I’ve never acted in a Shakespeare production before, so who’d have thought that I would play four characters over five acts in the Jepson Shakespeare Project’s performance of Twelfth Night!? In all seriousness, I am happy that I was able to help all of the acts out! I appreciate that they all trusted me to fill the roles on such short notice.

After performing on stage with literally all of the students that the various groups worked with, I must say that I am very impressed with how flexible they all were. Here I am, a 6-foot, 20-year-old, big guy with full facial hair (not the drawn-on kind either!), performing alongside them! I towered over my Curio in Act 1, and had to hold back laughter about how absurd that image must have looked to the audience! I was also really loud (since the chapel was built for voices like mine!) Yet the students all thought nothing of it! The fact that I was able to slip in and perform alongside these students is a great testament to how well all of the groups did with preparing their students for the unexpected: convincing them to be flexible and to go with the flow!

I was also impressed by how well the students in the other acts did, given their ages! Acts III and IV had the oldest students, so it wasn’t as surprising to us that they were able to pick up the language relatively quickly! But given the ages of the students in Act V, and especially in Acts I and II, I’m very impressed that they were able to get through so much difficult Shakespearean text! Good work!

Moving on to Act IV, I thought our group did a great job! There was good emotion behind all of the actors’ lines, the stage direction (for the most part) ran smoothly, and our act ran the amount of time that it was supposed to run! It was also great to see how enthusiastic our students were to be out there! I know before the show, some students, like Christina and Rufus, were nervous about getting on stage. But I think a combination of other students going out before them and the three of us motivating them to go on boosted their confidence! All of our students were stars — even Dale got some laughs with his fake slapping of Rufus (though he still struggled with his lines…thank you Natalie for helping him out!)

Now, of course, it wouldn’t be a show without a few problems. We didn’t get to read through Act IV again before the show started because the same students were busy reading through Act III. We were worried that this might make our students uncomfortable, but it didn’t seem to be a big issue! Right before our act started, Rufus, who had played Malvolio in Act III, had the cross-gartering from his costume stuck to his shoe. It caused a significant slowdown. However, we were proud of Rufus, because even though he was pretty shaken by the shoelace issue, he went right out on stage and introduced himself and his character, then went to join Christina and get his props. Speaking of props, we also could have done a better job of transitioning props from Act III to Act IV (this is kind of our fault as directors, because we chose to have the students enter from two different doors, while all the other acts just used one door, which made prop transitioning much easier.) Christina’s pants were a little loose, and kept falling down a bit. Finally, our makeshift prison door started falling apart near the beginning of Scene 2, and we had to rely on Natalie and a very generous Dr. Bezio to lay there and hold it up like two majestic statues.

But for me, none of those problems detracted from how good our act was overall! Most of the biggest challenges happened before our act started, which is better than having problems mid-act and throwing the whole flow off, so I’m grateful for that. And all of our actors carried on like troupers. Charles was especially fantastic on the day of the show, doing new voices and being really committed to his parts. Charles really wanted to sing Bad Blood with Christina at the end of Scene 2, but Christina didn’t want him to, and Charles said that was fine (I was really proud of this conflict resolution.) Instead, while Christina sang Bad Blood, Charles ad-libbed random shouts (“Help!” “Let me out of here!” “It’s awful!”) I tried my hardest to hold in laughter, but a very loud “HA” escaped me. It was brilliant. When he came off stage, he apologized and said he did it because it was a torture scene. I appreciated his commitment to the character and his understanding of the part and the scene.

I’m very proud of Talia! Talia’s confidence shot through the roof over the course of this project. The first day she came, she was very quiet, didn’t have very good eye contact, and definitely seemed nervous. However, as she kept showing up week after week, she opened up more, and she was always willing to participate (even reading big parts like Feste at a few rehearsals). When she arrived for the show, she gave me (and Maddie and Natalie) each individual big hugs. That’s something I would have never expected her to do when we first met her. And she did such a great job as Olivia!

So yes, I am very happy indeed with how the performance came out! This has been a great experience, both in terms of theater and leadership. I truly appreciate the opportunity I had to work with these students on this project.

P.S. All of you who didn’t come to the post-show dinner… you MISSED OUT!

