There was a great wave of disappointment when I received the email saying that the show Friday had been cancelled. Bright and early I had printed fresh copies of scripts, gone through and highlighted each scholar’s lines. As Dr. Bezio said, “the curse of Macbeth strikes again”. All I could think about that afternoon was how upset our scholars must have been. Although many of them had shown disinterest in attending, there were a multitude of scholars that were looking forward to being on stage. They had practiced at home and really gave it their all during rehearsal.

I remember the first week of rehearsal, and the looks Jessie, Bridget and I exchanged. There were approximately 30 fifth grade students staring back at us and they were loud, wild and distracted. I was completely apprehensive of the weeks to come. Those weeks were definitely not easy. With each week that went by, we were able to control the scholars more and keep them engaged. There came a long stretch of time without rehearsal, and our anxiety of putting the show together came on strong. We had yet to cast roles and read through the script. Two weeks before the show, the scholars finally had scripts in their hands. I was completely impressed by their reading skills (especially of Shakespeare) and the determination they held. They supported and encouraged each other. Although they did not fully act their lines, they put emotion into what they were saying.

Although they did not perform, the scholars made Bridget, Jessie and I very proud. The last run through we had at rehearsal was great and I know that the performance would have been just as good, if not better. I’m thankful for the relationship we built with our scholars. Last semester for my justice class, I volunteered at Henderson-Higher Achievement. This semester, I was able to work with familiar faces which made the experience better than I could’ve imagined. I plan on continuing to volunteer at Henderson, if my schedule allows, to maintain these bonds. Come the spring, I hope my group can work with Higher Achievement to put on Macbeth. I would love to see them perform, especially after the challenges faced and all the hard work put in. This was definitely an experience to remember.

This week was our last rehearsal which is disappointing because I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent working and getting to know our scholars. Splitting our script into smaller groups between Jessie, Bridget and I was the best decision we made. Not only did it allow us to get to know our scholars better, but it significantly increased productivity. This week’s rehearsal went really well and I’m proud of all the hart work they have put in these past few weeks.

We began rehearsal by splitting into our smaller groups and running a few times. My group was very enthusiastic as they had practiced at home and higher achievement. At the beginning of the run through, my students playing Malcom and Duncan told me they would not be at the performance. My porters quickly stepped up into these roles, eager for more lines come the performance Friday. Donovan, who was originally cast as Duncan, decided that he was not going to participate in rehearsal. Tatianna, who was cast as Malcolm gladly continued to participate as a porter. She has been one of my best scholars- she is always excited to be at rehearsal and very focussed. Our run through after re-casting still went well- my new Malcom and Duncan stepped up to the plate!

Next, Bridget, Jessie and I decided to do a big run through with transitions between groups. We also made sure to time it as we were a bit nervous of how long it would take. It went well and I was glad I got to see Bridget and Jessie’s groups. They did a great job! It was just about 16 minutes, which I was surprised by for never having practiced the transitions. We then broke back into our smaller groups to discuss what could have been better. My group decided they would speak louder and put more emotion into what they were saying. They also mentioned that they were proud of their fellow scholars in other groups and that they did a great job. This was very heartwarming to see.

With the little time we had left at the end of rehearsal, we decided to do another run through as a big group. This was our best run through yet! They students not on stage waiting and those not participating listened and stayed quiet. Those on stage spoke loudly and transitions were smooth. Many of the scholars began acting their lines and not just reading from their scripts. It also was just about 15 minutes. In talking to my group after the run through, they were very relieved when I reminded them that they would have their scripts on stage with them Friday. They are very excited to perform and I am looking forward to it.

Dr. Bezio at the end of class Wednesday said multiple students have handed in their permission slips, which finally got to them. This has me somewhat relieved as I was nervous that little to no students would come. Hopefully many of our students come and perform as they have all worked really hard. I can’t wait until the performance!

I am very relieved and excited after this week’s rehearsal. We were finally able to act out the entire script! I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning of rehearsal as the scholars were running and screaming around the stage. Our sight supervisor quickly reprimanded them, unfortunately removing some of the students from rehearsal. Jessie, Bridget, and I then put our long awaited plan into action.

We began by diving the students into three groups: small parts, medium parts, and large parts. Surprisingly, ideal amounts of scholars ended up in each group. From here, we assigned each student to a character in a section of the script. We divided the script so that multiple students can play each role, which they are very excited about. There are four groups: one with only two students, and three with approximately eight students. We chose two responsible, well-behaved students for the first group. This process did not take long as all the scholars are familiar with the characters from discussions had during rehearsal in previous weeks.

