“But that’s all one, our play is done” – Feste (Act V, Scene I, Line 339)

Well, we did it.

For real this time.

Even though this whole process was a never ending mix of fun and exhausting, I am really happy with how our first and final performance came together.

We got St. Joseph’s Villa early enough to figure out everything from where the props would be stored to how to simulate a shipwreck, and even though we still were not sure who was going to show up even three hours before curtain, we actually had a great turn out.

Of our original consistent cast of actors, only Orsino was not able to come, so we, like the rest of the acts, casted Jacob as our fill in.

We were all set to have one of the three of us play Viola as well, but then one of our troupe members, who had until that day sworn she would only be a crew member, volunteered to take the part.

Although the actual performance was a joy to watch and direct, I’d say my favorite memories of the day came from interacting with our cast right before the show started.

Seeing our youngest boy in his makeup beard is a visual I’ll treasure always and having the entire cast want to color in more of the ship was pretty sweet too.

If I had to pick a favorite though I would say it was when after warning our two boys that any sword fighting with their fake swords would lead to a swift removal of said prop pieces, I went ahead and later said “screw it” and told them they could act one out as long as they went to the back of the church.

It was really interesting seeing our often times “too cool for school” cast admit to being terrified of going on stage between acts, but they all went out there regardless, and they all seemed to have a fun time if nothing else.

If I could change one thing, it would just have been to have them act below the stairs leading up to the “stage” so that the volume could have possibly been better, but otherwise I’m satisfied with how it all went.

There were times when I was skeptical over whether we’d be over to pull this off, and there were definitely times when I wondered if they would even notice if we didn’t show up one day, but that being said, I am really happy I was able to have this experience and see so much of what we learned in class in real, live scenarios.

I know I’ll have more to say in my parts of the final paper, but I guess if I had to say anything to any future participants in the program, it would be to just take a deep breath and try to deal with whatever comes your way.

Whether it’s random additions to your cast on a weekly basis or rowdy middle schoolers, trying to pull this all off will feel like a impossible task at times, but I promise the final production is worth it.

“And we’ll strive to please you every day.” – Feste (Act V, Scene I, Line 340)

Well, we did it.

Sort of.

I mean, the actual performance is tomorrow, but today was our last rehearsal.

And you know what? It went really well.

There were some hiccups of course.

We’re still not entirely clear on who all is actually going to be there tomorrow, and we were only able to run through the blocking once, but we got to see the whole act in action tonight and all of the students really loved their costumes.

I think the most important thing tomorrow will be to make sure we have all the props ready to go and will make sure to mark up the student’s scripts with any stage directions they may need.

We would have done it tonight except again we’re still not entirely sure who is coming tomorrow.

Despite the uncertainty, we decided that it was still worth running the play, that way the students who do show up have the experience, and the ones who won’t will at least have the memory.

We gave away most of the posters as well and a couple of the kids even kept their name tags.

I’m not sure what our act is going to look like tomorrow, but if nothing else tonight felt like a win, and whether I’m doing props backstage or playing six different roles tomorrow tonight, I suspect the performance is going to feel like a win too.

“Telling them I know my place, as I would they should do theirs” – Malvolio (Act 2, Scene 5, Lines 52-53)

So yes, we didn’t actually meet with our group on this day, seeing how it was a holiday and all.

I did however get a phone call from our site manager.

To begin, this wasn’t actually on Thanksgiving, it was the day before.

But that’s only important so when I start by explaining that I got the call in the middle of eating lunch in my favorite sushi restaurant you don’t think I’m some sort of freak who eats sushi for Thanksgiving.

No offense.

Anyway, so I’m in the middle of lunch when my phone rings, and it was reflex more than anything that caused me to pick up my phone in the middle of a restaurant for an unknown number.

Turns out it was good that I did though since the caller turned out to be our site supervisor.

Although she framed it as a “just checking in call” and did in fact ask specifically about one of our students, it was ultimately a “are you planning on volunteering again with us next semester” call.

