If you had asked me at the beginning of the semester whether I would have liked our Macbeth performance to be cancelled, secretly, I might have said yes. “It’s when ALL my other finals are due, I could use the extra time to study, and is the performance really going to be that great anyway?” I could see myself saying. But my reaction on Friday was completely the opposite.
After our last rehearsal on Monday, I had some time to reflect on the hard work we and our OSHER participants have put in throughout the semester and the relationships we have built with them. I was so excited to see our participants shine on stage, and I could tell how eager they were to act. So when I got word that the show might be cancelled, I was very disheartened. Yet even then I did not think it would become a reality – coming from Boston, where snow hardly ever cancels plans and I would drive to high school in 4 feet of snow on a learner’s permit, I always have high hopes!
I was in class when I got the final word that the show was cancelled, and my professor actually asked me if something was wrong! I know how excited our participants were about the show, and I was really excited to see everything come together, costumes and all. I was also excited to see the children perform – the other groups kept talking about how our act would be better than theirs, but I think it is a different type of joy to see kids who are just learning their first Shakespeare play perform. I remember my first time acting in Shakespeare play in sixth grade. It was messy, but there was something special about it.
We did not get to see the final show, but I do not think our effort was for nothing. I learned how to direct actors having very little acting skills myself, I built relationships, and I learned to understand some of the deeper themes in Macbeth.
Today was our final rehearsal before the show! We decided to go through the entire script to fix any problems and clean things up. We timed our first run-through, and it looks like our timing is on-track at 16:45! There were no major issues and every seemed to have practiced their parts and their blocking. We were very impressed!
We took a bit of a break to talk about plans for Friday. We told the participants to arrive at 3pm, and figured out directions to St.Joseph’s. We drew an outline of the stage on the board, and told them how transitions to different sides of the stage would probably happen. This was a bit difficult since we have not actually seen the stage or the venue, but we did as much as we could and planned to figure out the details on Friday.
After a bit of discussion about small changes to the first run-through, including timing of entrances and exits and stage directions, we ran through the script again. I included the sound effects I found, but it was difficult because I had to turn the sound on my computer on and off so that the sounds would go off but my email/other notifications would not interrupt the play. I will need to work on timing and any other technical difficulties that Friday brings. The timing was almost exactly the same in the second run, 16:58. I think the played looked great, and we are definitely ready for Friday!
Unfortunately, we only had four participants show up this week. Only one of the missing participants told us she would be absent, so it was concerning when we waited 15 minutes and no one else showed up. I know our participants have shown a high level of excitement and interest in the project in past weeks, so we are all hoping this week is a fluke (perhaps due to extended Thanksgiving travel plans) and that we will be back in business next week.
Fortunately, the actors who were present had two very important scenes together – the fight scene at the end and the first scene with Malcolm and Macduff. We were able to run through these scenes several times, giving the actors tips, refreshing their memory (the fight scene was a bit off the first time we tried it, but we reviewed the blocking and straightened things out), and discussing the meaning behind the scenes. We had a particularly long discussion about the emotions and intent of Malcolm and Macduff in the first scene. We ended rehearsal by running back through this scene, and I believe it is one of the strongest scenes in our part.
Next week is crunch time, and the final rehearsal before the show. I hope everyone is present so that we are fully prepared to put on the best show possible!
Nov 20, 2017
This week, we did not meet as a group due to our participants’ Thanksgiving travel plans.
In the meantime, our group is working on deciding what else we need to do in the short time after Thanksgiving we will have to finish rehearsing and touch everything up. I think it will be helpful to go through each scene from start to finish, so that the actors will understand the timing of where they need to be when, especially since we will have some additional props next week. I think constructive criticism and tips from us as well as fellow actors will be very important in the next two weeks, and I hope the participants will keep up their excitement and involvement.
Nov 13 2017
Today, we focused on blocking the fight scene between MacDuff and Macbeth. This was a new experience for everyone, so we took any and all suggestions and worked through the scene based on trial and error. I think it is coming along well, and the actors seem to be having fun with it!
I spent much of the rehearsal looking for sound bytes for several scenes in our part of the play that need sound effects. It was difficult to find free effects that were any good, but I searched through many sites to find ones that I think will work. I found a royal trumpet sound for scenes where the king enters, and an ominous “gong” sound for two other scenes. We will incorporate these sounds into rehearsal next time we meet.
We will not meet as a group next week, since many of our participants said they would not be able to make it due to Thanksgiving travel plans. We encouraged the actors to keep working on their lines and blocking!
This past week, we finished running through the script in a more detailed manner, picking up where we left off last week. Since we had some members who were not present the week before, we ended up running back through the beginning of the script as well. We focused on cleaning up the blocking, and the participants wrote notes about blocking on their scripts to remember for next time.
One somewhat frazzling part of our practice was the fight scene – we have not yet blocked the fight between Macbeth and Macduff, and the two actors improvised, but came dangerously close to whacking each other in the head or breaking the swords a few times. We will definitely need to work on this scene, and we reminded the actors to cut that part out until we work on it, for safety if nothing else!
A few members are beginning to memorize their lines, which is great. They do not necessarily have the lines down yet, and needed us to feed them lines every so often. I think if they continue to work on it, it will be very rewarding for them as actors.