Once I had my group for section two of the script, I made sure I knew all of their names and which roles they are playing. Learning the scholars’ names has been very difficult as we have around 30 in total. They began reading through the script, and I was immediately impressed. If they didn’t know a word, they did not stop, but took time to sound it out and keep going. They didn’t keep their faces in the scripts, either. The scholars projected and even began acting many of their lines. I was very proud of them. After a run through of the lines themselves, we went to a corner of the stage and did another read through this time with entrances/exits. The scholars that had smaller roles got bored quickly and had a hard time focussing while the others performed. I had to ask a few of them to sit apart from each other.  Besides this small setback, my group did a great job. Jessie and Bridget also had similarly positive experiences with their groups!

This rehearsal was the best we’ve had yet. I am feeling much less anxious for the performance on Friday. The one worry I have is that the site supervisor is unaware of the permission slips. They need to get these in soon. I’m looking forward to seeing their progress in the next rehearsal as they’ve promised to practice at home and with the site supervisor! We’ll also try to add props/costumes!

This week we did not have rehearsal because of Thanksgiving. I am becoming very anxious with the little rehearsal time we have left. At this point, making up rehearsals on Tuesdays or Thursdays with the group might be necessary. With the many rehearsals we have had cancelled, the scholars will struggle with the script, but I know they will work hard!

I think the plan Bridget, Jessie and I have come up with to break into smaller groups will be very effective with the little time we have left. It will allow us to maintain control over the group, but also give individualized attention to the scholars to help them not only read the text aloud, but understand it as well. We are very organized and determined going into this week. I think the few rehearsals we have between today and the show will be very productive. To do this we must keep the scholars focussed and not allow them to distract each other. I’m really looking forward to rehearsal this week and the final stretch before the show!

This week when we arrived to rehearsal, scholars were playing geography trivia. I recognized many of the contestants as the scholars in our Shakespeare group. As they answered true/false questions, the audience cheered them on. The crowd was a bit wild, and upon our arrival some of the students in the audience were negative and booing at the others participating on stage. The Higher Achievement staff were quick to shut down the negativity, and soon the scholars were extremely supportive of their classmates. Even if a participating scholar had gotten the question wrong, they received a multitude of cheers. Although we quickly realized there would be no rehearsal, I am glad we went because we were able to see different techniques other Higher Achievement staff used to manage the many loud students. We heard different ways of getting their attention too. It was a good example for Jessie, Bridget and I and we’ll use these strategies going forward. Our contact person is a Jepson alum and it has been great to see the work she does at Henderson. What she has learned here in Jepson is applying to her new job at Higher Achievement. I look forward to talking with her more and hearing of her experiences with both Higher Achievement and her time at the University of Richmond.

We had gone into today’s rehearsal hoping to a read through of Macbeth in our smaller groups with new casting. The smaller groups will allow us to not only move through the script more quickly, but also keep control of the scholars and help them focus. I am disappointed that we were not able to practice as we found out this coming week we will not have rehearsal either. This makes me very nervous as the show is in a few weeks. The scholars attend Higher Achievement on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so Bridget, Jessie and I plan on trying to make up a few rehearsals on some of these days leading up to the performance. Many of our rehearsals have been cancelled due to early school releases or the fall festival. This is a bit frustrating as there is little time until the performance. I know that no matter how much rehearsal we get in, our scholars will still do a fantastic job!

This week instead of having rehearsal, Higher Achievement had a Fall Festival for Halloween. We were able to attend and help run a few of the activity stations. One had the scholars try and pick a red apple from a bucket of green apples while blindfolded. Another station had the scholars drawing certain symbols that represented positive qualities on tissue paper. It was very hectic with many of them wandering from their assigned stations. Although we were not rehearsing Macbeth, it was a positive way to get to know our scholars and even some that are not in our group. I was also able to see some of the scholars that I used to tutor after school last spring!

During our class work day, Jessie, Bridget and I were able to come up with a structured plan for the coming rehearsal. We have gone through the Macbeth script and divided it into four sections. In doing this, we hope that smaller groups of scholars will be easier to manage. Hopefully it will also allow them to be more engaged and focussed during rehearsal. We also compiled lists of the characters in each section and increased the number of murderer and porter roles as those were more popular in our group. I’m looking forward to rehearsing within smaller groups next week!

I was not able to attend rehearsal this week at Henderson as I was sick. Bridget ran rehearsal by herself and I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been as our large group is hard to manage as is with the three of us. They were very poorly behaved and struggled to listen to Bridget’s direction. She had to take multiple phones and re-arrange certain groups of friends that were sitting together. In talking with her and Jessie, we have decided it will be best to break into three separate groups. We will divide the script into three parts and cast within each of the three groups. In doing this, we believe we’ll be able to be more productive and keep better control over the scholars. It will also give more kids opportunities to play the roles they’re interested in. This large groups struggles to listen to Bridget, Jessie and I. I believe that if we are a bit stricter with them, it’ll be easier to get more done during rehearsal. This will also improve the individual relationships we build we the scholars and create a more effective way to explain the themes behind Macbeth. I am looking forward to our next rehearsal and working with a smaller group!