It was hard to believe that Monday November 28th was our last rehearsal! It’s been such a great semester working with these students, and I couldn’t be happier with how everything was going!

Before rehearsal started, I talked to Maddie and Natalie about whether or not we should start with a game, since this was going to be our last rehearsal. However, when our students arrived, they were asking for scripts and seemed ready and excited to work, so we decided to use the time more wisely by running our act. I’m glad that our students are so committed to working when they are at rehearsal. Big difference from our first two weeks.

In rehearsal, we had Christina, Rufus, Charles, Talia, and Dale, and we were able to pretty much confirm that all five of them would be at the show! With myself playing Toby and Maddie playing Mario(a), our cast was set! This was such a fantastic feeling, as we’ve been wanting to officially cast all semester long!

Before we ran through, we talked about details of Friday’s performance, and I went over the rules of theatre from last time. Then we ran the act twice. Everyone did such a great job, and it was clear that doing the act over and over was helping them get more comfortable. It was also clear that some of them had been practicing their lines, especially Christina and Charles! We still had a little difficulty with getting Dale to do his stage directions and say his lines, but Natalie decided she would go out on stage Friday as Fabian and help Dale with his lines.

The act ran extremely smoothly, and we were just at about 15 minutes. When we were done, we talked briefly again about Friday. Then, either Charles or Christina (I forget which one prompted it) wanted to do a group chant. So we all put our hands together and went “1 2 3 SHAKESPEARE!” I’m so glad that we were able to develop such good relationships with our students over this process!

 

At our second-to-last rehearsal (woah), there were a few surprises. Jacob (the student) told us that he might not be at our actual performance, and Christina was mysteriously absent! We hope Jacob is able to make it, and we hope Christina comes back for our last rehearsal.

For rehearsal we had Rufus, Charles, Jacob, Dale, and Talia. At this rehearsal, we really wanted to focus on blocking. Overall, the lines are going very well. Most of our students read very well at this point (Rufus, Charles, Jacob). While Talia’s speech is hard to understand, she is very committed to her lines and gets through them at a good speed! The last reading problems we have are Christina and Dale. For Christina, we cut down a number of Feste’s lines to make them easier for her to read (and to cut down on the amount of time she talks, as much as we didn’t want to!!!) And for Dale, we decided that one of us will go on stage as the role of Fabian, and we will help Dale read his lines if he gets stuck.

At rehearsal, we ran the act twice! Both times it was within our 15 minute time limit (though this was probably because Christina wasn’t there, and the three of us switched off for Feste and read the lines much faster). Still, it is encouraging that we have gotten it down from being over 30 minutes! We also finished blocking the act, and most of the students seemed to remember the blocking well from the first run through to the second. The biggest issue we had was that some students were not following along in their scripts backstage. We emphasized that they should always be following along, but we think that at least one of us will be on each side of the stage so we can make sure the students make their cues!

I must say, I am so happy about the commitment and enthusiasm of our students! Most of them understand what they are saying, and all of them use some emotion in saying their lines! Dale still gets discouraged when we run the act more than once, but luckily in the show we will only do it once, so hopefully he will have sufficient enthusiasm for that one time!

Finally, I wish that we could officially cast the show, but it continues to be all but impossible because we don’t have the same students show up every time. We have pretty much cast the show at this point, but it’s technically not finalized. We will just have to see who shows up and take it from there.

So excited for Friday!

Today (11/14), we had what felt like a reunion: everyone that came had been to a rehearsal before. That was a great feeling. James, Jayvon, and Talia came back, along with Christina, Rufus, Jacob, Dale, Charles. This was the largest group we’ve had to work with yet. And after having week after week of not enough students to fill all of the parts, it was an entirely different challenge having one too many students.

We started off the rehearsal with Zip Zap Zop, and everyone did a good job. When I asked everyone to project, most people did a good job with that as well.

