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.

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!!

I’m considering today’s rehearsal our first official rehearsal. Although we went to HE two weeks ago, we only worked with 6 or 7 students and weren’t exactly prepared to introduce them to the play. However, this week I think we can start to dive into the plot of the play and some basic acting exercises. Although we’ve cut the play, I don’t think we should have the students work with the script on the first day. I think we can do a read-through next week and begin to block scenes then.

With all that being said, here is my outline for how we will run rehearsal today (10/22).

  • Introductions
    • Joe and I introduce ourselves, who we are, what we’re doing here.
    • Introduce the program. Explain that we’ll be putting on a play, when the final production will be, etc.
    • Have the students introduce themselves. (Name, what school they go to, maybe ask if they have ever been in a play or performance before)
  • The Tempest
    • Briefly explain who Shakespeare is. (The kids last time didn’t really know who Shakespeare is, but they were familiar with Romeo and Juliet, so this could be some helpful context.)
    • Explain the plot of the entire play (simply and quickly, so we don’t lose their attention and interest). Play up the magical aspects (wizard! fairies! spells! etc!).
    • Explain, in more detail, the plot of our particular acts (Acts 2 and 3)
      • Act 2, Scene 1: Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo talking about their fate. Ariel puts Alonso and Gonzalo to sleep, while Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo, who wake up right as Antonio and Sebastian are about to kill them with their swords.
      • Act 2, Scene 2: Trinculo hides from the storm under a tarp(?) with Caliban. Stephano finds them. Caliban gets drunk, declares himself the servant of Stephano.
      • Act 3, Scene 1: Ferdinand and Miranda getting engaged.
      • Act 3, Scene 2: Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano conspire to kill Prospero and take control of the island.
      • Act 3, Scene 3: Fairies bring in the feast to Gonzalo, Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian. Ariel appears and yells at them.
    • Run through the characters: Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, Trinculo, Stephano, Caliban, Ariel, Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo
  • Acting!
    • Walk them through vocal and physical choices (American Shakespeare Center Basics)
      • Vocal choices
        • Pitch
        • Volume
        • Pace
      • Physical choices
        • Stance/posture
        • Pace/gait
        • Leading part of the body (head, heart, gut)
          • Head – smart, cunning
          • Heart – in love
          • Gut – active, angry

I don’t know how much of that we will get through, but it should fill the 1.25 hours we have to fill. If not, we can play some Zip Zap Zop or musical chairs.

Because Higher Education was closed for Columbus Day, we were not able to have rehearsal. Unfortunately, we still have a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t really know how large our group of students will be or what they will be like. Will they be excited to perform? Or will their overall reaction to the idea be similar to that of the small group we worked with 2 weeks ago? These questions won’t be answered until next week when we finally return. In the mean time, here are some questions I will be considering:

  1. Casting. This is the thing that is worrying me the most. As someone who likes to have plan, I am struggling to be okay with inconsistent attendance at HE. I’m thinking it might be a good idea to have several students on call for the main roles we have in our scenes.
  2. How to structure rehearsal. Rehearsal then games? How do we fill an hour and 15 minutes?
  3. How to get the students interested in and excited about the play, without making them rowdy. I tend to encourage kids’ bad behavior because I think it’s funny. This is not something I should do during rehearsal (but inevitably will).
  4. How to explain the plot of the play without boring them. Also, how to explain the characters, the themes, anything else they might need to know. And how to do all this while they are trying to run around the auditorium.

My plan is for my next blog post to be answers to these questions, a detailed plan for our first real rehearsal. I have to graduate and find a job soon but for some reason this play is the thing giving me the most anxiety.

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.