I did my best to explain how the class worked, it being a volunteer component specific to a class and all that, but ultimately pulled the “but you can always get more information from my own supervisor though” card.

Sorry Dr. Soderlund.

What made me bring it up, and by extension blog about it, was two things. 1, I am REALLY skeptical about whether we’ll be getting any permission slips back for our students, although our site supervisor did say she sent them home, and 2, I feel really guilty that I’m not going back next semester.

Not enough to actually go back though, so maybe I don’t feel as guilty as I good, but despite the struggles with the project, I have really enjoyed working with our students and hope that they are able to find another activity next semester.

I’m not really sure to do with a type of guilt that makes you feel bad, but not bad enough to actually do anything about it though.

I wonder if there’s a Shakespeare play for that.

“Being skill-less in these parts, which to a stranger, unguided and unfriended, often prove rough and unhospitable”   – Antonio (Act 3, Scene 3, Lines 9-11)

So full disclosure, I was not actually at this rehearsal due to a travel conflict.

However, both of my amazing partners were able to be there and filled me in on what I missed.

Since we were getting closer and closer to performance day or P-Day if you will, we knew we needed to start working on blocking with the troupe.

However, since that can come off a little dull, the group also played a number of theater games to help make the day more entertaining.

Apparently they were very popular and focused largely on helping our students work on adding emotion into their voices when they read their lines.

So while perhaps not as much actual blocking was done as expected, it was clearly still a productive and enjoyable day for all those involved.

However, at the time I should have been posting this blog, we were under the impression that we had one more rehearsal before Thanksgiving Break, then of course the last one before P-Day.

Instead, Higher Achievement was hosting an early Thanksgiving party for their students and families, so we only have one more rehearsal before the final production.

And honestly, I’m not even that worried about it.

Have I suddenly reached a perfect state of zen that allows me to cycle through my worries in a rational and calm manner?

Of course not.

But we’ve reached the time of the year where I’m basically only 15% of a person.

I’m kidding. Mostly. I am serious about not being too worried about the performance though.

Despite their occasional large bursts of energy, we have a good group, and I think tomorrow will be more than enough to walk them through the basic blocking we need to make sure they can do onstage.

I am slightly worried about how many students we will actually have show up though.

Guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.

Who knows, maybe my final blog post will be about me explaining how I played five different Shakespeare characters in one night.

“Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.” – Feste (Act 1, Scene 5 Lines 13-14)

Yeah, so this is a little late.

Do I have legitimate excuse? No.

But what I do have is a pretty good recollection of how this rehearsal went.

Well, the bright side was that we managed to get the students we were dragging their heals on actually being on stage to all take parts, and we actually had one or two students with smaller roles, like our captain, who also agreed to have another part.

But that all came after we finally had to raise our voice for them to sit down and settle in for the evening.

Look, I was a middle-schooler too once, so I know that Shakespeare rehearsal isn’t going to be what people feel like doing, but for whatever reason that night we couldn’t even get our students to stop falling out of their chairs and running around the room.

We’ve tried to make it a pretty fun and open environment, but sometimes you just have to be the bad guy to get their attention back on what they needed to do.

We did try to start with some movement games at least, which is usually enough to help them settle down on their own, but for whatever reason that wasn’t enough for this rehearsal.

The good news is that everything was fine once we got them settled in, and we took the time to explain that we were sorry we had to yell before we even tried to have them go through the script.

We got through a whole reading, and I think we have a very strong group for Act 1.

I unfortunately will not be at the next rehearsal since I will be out of town, but it’s crazy to think that we only have a few weeks left until opening (and closing) night.

“None can be called deformed but the unkind.” – Antonio Act III, Scene IV, Line 334

As we steadily approach our December deadline, I can’t help but think that things are going pretty well for Act I, all things considered.

And while I just posted a blog recently bemoaning my error in saying “everything is fine” only for things to be dramatically, yet temporarily, not fine a mere three hours later, I feel safer with this positivity post given the issues we’ve already experienced and overcome.