Then we started working on the scenes. We staged and ran Scene 1 and Scene 2, and whenever someone wasn’t in a scene they were in the audience watching (so that everyone knows the scenes and the blocking). Christina was Feste, Rufus was Sebastian, Jacob was Toby, Dale was Andrew, Talia was Olivia, Jayvon was Fabian, Charles was Mario (changing Maria to Mario), and James was Malvolio. Some highlights:

  • Christina is doing a better job with her reading! It’s clear she’s been practicing. However, unfortunately she is still moving a little too slow, so today in our work session we cut down a couple of the longer and more confusing Feste lines.
  • Dale has always mumbled his lines, but today he chose to sing his longest line and it sounded great! You could hear every word! We think we’ll let him sing.
  • Talia is so sassy and confident, and even though she has trouble enunciating her words, I love the energy that she brings to the stages

Finally, I went over three rules of theatre with the students: No backs to the audience, always project, and stay in character even if its not your line!

We’re still unsure about who will show up for the actual showcase, but we hope that we are sufficiently preparing everyone to play any part in the production!

 

Just under one month until the show! It’s been a great experience so far, and it’s been great to see the growth of the students that always or frequently arrive, and the enthusiasm and ability of the students that have shown up maybe once or twice!

At rehearsal on 11/4, we had five students. Christina, Rufus, and Jacob all returned, and so did Dale. Finally, Jayvon showed up, which was crazy because we haven’t seen him in over a month! Since Christina, Rufus, and Jacob have been showing up so frequently, we felt confident enough that we could officially cast them. Christina is our Feste, Rufus is our Sebastian, and Jacob is our Sir Toby. It feels really good to know who is playing these big parts! For this rehearsal, Dale was Sir Andrew and Jayvon was Malvolio.

We broke into groups. While Maddie took Christina and Jayvon to work on lines, Natalie and I stayed with Rufus, Dale, and Jacob to work on the staging of Scene 1. We staged some very simple stage combat (get ready for their fake slaps, they’re so funny!) and walked through the first scene. Then we worked on the lines in the scene, and made the three of them say their lines as loud as they possibly could (since they all have trouble projecting). This was a super-productive work session for Natalie and I, and Maddie told us that she was making great progress with Christina.

At the very end of rehearsal, we had a brief conversation with Timone, who offered us some suggestions if the students are unmotivated. While I definitely appreciate his input, I am not worried too much about having to use this reinforcement, because the students are all doing great! It might not be bad to have something for that purpose, though, if necessary (like Hershey Kisses or some other candy)

We’re in a really good place!

Halloween Monday! And one student wore a costume (Charles)!

We arrived a little early, and Timone told us that we wouldn’t have as many students as we normally do. This was a little disappointing, as we were hoping to finally cast students. However, five students showed up, which is about as many as we normally have. Christina, Rufus, and Charles returned (they have been here pretty consistently now, so we think that we can rely on them!), and they were joined by Dale (from Week 1, back from a foot surgery!) and a new girl, Morgan. We were excited to see Dale, but it was clear that the foot surgery had taken a lot out of him: his energy was zapped, and we could barely hear him when he talked.

We started rehearsal with our emotions game! We gave each student an emotion on a flash card (and we each took one too), and told them not to tell anyone else. Then we gave a sentence and everyone performed that sentence with their emotion and we all had to guess. This went really well! Most of them were doing a great job portraying emotions (the exception, unfortunately, being tired Dale). After someone successfully performed an emotion, we would ask the students to comment on how they knew that person was happy/sad/mad/etc. We hope that this helped the students to understand how to portray emotions with their Shakespeare lines.

Then, we decided to read through the act again. We decided that since we were considering Dale as our Sebastian the first week, we would have him read the part today (we knew that Rufus could read it). We also decided that we wanted to hear Morgan read more than a few lines, and since we knew Charles could read well, we gave Charles a smaller role for today and gave Morgan Malvolio. Christina played Feste again, Rufus was going to play Sir Toby, and Charles was playing multiple minor roles, from Sir Andrew to Maria (something he found very funny). However, right as we were about to start the read-through, Dale told his assistant that he had to use the restroom. His assistant told us that it would take about 20 minutes (because he’s on a wheelchair). So we switched Rufus to playing Sebastian. We realized that this sudden switch frustrated Rufus, who wasn’t sure which character he was supposed to be playing. He seems to dislike inconsistency — it might make the most sense to keep him as Sebastian at this point!

