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.

Our last rehearsal ended these tumultuous few weeks on a positive note. Marcus returned to our group and did an excellent job picking up where he left off. He seemed happy to be back and was very focused on delivering his lines well. Khalil was not there and the students said that they don’t think he will be at our performance. Thankfully, with Marcus back, we only need a few UR students to step in. Adrian played a little joke on us when, after we explained some logistics for the performance, he said he would not be there. He told us he had a doctor’s appointment right when the show was supposed to start, and then laughed and said he was just kidding. As one of our most dedicated students, I am glad that it was just a joke.
We were able to read through the entire act and work more on blocking with our group, as well as costuming choices and cues. The kids were all curious of what they should wear and what kind of stage makeup they were going to get. We told them to dress however they would be comfortable and that we would take care of the rest. They were pretty nervous about performing for an audience bigger than just the three of us but we reminded them that they had practiced all semester for this and were ready. A sweet moment came here, when Tamiya said, “It’s different when we do this with you guys, you’re our friends.” I really appreciated that she looked at us in that way and that she was coming away with a positive experience. Janiyah said she wished that we could keep doing theater and that she had ideas for more plays to do. I’m glad our rehearsals, though they may have been overwhelming and stressful at times, had them coming away with a desire to do more. I am looking forward to our performance and can’t wait to see what the other acts have in store!

Because of Thanksgiving break, our group did not meet. This was probably for the best as last week was not very successful. Hopefully, with the time off, our students have had time to cool down and really focus on this play. We have very recently received official word that Marcus will be rejoining our group! Hopefully he is still willing to take on the three parts he previously played. If not, those roles will need to be played by Richmond students. Though we have faced some challenges numbers-wise, we are hoping we will have all four students for our last rehearsal and at the performance on Friday. This will hopefully provide a better environment for the kids and will give them a chance to deliver their best performance to date.

Week 9 was a tough week for Act V. We were once again missing Marcus, who our students said had quit the play. Khalil showed up late and with a negative attitude. Adrian kept getting distracted from the moment we started. Tamiya and Janiyah were well behaved but did not seem very interested in performing that day. We were making some progress in the script when there was an outburst from Khalil. This culminated in him running out of the room. I followed him while TJ and AJ kept control of the other students. He sprinted down the hallway and into one of the dark hallways downstairs. After a few minutes calling his name to no response, I returned to the room to find that he had already gone back. Rehearsal was tense after that, with everyone afraid to set Khalil or someone else off. It turns out our fear was right, because with only a few minutes of rehearsal left, Adrian was upset by something Khalil said and ran out of the room. I went out into the hall with him and tried to talk him into coming back. He was crying, so I asked what was wrong. He said he was frustrated because he did not think that Khalil was taking this seriously, and that he (Adrian) was taking it very seriously. I told him that he should not let Khalil upset him and that he should focus his energy and feelings on his performance. After reminding him that he has been doing a great job as Duke Orsino, we returned to the room for the last few minutes of rehearsal. Since the students were still not feeling their best, we ended our session with the one-word sentence game. Though I am confident that our students can do this, I am worried that they will not find the motivation or take the performance seriously. We only have one more rehearsal and it is the day before the show, so we are hoping that things can come together before then.

This week’s rehearsal got us one step closer to being performance-ready. Marcus and Khalil were absent so we were able to work more closely with Janiyah, Tamiya, and Adrian. We went through each of their lines to make sure they could pronounce each word and worked more on the proper inflection and tone of the words. Adrian has memorized a decent amount of his lines, which is very impressive. The girls were thrown off a bit when they were reminded that their characters were both ending the play involved with one of the boys, but we reminded them that it was just pretend. The girls are also excited about wearing costumes. To end rehearsal, the students decided on the song for the end of the play. They all knew a dance for one song, “Juju on that Beat,” so all of our characters will end the show on stage doing that dance. We only have two more rehearsals left but in terms of knowing lines, our students are in good shape.