We went into this latest rehearsal expecting to have an utterly unexpected number of people (and we did.)

To be fair, our core acting troupe has been mostly consistent. We seemed to have officially lost our Olivia though and the four students currently without parts are not interested in being on stage at all.

Worse case scenario, we figure that one of us three can take the part, although one of the four mentioned that she might be able to do it, once she talks to her mom first.

Although we were a little confused by that caveat, we assume it has something due to the cross-dressing, given the same student’s reflectance to take up the part before due to the same reason.

The fact that we now have four students who are actively not wanting to be on stage is a slightly new development; they all are exited and eager to help with props and staging though.

The real question is how to keep them busy/productive during our meeting times.

Seeing how splitting up into “line reading” and “stage production” groups went so well at this last meeting, I imagine we’ll do something similar this week.

We’ll have to introduce blocking soon, but I think one more session with just lines couldn’t hurt.

Of course, this takes us back with what I should do with my stage crew.

Although their costume and staging ideas were really fun and creative, it’s definitely hard to hold their attention with just that.

They can also be a little on the loud side, which while I’m glad they’re so enthusiastic, can be very distracting to the troupe running lines nearby.

I might end up collecting art supplies and have them start building some basic backdrop scenes – how we would get that on stage could be an issue however; I’m also not much of an artist and none of my four students have mentioned an inclination for drawing either.

While this rehearsal certainly gave me a lot of new angles to consider, it was also one of my personal favorites, although not because of any Shakespeare-related activities.

Since Halloween was so close, I decided to bring in some candy and other little odds and ends for the troupe.

Although I’d originally planned on just going around and handing things out, one of the students spontaneously asked if we were going to do it “trick or treating style” which was an absolutely brilliant idea.

We divided the goodies amongst the three of us, went to opposite sides of the room, and basically let the students have at it.

If you’ve never been mobbed by a group of middle schoolers all yelling “trick or treat” then you might not be able to grasp the full effect of the scene, but despite the craziness, it was really fun and rewarding, especially when you saw how exited the troupe was.

So yes, we still have some odds and ends to work out, but our students seem to be happy and having a good time.

Some of the actors actually asked to take their scripts home to work on their lines, and while I am immensely skeptical that they’ll remember to bring them back to our next rehearsal, the fact that they want to run lines at home tells me that they are really into what we’re doing.

So while I still have no idea how this final performance is going to look, I’m frankly just glad that we can facilitate something that our troupe seems to be genuinely enjoying.

“I am sure care’s an enemy to life” – Sir Toby Belch (Act I, Scene 3, Lines 2-3)

So here’s the thing about bragging about nothing bad happening in your rehearsal group.

It’s basically a signal to the universe to have something bad happen.

Of course, what ended up happening wasn’t actually a bad thing – it just felt like it at the time.

In short, we had four to five new people just get randomly assigned to our group.

Most of which just seemed to have been placed there as a means of giving them something, read anything, to do.

You can imagine how this may have come off as tad stress-inducing when we’d already casted and explained the play to our regulars.

We also, to be perfectly honest, went in less prepared than we should have in general, ranging from not having a solidly prepared game for them to start the session with, to not thinking about breaking up the group into smaller parts when the final scene we were reading really only had two of our actors in it.

So while you can argue that many a small lesson was learned at this session, I think the main one, for me at least, was that I forgot the point of the Project to begin with.

We’re not there to put on a Tony-worthy performance. And while as instigators we have to at least try to make the production something that the troupe cares about, ultimately we should just focus on making sure they have a fun time.

So in the future if we have more or less people in the room than we thought, we’ll just make a quick casting adjustment and go with it.

We’ll definitely do a better job of breaking the group up as well – if we keep having new people, creating a separate “and here’s what happens in the story” group may be worth making while the more constant attendees work on lines.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter if we have three Olivia’s or none at the final performance, and although the very thought of either option is making my inner perfectionist twitch, this will be a motto I will keep at the forefront of my mind as we continue with our project.