Everyone read very well today. Rufus seems to be getting even more comfortable with his lines, and is performing them a little faster. Charles was good and expressive. Morgan impressed us — I briefly explained the plot and the character of Malvolio to her before we started Scene 2, and she brought this interesting, dark side to Malvolio. It was really cool to see this new student read so well (but that’s our problem — we have so many students who read really well and perform well, and that makes it hard  to commit to casting…)

The biggest surprise for today was Christina. It was clear that she had looked over Feste’s lines some more since our last rehearsal, and she was reading the lines more smoothly. Sure, she was still pausing in many places, but there was big improvement. One of the highlights of the rehearsal was Christina realizing that we had swapped out the older Feste songs with Taylor Swift songs (Love Story and Bad Blood, which we thought roughly fit the themes of the scene). She said, “Aw, I love you guys!” and then proceeded to sing her heart out for both of them. We hope that this helped her grow even more comfortable with playing Feste (though she still wants to play Olivia FOR SOME REASON THAT I JUST CANNOT UNDERSTAND). Though we feel bad not letting her play Olivia if that’s who she really wants to play, we have no one better fit to play Feste, and she clearly enjoys playing Feste (especially now with the Taylor Swift songs!) She will do great!

We finished the act in about 20 minutes, which is a pretty good time for still having four more rehearsals! As we were reading the last lines of scene 3, Dale returned. Too late for him to read in the act run-through. However, we still wanted to hear him read, and we still had about 10 minutes left of rehearsal. So, we returned to the emotions game, but this time we had the students use their chosen emotions to read a line from the play. We did two rounds of this. Morgan, Christina, and Charles did very well. Rufus and Dale struggled with simultaneously portraying the emotion and reading the line correctly. And Dale especially struggled with the reading today, both with understanding it and enunciating it. We feel bad for Dale — he was so enthusiastic the first week, and we really don’t want him to be unable to perform. We will figure something out if he returns again!

Next rehearsal, we hopefully won’t have anyone else new (we have not had a week yet where there hasn’t been at least one brand new person, which is exciting for sure, but also inconvenient). That way, we can start officially casting and doing specific scene work. We will split up into small groups to work on things, and one of our big focuses will be helping Christina to read and understand her lines better!

 

 

We had a fantastic rehearsal this week!

When we arrived, we saw some old faces and new faces. Christina, Rufus, and Jacob were back, and we had two new students: Crystal and Charles. Once everyone arrived, we explained the project briefly to Crystal and then got started. We asked if anyone had looked over the script. Christina enthusiastically informed us that she had not only looked over the script, but had watched videos, done research, and taken notes. I’ll admit, at first I sensed that wasn’t all true, but later when we were trying to explain parts of the play to provide context for our act, Christina occasionally would interrupt with some information she knew about the play (almost all of which was correct). While Christina showed it the most, I also found out that Rufus had looked over the script, and that Charles has worked with the other St. Joseph’s group before. So we had some experienced members with us on Monday.

We decided to jump right into script-reading. We had intended to do official casting today, but because we didn’t have enough people, and some people were new, we just assigned parts that we think we will eventually give people, but still didn’t officially cast them. It was good to hear them read the parts we were thinking of giving them.

The cast was: Christina: Feste, Rufus: Sebastian, Crystal: Olivia, Jacob: Toby, Charles: Malvolio (extra characters were done by Natalie and I)

Everyone read very well! Rufus handled his long lines excellently, and his diction is still impeccable. He even put some emphasis behind words and had emotions in his voice when he could understand what he was saying! Jacob, Charles, and Crystal all held their own, and I was impressed by how well they could cold-read the lines without having seen them before — I think we will be safe if we have to randomly assign parts on the day of the show — seems like everyone can handle it (casting is still preferable though).

Finally, Christina did a fantastic job with bringing energy and being open to new ideas for Feste (she sang random notes for the singing parts and did an….interesting, demonic voice as a Sir Topas voice). However, Christina is a slow reader, and even though she read Feste last week, she was still struggling with a lot of the lines. She would get mad at herself if she had to keep stopping, and some of the other students would occasionally laugh when she would stop herself, which Christina would misinterpret as them making fun of her. We just had to keep encouraging Christina to keep going — and she got through it! We want to take some time to work with her separately on her lines in an upcoming rehearsal.

