Well, rehearsals are not going as planned. In fact, they are not going at all. When Joe and I arrived at Henderson last week, we discovered that Higher Education had been cancelled. When I emailed Brandie about this, she also confirmed that HE was cancelled for this week as well. This means that we will only have 2 rehearsals to cast AND block the play. This is not exactly the situation I had hoped for, but I also realize that the play was never going to be spectacular even if we rehearsed all semester.
The biggest problem we have at rehearsals is not the students’ acting ability. It all really comes down to behavioral issues. The students have been in school all day, and Higher Education is their opportunity to relax and be social. The last thing they want is for someone to come in and make them read. Because of this, I’ve tried my best to be both authoritative and friendly. I want them to know I understand that this isn’t the most fun thing in the world (even though I think Shakespeare’s fun), but I also want them to know I expect them to participate anyway.
I think one thing that would make this experience better would be if our site supervisor was more interested/involved in the project. I don’t feel as though the organization is particularly excited about us being there. Everyone is very very nice and very good at their jobs, but I do feel envious of other groups in class who seem to have very supportive supervisors. Joe and I can definitely handle the situation, but it seems as though other groups (esp. St. Joseph’s) are more organized and supported.
This week was a little more productive, though we were initially frustrated by our group setup. When we arrived, the teacher with our group offered students who didn’t want to participate in theatre to continue working on another project with her. Of course, this seemed like a much better option for our scholars, which was initially annoying, as we lost about half of our group. However, that left us with the scholars who were genuinely interested in reading parts or working on the pirate ship, so it ended up being a very productive rehearsal. We got through nine out of ten pages of our script in about 25 minutes, which gave our interested scholars the opportunity to read through their parts without distractions. We still have yet to cast the roles of the boatswain, nobles, and sailors, though it seems like those roles need to be decided the day of the show, depending on who shows up and is willing to read a line or two.
Our pirate ship is coming along, slowly but surely, so hopefully next week while we continue working on blocking the scenes (and getting our scholars to speak up) the rest of the group can finish coloring the pirate ship. Maybe the addition of props will get some of the disinterested scholars on board with the acting portion of this theatre elective. All in all, I’m excited to move through the script a little quicker now that we’ve assigned roles and our primary actors are more comfortable with their scripts. Hopefully by next week we can figure out a way to maintain the attention of our non-actors in the group, assuming we have the entire group next week.
This week was probably the most challenging week of rehearsals yet. When Bliss and I first arrived at St. Joseph’s Villa, we were notified by Timone (our site supervisor) that Patty (who we had cast as Prospero- or- “Prospera”) is no longer attending St. Joseph’s. Additionally, we were informed that the students we cast as Alonso and the Boatswain have had excessive absences lately and likely will not be present at the production. However, Bliss and I powered through after finding out this information and went ahead with our plan to hand out scripts and conduct a readthrough of the script. During our read through, we encountered further issues, as we discovered that the student we cast as Ferdinand (who has a lot of lines in Act IV) has massive stage fright. The student refused to read his parts, and this caused the readthrough to severely lag (we were only able to get through half of the script). Eventually, Bliss and I assigned a temporary replacement for the role, but it looks like Bliss and I will have to recast this role as well.
One thing that Bliss and I realized during our rehearsal was that we were unsure how to address the role of Stephano (the drunkard) to the students. We decided to describe him as “silly” when reviewing the roles with students, and then emailed Timone after the rehearsal to ask him what he thought we should do/ what would be the most appropriate way to describe this role to students. Timone said that to be on the safe side, we should continue to address the character of Stephano as “silly.” I would be interested to know how other people are explaining the role of Stephano to students, especially given that Bliss and I are paired with the oldest age group.
At the end of the rehearsal, Bliss and I felt very discouraged, and I am now beginning to stress about the production. However, I think I will feel better about things once Bliss and I meet tomorrow to discuss recasting.