We had two students for our seventh week, which was not ideal but ended up almost as a blessing in disguise. we kicked off our rehearsal by reading through part of the scene for the director of the Youth Life program. Hopefully that gave the students some confidence for when they are in front of a full audience. We then were able to break into two groups with our two students. TJ worked with Adrian and AJ and I worked with Khalil. I was very proud of how far Khalil has come since the beginning of this project. By working with just him, we were able to really help him read through his lines and help him fully understand it. AJ and I were also able to get to know him better and learn of his passion for basketball, and his dreams of going to college. I am glad that he felt comfortable enough to talk to us about things like school because it is so important at his age to be able to do that. Knowing that doing this Shakespeare project is bringing him some motivation to keep trying in school means the world. Hopefully we can keep his spirits high and form the kind of trust with the other students that we are building with Khalil. I think Act V will definitely benefit from more open communication between TJ, AJ, and myself and the students. We all want to get to know each other so I think from now on we could take a few minutes at our rehearsals to just talk to each other about things outside of Shakespeare to improve our relationships with one another. This also reminds the students that we are just like them, students, and are only there to help.

Week 6 provided a solid rehearsal for Act V. We were able to run through the script with all of our students and once again discuss who their characters were and how they would feel with different lines. We tried to keep the kids focused by playing the one word sentence game, but some were a little tougher than others. The girls grew a bit restless that the boys were not completely following the instructions, so there was a bit of tension there. We made an effort to get one good sentence before returning to our play rehearsal. The lines are starting to sound more like Shakespeare and I can only imagine will continue to improve in the weeks leading to the final production.

This week was our most successful week thus far. Though we were missing two of our students, Khalil and Adrian, this proved beneficial, as they are the two who have gotten into it with other students in previous weeks. With this smaller group, we were able to read through almost the entire play. We also finally began discussing stage directions and things like blocking. We started showing the students when they were and were not going to be on stage, and Marcus even offered to take on another part. The kids liked the ideas of wearing hats to distinguish characters and Tamiya (Viola) liked the idea of wearing the same hat when she was Cesario as Marcus (Sebastian) would be wearing, to show the audience they were supposed to look similar to one another. This productive practice gives me high hopes for our rehearsals moving forward.

This week had highs and lows for our group. We had all five students, which was crucial since we have many more parts than actors. I was proud that the group was able to finally read through most of the script, which was a big accomplishment for everyone. The group was excited to start to add acting to their lines, and many wanted to incorporate more movements into the scene. The students got into their parts and learning more about the characters they are playing in our act. Though they are nervous at the prospect of performing it on stage, they seem to be warming up to the idea.
The major low for our group this week came after Khalil struggled with the initial delivery of his lines. Janiyah made a comment that he was not reading fast enough for her liking. The two immediately began to argue over who was smarter and the other students were immediately egging them on. Khalil and Janiyah were both getting upset and TJ, AJ, and I knew we needed to do something. Having dealt with conflict like this before as a camp counselor, I asked Janiyah if she wanted to go outside and talk for a few minutes. We sat down in the hallway and I asked her how she was feeling. She said she was frustrated that he was unable to read his part as well as the other students. I told her that everyone learns at different speeds, and that some people are really good at some things, and not as great at other things, but that’s what makes everyone unique. Though it sounds a bit cheesy, it motivated her enough to go back inside. I was feeling good about resolving the situation until the two started bickering again. TJ left with Khalil to hear his side of the story and to prevent further distraction. AJ and I sat down for a few minutes to talk with the other students about what it means to be respectful and to be a good audience. We also made it clear that rehearsals were not a time to make anyone feel bad about themselves and that this behavior should not continue. Once they got the message, we were able to get back to the scripts and finish up the act, which was a high note to end the rehearsal on.

I was unable to attend this past week due to a family emergency but heard from TJ and AJ about rehearsal. It is unfortunate that Adrian was in time out for half of the rehearsal since he is always ready to act and participate. I was disappointed to hear that only three students showed up. Hopefully there will be more for week four, or we will have to do some rearranging of parts. I am glad TJ and AJ got a chance to work more closely with Janiyah even though she was less motivated to do her part alone. I am hoping that this new week will bring a fresh start for our students and that we will be able to have a successful rehearsal.