Besides, despite the numbers shock, we still managed to create a pretty fun list of props and costumes we’re excited to flesh out in more detail during this Wednesday’s work day.

So even if it just ends up being me, Sarah, and Page on the stage for the final show, at least we’re going to look pretty cool!

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” – Fabian (Act III, Scene IV, Lines 116-117)

I’m not going to lie, at this point in the rehearsal process I was expecting the Thing to have happened already.

What is the Thing you ask?

Well, the Thing is that roadblock/curve-ball that no matter how hard you try you just can’t manage to anticipate before you’re already standing in the chaos it’s left in its wake.

Dramatic? Oh for sure, but this is the theater after all, so one could argue I’m just tailoring my natural anxiety to be more thematically relevant.

That being said, our third rehearsal went by pretty much without any hitches.

We got everyone into the room and through our ice breakers without any dramatic displays of disinterest, and Sarah even managed to convince our costume mistress student to have a part as well.

While we were technically missing our Olivia, we had one student volunteer to read the lines for her, and worse case scenario, it would be easy to sub the “understudy” in as the real thing should our regular Olivia be a consistent no-show.

The biggest pre-rehearsal anxiety on my part at least was how were our students going to react to the actual script?

This was the first time they were able to look at it for an extended amount of time after-all, and I freely admit I was expecting a reaction ranging from shock to a full on troupe mutiny.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about though. While our Duke Orsino did rightfully point out how “weird” the language was, they all stuck with it, and frankly did an amazing job.

Our Orsino has the most trouble, but mostly just with unfamiliar words, and our Viola is really something.

We’re actually a little short cast-wise, even when everyone is present, so all three of us Jepson students will take a part.

As someone who’s always seen themselves as more of a director than an actress, I fully expect to be upstaged by our remarkable students, but I actually think it’s better for our troupe to see us not only directly involved with the acting, but also stumble our own way over the occasional Shakespearean turn-of-phrase.

Probably the funniest part of the read through was us realizing that middle-schoolers are still very much aware of the modern context of the word “ho.”

Although in the context of the play it wasn’t anything even remotely sexual, it still caused a pause, gasp, and giggle out of the bulk of our troupe.

If anything, it was a good reminder that even when editing through a script it’s easy to miss things you personally wouldn’t expect other people to catch or understand, and to our troupe’s credit they all voted to just cut the line completely from the show.

I think the overall lesson of this rehearsal, at least for myself, was that it’s easy to go into a new space and assume things, the troupe won’t be able to read well, they won’t catch these bits of the dialog, etc.

While in a perfect world it would be possible to walk into a new situation without assumptions, I think an equally important (and possibly more realistic) process would be to at the very least be willing to toss or alter those assumptions the moment they are challenged.

As far as tonight’s rehearsal goes, we’re going to finish up our read through and start talking prop ideas.

I’ve really enjoyed planning and running rehearsals alongside reading the “Hamilton” book since it’s comforting and pretty cool to see the similarities in rehearsals and problems that can be shared by any type of production, whether it’s destined for Broadway or for a local community stage.

Does this mean I’m going to start doing my hair in a Lin Manuel Miranda styled ponytail?

Not at all. But at the very least it’ll give me a reason to keep Hamilton songs playing on repeat in my head, even when we’re focusing on Shakespeare.

“Is it a world to hide virtues in?” – Sir Toby Belch (Act I, Scene I, Line 131)

I hate to toot my own horn but TOOT TOOT readers because my last rehearsal at Henderson was AWESOME.

First and foremost, we have our own rehearsal space now!

We have the whole choir room to ourselves so not only is it quiet, but there’s also a ton of room and a whiteboard to boot.

I wonder if this is how Shakespeare would have felt if he somehow managed to get a rehearsal space without, I don’t know, rats or something.

Other highlights include our troupe wanting to play the animal charade game again and being open to playing a quick round of Simon Says while I waited on a student to find me some whiteboard markers.