This past week we did not meet at Henderson because of fall break, but it gave me some time to think of ways we could improve our weekly rehearsals. The scholars have trouble listening to us and staying on task, and although this is getting better, there is a lot of room for improvement. We should continue to use the strategies Higher Achievement has suggested to us such as: “If you can hear my voice clap once… if you can hear my voice clap twice” and giving very specific directions before they get up and move, that way we always maintain control. With such a big group, I think breaking into three smaller groups will be helpful, especially once we begin looking at the Macbeth script. They are very excited about our section of the play, and I hope they remain as positive once they begin speaking the actual script as I know the language will be very difficult for them. We will need to continue to look into casting as we have very few roles in our section and many children want to play these roles. Parts such as porters, murderers and trees will be easy to add. I look forward to the next rehearsal!

Our second week at Henderson-Higher Achievement went well and there were definitely improvements from last time. We have yet to show them the physical script or have them read. With so many scholars (now approximately 25), it’s important to get to know them and create a comfortable environment.

When we arrived, we decided to get the kids moving and play a name game to refresh our memories. Last week’s introduction of having them sit in their seats and go one by one lost their attention quickly. We had them play “slap slap clap” and say someone else in the circle’s names. This way, the scholars were also able to learn the names of those in the group they did not know from different middle schools. Next, we asked if anyone could go around the circle and say everyones names. A few students were impressively able to do this!

After the name games, we showed the scholars another video summarizing Macbeth. It was a bit more lengthy and detailed, but they were able to retain more of the plot. I was surprised at how much detail they remembered from the plot the previous week. We described our section of Macbeth in greater detail and began introducing the various characters so the scholars could begin to think of roles they’d want to play. In doing this, Jessie, Bridget and I realized we might need to add characters, such as more murderers or porters. A few students offered to be trees as well.

In discussing the role of the drunken porter, we explained that there is a scene of knock knock jokes. We asked for examples and one student’s joke was a bit inappropriate: “Knock knock. Who’s there? An earthquake. An earthquake who? Your mom”. He was quickly asked to gather his things and he was sent home. I felt a bit guilty as we had asked the students for their best knock knock jokes. To finish our rehearsal, we played another round of bullfrog, which the scholars had really enjoyed from the previous week. Jessie introduced the game mafia, and it was also a hit.

In conclusion, I feel that we were able to maintain better control over the group this week. One strategy that worked was moving a student that was having a smaller conversation. When we separated them from their friends, they were able to focus and stay on task. I’m glad they are enthusiastic to begin looking at the script and casting roles in the very near future!

I was unsure of what to expect my first week at Henderson-Higher Achievement as a part of the Jepson Shakespeare project. Last year, I served as a study hall aid/mentor at Henderson but I knew this experience would be very different. It was comforting to see a few familiar faces of Henderson staff upon our arrival Monday night. Jessie, Bridget and I had an overwhelming group of thirty kids eagerly waiting our instruction in the auditorium.

We excitedly introduced ourselves to the group and began to explain the Jepson Shakespeare Project/what they would be a part of for the next few weeks. To get to know our scholars, we had them each introduce themselves by sharing their name and if they could be an animal, which they would be. This was a bit challenging as there were thirty of them and they struggle to listen to each other/have smaller conversations. After we were able to get through all of the introductions, we then showed the scholars a short summary video of Macbeth. They found it entertaining and began to ask a multitude of questions. I was surprised at how many characters they picked up and the depth to which they retained the main plot from the three minute video we showed. Afterward, we were able to point out the section of the play our group specifically would be performing. By showing them the summary and our part, they were able to start thinking of characters they would be interested in playing.

Next, we decided to have the scholars play the bullfrog game. They loved this game and had so much fun playing it. Even one of the Henderson-Higher Achievement staff participated. At first, they were a bit confused on the rules and a few kids (that were not the murderer) stuck their tongues outs to be funny. As the game went on, they were able to focus more, improve eye contact and use their acting skills to fake their deaths. It also inspired many of them to volunteer to play the murderers in Macbeth!

In conclusion, the first week went well. In the coming weeks, it will be difficult to maintain all thirty students on task. I don’t think they will listen to us all the time, but if we continue to use strategies given to us during the Higher Achievement orientation I know it will get easier. We were also told the scholars are still catching up with one another as the Higher Achievement program is a mix of different schools in the area. This will pass by next week or the following. I’m glad the scholars are excited and I’m looking forward to this coming week’s rehearsal!