The biggest problem from this rehearsal is that it took us the entire rehearsal to get through our act. Now, there were pauses to discuss context, and we didn’t start right on time, but it definitely took at least a half hour to get through the script itself. I think the time will go down as people start getting more comfortable with their lines, though! Hopefully!

On our work day Wednesday, Natalie, Maddie and I made some new edits to our script. We took some of the prose and made it into sentences that were not broken off by line breaks. We edited words like “I’faith” and “wouldst” to make them easier to read. And we added a couple of phonetic pronunciations of tough words that will hopefully help people who struggle to read them.

Looking forward to next rehearsal!

Monday 10/17 was our first rehearsal in three weeks. Needless to say (especially based on my last blog post), I was very nervous. However, Maddie, Natalie and I went in with a solid plan, and that made me feel good. Hopefully, having a well-organized rehearsal with the right balance of games and play discussion would spark interest.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with how rehearsal went.

We were back in the chapel, and when we arrived Timone only had Aisha with him. Luckily, a few minutes later more students walked in. We were taken aback by the fact that these were all brand new students: Christina, Talia, Kendra, Jacob (not to be confused with yours truly), and Rufus. But we were immediately motivated by seeing how excited a few of them were. Christina especially was very enthusiastic. She has done theatre before, and is quite familiar with Shakespeare. It will be great to have that constant enthusiasm from Christina in rehearsals. And some of the others, like Jacob and Kendra, weren’t as outspoken as Christina was, but were still smiling and seemed ready to go. Great vibe for the start of rehearsal.

We started off by playing some Zip Zap Zop. It took a couple tries for them all to get the hang of it, but eventually we were going very smoothly, and most everyone was clearly having a good time. Then, we played one-word story. Though the story we ended up with certainly won’t be hitting any bookstore shelves any time soon, everyone was doing a good job when it came to building off of each other. Between Zip Zap Zop and one-word story, there was one student I wasn’t sure of, however. Rufus didn’t seem to be too expressive, and wasn’t smiling much. I took that as a potential unwillingness to participate fully. (Spoiler alert: I was waaaay wrong)

Then, we handed out scripts to the students, and decided that we were going to try reading some lines. We split the students up into two groups, and had one group read the beginning of Act IV, Scene II while the others listened. In the first group, Christina played Feste, Aisha played Malvolio, and Rufus played Toby (I whispered to Maddie, “give him Toby,” thinking back to my earlier concern). We knew from previous rehearsals that Aisha was great with the lines, and this was no different — we plan to give her Malvolio, and she will be great. Christina was very committed to reading and performing the lines, and even though she was a slow reader and had trouble with some of the longer words, she persevered through it. It seems pretty clear to us that as soon as she knows the lines a little better, she will perform with ease. Now, remember that spoiler alert? Here it is. The biggest surprise was Rufus. Though Toby only had about 10 lines, Rufus read them with ease. There were long sentences with long words, and he read excellently. And while earlier in the rehearsal Rufus was very hard to understand, here the clarity with which he spoke was incredible. I think he could be our Sebastian.

Before the next group went, we explained the scene in modern language (using the translation we did in class). It worked really well, and I’m so glad we did that translation.

The next group went: Talia as Feste, Kendra as Malvolio, and Jacob as Toby. Kendra is very shy and quiet, but she was reading well. We will have to work with bringing her energy up, but I think we can! Jacob didn’t seem too enthusiastic about reading at first, but he got through it just fine. The star of this group was Talia. She is very hard to understand (due to speech impediments), but that certainly did not stop her from giving 110%. It was really cool to see her perform it that well. I think this whole rehearsal reaffirmed for me that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover.

We finished off with a game of Bus Stop – highlight’s included Christina’s Taylor Swift and Jacob’s Donald Trump (Jacob has great energy and presence on stage, so we will just need to work with bringing that to the Shakespeare!)

I’m so excited for next rehearsal. We will need to see who comes and who doesn’t. But right now, even if we have too many students, it’s clear to me that we have the makings of a fantastic Act IV cast!

 

(Since we could not rehearse both 10/3 and 10/10, I am combining both rehearsal days into one blog post. I hope this is okay. I just assumed it was better, because two separate ones would just look exactly the same)

Last Monday (10/3), we were unable to meet with our students because Maddie had a conflict, and she was our designated driver (Natalie and I had no way to get there). Today (10/10), it is fall break, so no rehearsal for us.