I had them just play the basic way but maybe in the future there’s a way I can Shakespeare it up a bit – director says perhaps?

Anyways, we appeared to have a large portion of the same people we had our first week, with only one to two new additions.

Since my partners were unable to make the rehearsal I decided to dedicate the day to explain the plot again – I had hoped it would make more sense now that they could actually hear me, and I could use the board to draw basic images and whatnot.

The second attempt to explain went wayyy better than the first, and it was actually really fun seeing them react to the complicated yet funny love triangles and other various parts of the show.

Some of their amusement was probably also caused by the fact that I kept accidentally calling “Duke Orsino” “Dork Orsino,” which while technically not his name, isn’t completely off the mark either.

I also went ahead and started tentatively casting the show after wrapping up the story explanation and am very satisfied with how that went too.

Most of the parts were happily selected by the players on their own – our adorable fifth grader is so thrilled to be playing the “captain,” and I’m really excited about our Feste too.

We hit one little snag when two of the girls wanted to play Viola, but they ended it up working it out so that one would play Mary and the other Viola, completely on their own, even though I offered various alternatives of splitting the part.

The only snag we hit with casting is that we’ve yet to cast Malvolio, Sir Toby, or Sir Andrew, and unless we have a dramatic fluctuation in numbers this week, myself and my fellow directors may be breaking out our own acting skills come December.

Although we have at least one girl who at first couldn’t seem to care less about the show and didn’t want a part at all, she seemed genuinely interested in helping with costumes, scenery, and such when I offered that option to her, so I’ll have to be conscious of finding ways of including her in that process as we move along.

I’ve also had the students make themselves name-tags so hopefully in the future I can start getting better with names, although for ease and privacy I will simply refer to any students by their character name from now on.

This coming week will be the first time they actually get to see and read through their scripts so I imagine new hurdles will appearing in the blogs to come, but for now I can’t imagine another way I’d rather be spending my Thursday nights.

“With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire.”– Viola Act I, Scene V, Line 230

Now that we’ve gotten through our first rehearsal, I can officially say I’m even more excited to be working on this project than I was before.

I can also say though that things didn’t go exactly how we planned them last post.

But at least it was in a “oops, oh well” kind of way, not a “oh god so many regrets” one.

So there’s that at least.

Our group so far is great. We have about twelve at the moment, ranging from fifth grade to seventh.

They listen to us for the most part and seem very excited to be a part of the program, even though I’d say at least half weren’t even sure what we were doing at first.

The ice breakers went really well. Even the more basic “name, grade, and favorite ice cream flavor” one.

The most popular was the “animal charade” game we borrowed from the class readings. They liked it so much they asked if we could play it twice, which we did, and I imagine we’ll be playing it again in the future.

We were caught off guard a little by our timing. Our group ended up being called in to participate in another, organizational-wide activity at 6:50, so we had less than an hour with them.

Luckily that was only a one time thing though.

A more pressing problem though is the noise level.

We’re based in the Henderson gymnasium along with several other of the organization’s activities, so it is a very loud.

I sent in an email requesting a possible change in location after our first meeting wrapped up but have yet to hear back from the powers that be.

Worse case scenario, I’ll ask again in person when I’m there this Thursday, but I am fully expecting them to say no due to supervision reasons or other limitations.

Obviously we’re planning to comply with whatever the organization says, but it’s going to be hard to give basic instructions, let alone run lines, in a room where you have to shout to be heard just by the people in front of you.

Still, we’ve already had at least two of our girl player’s express interest in big, female roles and our cute little fifth grader is really excited about playing the ship captain.

Since it’s just going to be me this week, I plan on focusing on explaining more of the plot of the show (perhaps with a visual of some sort) and having everyone read through some of the script and to get a final headcount on requests for parts.

I’ll consider the week a big success if I can get all of that done, but honestly for now I’d settle on just having a space where we can all hear each other.