which part and how the overall attitude will be concerning the play.
Overall, I was fairly content with how the second rehearsal for The Tempest went. Bliss and I started off the rehearsal with introductions for the students who were not at the first rehearsal. We had about four new students, and I did not notice any students missing from last week. The large number of students we started off with combined with the new students and the high retention rate of previous students from the first week to the second week leads me to believe that we may end up having more students in this production of The Tempest than we have had in previous years, which I’m excited about. After introductions, we played a (very) long game of Zip Zap Zop. The students were much better at this game this week than they were last week, and the game ended up taking around 20 minutes. During our rehearsal debrief, Bliss and I decided that we will not be doing this game next rehearsal due to time constraints. After Zip Zap Zop, Bliss and I led a Shakespeare lesson. The Shakespeare lesson consisted of a combination of the history of Shakespeare and fun facts about Shakespeare. To my surprise, many of the students already have a large amount of knowledge regarding Shakespeare, and are already familiar with some of Shakespeare’s plays. At the end of our rehearsal, Bliss and I handed students a sheet with descriptions of the different characters in The Tempest.
Bliss and I are excited to begin the casting process; however, we are slightly concerned that some students will be upset at the roles they end up with. For example, almost every female student I have talked to about casting has indicated that they want to play Miranda. Bliss and I think that in order to meet this desire we may cast understudies for certain roles, as this would increase opportunities for students.