I guess my biggest concern is who will show up next Monday. It will have been three weeks since we saw them. Will people not show up? Will the initial interest they had fade away? And for the people that do show up, will they be as excited or ready to work as they were during the first rehearsals?

We are remaining optimistic, however. We had 3 of our first 5 come back last rehearsal, with promises that the other 2 would as well, and we had 2 new people at our last rehearsal. We’ll make it work! We’ll play some theatre games to get people excited about the project again!

When it comes to plans for our next rehearsal, we want to make sure that we cast the play. It is time to start working on our scenes. We will cast whomever is there, and we will talk with them about what parts they want/how many lines they want. But we have to make sure that gets done.

Then, once we’ve casted the play, we should read through the script so everyone can start getting a feel for their lines. We can also start offering our brief modernized explanations of what is going on in each scene and exchange.

I think we have a great rehearsal planned, given that our goal is to get people interested and excited again in Twelfth Night. I just hope it works out!

Because of car troubles, we ended up getting to St. Joseph’s Villa five minutes late. However, because of St. Joseph’s Villa troubles, we ended up starting rehearsal 20 minutes late. And with the students having other things to do at 2, we didn’t get to have as long of a rehearsal as we wanted. We could not be in the chapel (no reason was given), so we were in a small room with a table and just enough rolling chairs for everybody. But we made it work!

I was thrilled to see that three of the five students from last week were back: James, Aisha, and Jayvon. I was more thrilled to find out that the other two weren’t there not because of a lack of interest, but for other reasons. Katera was sick, but she wanted to return. Dale had foot surgery over the weekend, but apparently was talking about the Shakespeare project quite a bit! This made us feel very happy: the first rehearsal had obviously been successful! Finally, we were excited to see that two new students were joining us: Curtis and Mike. Curtis and Mike are younger than all of the other students (freshmen), which means they have a little more childish energy that we had to control. We noticed, also, that they are sort of a duo – we decided before we officially started rehearsal that we would need to make sure they were both on stage at the same time, so they could play off of each other’s energy. Toby and Andrew?

When we tried to officially start rehearsal, we realized what our big challenge for the day would be: maintaining control. Whether it was because of the presence of the more disruptive Curtis and Mike, or perhaps because the small room prevented us from doing any movement games to release energy, they were all much more distracted than they were last week. All, except for Aisha, who tried to help us directors by encouraging the others to be respectful. We appreciated that. We wanted to keep control, but because they are so close in age to us, and because we didn’t want to lose them by appearing harsh, we let them get away with a lot. We will need to brainstorm how to handle these guys next time if they have the same unmanageable energy.

Rehearsal went well! We started by showing them a trailer of She’s the Man that we thought did a great job of explaining the plot of Twelfth Night. The students responded well to the trailer and seemed to have a better understanding of the plot, but then they started asking about playing Duke and Viola. Of course, neither of them are in our act… *sigh*

After this, we played a game of emotions. On the car ride there, we brainstormed a bunch of emotions and wrote them on notecards. Then, each student (and each of us) took a card. We then had to say a predetermined sentence (“I’m going to the zoo”) in the emotion we drew, and everyone else had to guess. Some students really got into their emotional performance. Others were either barely trying, or if they were trying they were failing to make big enough choices to make their emotions clear. We should play this game again next time, hopefully in the big space where they can add some physicality to their emotions.

Finally, we handed out the scripts, and tried cold reading the first lines of Act IV in different pairs. The students were making comments about the lines, and a few seemed a little nervous once they saw the difficulty of the script. However, they were all doing much better than I thought they would! They were reading the lines pretty well: mainly we need to work on punctuation and (obviously) inflection. We let them keep the scripts so that maybe a few of them would glance at lines before our next rehearsal.

One thing we realized was that explaining the lines in modern language really helped them. So on our workday, we typed up modern translations for every single line in our act. Hopefully next rehearsal this will help them to better connect with the lines and characters! Our next rehearsal is, unfortunately, not until October 17th, but we hope students come back and that we can jump right back into it then!