Overall, the participants are getting very excited to act! They have even asked if we can organize a cast party for the week of the performance. I think this shows their enthusiasm and dedication to making the play a success, and I am excited to see what we all put together.
This week, we focused in on cleaning up some particular scenes. While we got the blocking (entrances and exits) down last week, we narrowed in on the particulars of the blocking and actions within each scene this week.
We ran through our first scene once, then started a discussion on what could be improved. We are lucky to have engaged participants who critique each other and actors who welcome criticism. Many of the participants who were not acting in the scene watched and gave tips on stage directions, emphasis on certain actions and lines, etc. Our group gave advice based on in-class discussions of the plot/themes and our own interpretations of each scene, advising our actors on what their characters were actually saying and feeling.
We ran through the first scene again, and it had improved dramatically based on our discussion! We followed the same process for a few more scenes, getting about half-way through our section by the end of practice. I think we will continue this process next week, because it seems to be working quite well.
One issue we encountered this week was that Bill B, one of our participants, has been absent for the second week in a row, after telling us last week that he “lost track of time”. We have had other actors taking his roles for the past 2 weeks, and have prepared these actors for the possibility that if Bill does not return, they might adopt these roles permanently. Another participant expressed her concern that Bill is not committed to the project, and is not as great a reader as the rest of the group. We encouraged her that we would talk to Bill and figure out his situation.
Overall, we are making great progress. The group seems to be practicing outside of our rehearsal time, and other than Bill, everyone seems very committed and excited about how the project is coming along!
This past week, we were really able to start bringing the play to action! We retrieved some props from Dr. Bezio’s office, including plastic swords, a crown, and the production posters, which the participants were very excited about.
We focused on blocking today, and the adults were very on top of their roles. We sat behind the “stage” in our Jepson room and did a run-through where the actors blocked themselves. Then we were able to give them some tips. Rachel, who is skilled in theater strategies, told them to raise their voices and to “cheat,” or face the audience at an angle in order to project their voices and not have their backs toward the audience. When you want to whisper (such as the doctor in Lady Macbeth’s hand-rubbing scene), you can direct your voice at the person you are “whispering” to and half-cover your hand. If you raise your voice but act in this way, you will still have the appearance of a whisper.
We then had a bit more of an in-depth discussion about certain scenes, deciding what emotions to portray based on the themes we want to present. For instance, we talked about how Malcolm would be nervous in our first scene when talking to Macduff about ascending to the throne. His hesitation plays out in this scene and he tests Macduff’s loyalty and honor. I think discussions like this are one of the real pleasures of hosting adults who are excited about Shakespeare.
Our Macbeth and Macduff were excited to start the sword fight in the second-to-last scene, but we are tabling that to work on the logistics next week. We finished with a final run-through of the blocking we had decided on, focusing on entrances and exits and stage directions. I think we made some real progress today in bringing the lines to life!
During our third meeting with OSHER, we started to get creative with our part of Macbeth. Since we had a new member added to our group, we rearranged parts for (hopefully) the last time and everyone got settled into their roles. We then did another read-through. Since most people were used to their roles and lines by this point, some blocking and greater emotion was added to the reading of the script. I was once again impressed by our actors’ abilities!
We went over some maintenance points with the participants, reminding them that next week is our Fall Break so we would not be meeting. We told them to review their parts and think about the emotions, actions and deeper meaning associated with their lines in the meantime, so we can start blocking during our next meeting. I think our skilled group provides us with a unique ability to bring some meaning and advanced acting to the JSP stage, and I am excited to see what the OSHER group comes up with.
Next, we discussed a props list. Alexa created a google doc for the class prop list, so we added a few items under our section — a severed head, fake blood, drums and trumpets, and a red cape. I am sure that our list will grow as we continue developing the play.
It will be two weeks until our next meeting, so it is time for us to start bringing our section of Macbeth to life!
This past week, I was able to meet the OSHER participants! I began by introducing myself, since I had not been at the first meeting, and asked each of the participants to introduce themselves. It seems like we have a lively group with varied interests and unique reasons for joining our project!
We proceeded to start casting. While the OSHER participants were hesitant at first to cast themselves, and asked whether we had any suggestions, we encouraged our group that self-casting would ensure that everyone was excited and confident about their roles. With this encouragement, participants began to call out roles they felt drawn to, for several reasons. One woman was excited about playing Lady Macbeth in the hand-rubbing scene. Others chose several smaller roles that they felt comfortable with. Since two of our members were not present today, we casted Judy as Macbeth, since everyone agreed she is our strongest actress, and Cynthia as several smaller roles, because she had expressed that she did not want many lines.
With everyone confirming that they were comfortable with their roles, we decided to read through our section of the play, having each person read their characters’ lines. I was surprised and encouraged by the emotion and the meaning behind the words that our actors were already applying to their lines. Although the read-through was a bit long, since we stopped a few times to discuss difficult lines and to do some basic blocking, I think it went very well for our first time.
Overall, I am very excited to be working with our OSHER group. They have a high level of interest in performing Macbeth and are skilled, educated men and women. I cannot wait to see the performance we put together!