There are so many interesting things to unpack in Hamilton. In the content of the show, Hamilton explores such leadership-related issues as race, gender, the founding of a new nation, differing leadership styles (i.e. Hamilton vs. Burr), and idealism vs. practicality, among many, many others. The thing that has always interested me the most is the idea of writing history and leaving behind a legacy. Throughout the entire show, Hamilton is obsessed with his reputation and legacy. He’s ambitious (“My Shot”) and a relentless worker (“Non Stop,” “Take A Break”). In the end, after his death, his story is told by the people he leaves behind (“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”). Ultimately, the man who loved control could not control the narrative of his own life. Pre-Hamilton, many Americans would probably not name Alexander Hamilton among America’s Founding Fathers. He was mostly known as “that guy who died in a duel.” Despite all the work Hamilton did during his lifetime, he was not remembered for any of it. And this is not because we do not have access to his work (i.e. we didn’t forget Hamilton because he was a mysterious figure). We forgot Hamilton because he wasn’t an interesting historical figure, despite being an instrumental part in the formation of the United States. This speaks to the biased nature of history. The fact that America needed an entire rapping musical to be interested in Alexander Hamilton is a sad one (although it produced an awesome show).
I would love to explore Americans’ awareness of Alexander Hamilton as a historical figure pre-2015 and post-2015. I am sure that the everyday American knows much more about Hamilton since the musical’s debut than they did before. I know I do. This speaks to how cultural artifacts (like music, film, TV, theatre, etc.) can be leaders in their own right. Hamilton has changed the way that Americans learn/think about American history.
Last week, I went to Henderson alone to introduce the students to our portion of the script. Our entire rehearsal was spent reading through the script (15 pages) in a circle. I was pleasantly surprised by the students’ ability to read such challenging language. While the majority of the students were resistant, many others were happy to participate.
This read-through gave me both hope and worry. On one hand, I was really pleased with how the read-through went. I also quizzed the students on the plot of the play, and they remembered most of the plot points. On the other hand, I am worried about both casting and staging the play. My concerns with casting are mainly due to the fact that I can’t remember any of the students’ names. Joe and I have some vague ideas for who we want to cast in which role, but again, remembering names is proving a challenge for me. I’m also concerned with directing. I definitely have ideas for how the play should be acted and staged, but I’m more concerned with behavioral issues. We read through the play last week, but not without pausing many times to tell the students to be quiet, to remind them what page we’re on, and to tell them to sit in their chair and not roll around on the floor. I’m worried about trying to direct several students on stage while the rest of the students chat, play, and text (which they’re not supposed to do). We have a teacher in the room with us, but it seems as though everyone’s authority is somewhat diminished because this is an after-school program.
The challenge for rehearsal today is to stage the first scene. We could probably do more, but I don’t want to give them too much to do on the first day of blocking. In the following weeks, we will block the rest of the scenes and begin to rehearse. I hope we can continue to keep the students interested in the play!!
This week was a bit less hectic, though we did begin a bit later again. For this shortened rehearsal, we ran some quick auditions for anyone interesting in reading lines. We had quite a bit of interest in Miranda’s part, as well as Caliban’s role, surprisingly. Those who did not wish to read agreed to act as sailors or other minor characters, especially because that meant that they could color in the cardboard pirate ship while we ran auditions. By the end of the rehearsal, we had a pretty good idea of which scholars were interested in which parts, so next week we can begin to focus on those scholars a bit more. The scholars were definitely happy to work on something besides reading in their theatre elective, and the pirate ship is well under way.
Next week may take a bit more planning now that we have our actors more or less in place. We need to decide how to divide roles and lines, let alone make it through the whole script at least once. Once we begin blocking scenes, I am a bit worried about those scholars who are not particularly interested in acting and their cooperation when it comes time to do something besides color the pirate ship. It might be helpful to bring their prop hats to get them in character in a week or two, but this could also be a distraction. If anyone has started using props yet, I’d love to hear how that went!
This week was definitely a test of Taylor and my ability to improvise– in more ways that one.
We arrived at the rehearsal with the intention of doing a few more auditions for any stragglers, and then we would announce the cast list and begin the reading of the script.
Things went awry almost immediately when some of our regular students announced to us that Chris, our choice for Caliban, was no longer attending the school.
Our cast list, which had been almost complete and perfect, would now need to be rearranged to accommodate this, and as such, we could not announce the roles nor hand out scripts. Thinking quickly, Taylor and I gathered everyone into a circle to play a storytelling game, in which one person built off of the previous person’s phrase to make a story, all the while incorporating large and elaborate body movements.
Then, we played a more intense game of “Tap-Out”, in which two people will do a scene and when their body is in a position that someone could use to make a new scene, someone in the audience claps, taps them out and begins their new scene. It is a difficult game, one that I have played in many community theatre groups, and I was slightly nervous that the group might have some trouble with it.
I was pleasantly surprised, and the students showed a strong ability to build off of each other and communicate, which will undoubtedly come in handy when we finally finalize the cast list and begin reading.