Reflecting on my experiences with the Act IV team at John Marshall High School, there are a few more comments I would like to add about the dynamic of the students themselves, and the importance our difficulties with them raised.

Our central issue with the students was the lack of obligation they felt to show up. Our project was not prioritized by them, or at least not at until the 11th hour. However, the fact that we were not a priority was not simply because the students were lazy or unwilling, but rather, because they had a set of priorities that my personal background would not have guessed at.

Our students, aged 15-17, had to work. At one rehearsal, we had a girl complaining about how she missed work for rehearsal. At the time, we did not think much of this comment. We had a fair share of complaints from they high school students about what they could be doing or where they wanted to be, i.e. “My friends are at KFC right now…I’m hungry, can I just go?!”

However, the importance of this particular comment crystallized when one of our students on Friday had to leave Perkinson Hall to go to work before the performance began. Her father, yelling at her on her cell phone, insisted on coming to pick her up at University of Richmond. When Mrs. Ramsey told me what was going on, I was immediately concerned. “I feel so bad that we made her miss work!” I said. Mrs Ramsey said, “Well it’s just a typical teenager thinking she could be two places at once. The difference is, they have to work. Missing work really is not an option for them. They need it.”

This issue is explored further in our final paper, but I wanted to recognized the importance of the distinction in particular. A lot of times, as a group, we had trouble understanding why students just wouldn’t come. They are in high school, what could be so important that they would miss this? Well. Work for these kids is more important. That’s the truth. And that was an unexpected reality that we had to face head on with JSP.

Wow. Friday happened. And it was spectacular in so many ways.

I finished my 1:30 class in North Court and scurried over to Perkinson. Once there, the girls and I divvied up our scripts and our fairy roles. Allison was Cobweb, Taylor was Peaceblossom, and I was Mustardseed. Our face paint was top notch. We loaded our sound clips, Marvin Gaye, John Legend, and Trumpet Music, and enlisted Benjamin as our sound guy. We were ready to go. Literally, my only line in the play at that point was “Ready!”

As we set up and waiting for the students, I tried to regulate my emotions and not get too excited for the them to arrived, because we just could not be sure it was all going to work out as planned. I had gotten the news last week, after Monday’s rehearsal, that when asked about permission slips being ready (we organized and requested permission slips in October) Mrs. Ramsey just said, “Ask them about it.” gesturing towards the students. Yikes. What the heck does that mean? I’m all for treating high schoolers like adults, but the displacement of responsibility here didn’t seem super productive. It sounds downright ominous, to be honest. So I wanted to prepare for the fact that we could be dealing with a few absences today.

I went to my car to grab a hair curler, and I saw a huge Groome transportation truck pull up to the Web. Sure enough, it was our people! Mrs. Ramsey and five students made it to Perkinson Recital Hall. That is a success for sure, in my book. I was excited to see a couple new faces, and especially excited to see Dante. Dante and his girlfriend India are the power couple of our play. India is a powerhouse of personality and volunteered on Day 1 to be Bottom. We got her and our other ladies bearded up to play the mechanicals and the lovers.  They really enjoyed it! And one girl let me glitter spray her, which was awesome.

One choice that I made and really enjoyed was sitting with the students during the production. We laughed together through Osher’s committed rehearsal, and talked about the student’s roles and what they wanted to accomplish.

It was really interesting to prepare with them and watch them begin to take their performance more and more seriously as the hours rolled by. We made sure they highlighted their roles, as things got tossed up a bit when Hippolyta/Titania girl did not make the performance. So we enlisted the help of an unlikely character- Mrs. Ramsey! In front of the students, I half jokingly asked if she would feel up to filling in. Dante loved this: “Mrs. Ramsey! You go Mrs. Ramsey!!” She agreed! She studied her lines while we prepped the students with costumes–because we had so many moving parts in our Act, and everyone played many roles, we needed to make sure we had our props straight. Because Dante was Oberon, it became a big joke that Mrs. Ramsey and Dante were lovers in the play. It great to have her on stage. Her performance and commitment motivated the students, and we really appreciated that.

About thirty minutes before show time, I went to retrieve a student’s two aunts from Modlin (totally understandable, Perkinson is hard to find). When I got back, Mr. Ramsey whispered to me some worrisome news. “We are losing another actor.” She told me. Uh oh. Sure enough, I turned around to see one of our girls crying into her cell phone. I asked Mrs. Ramsey if everything was okay, and it turned out that the girl was double committed. She had work, and did not realize she couldn’t make it there in time after the performance. Her dad was really mad and planned on coming to get her. I strategized with Taylor to find a simple location for him to pick her up so he wouldn’t be even more aggravated by how confusing campus is, aka so many Jepson’s, Weinstein’s, and Robins’s. Now, we needed a new Peter Quince.

How to solve the last minute snafu? I was sitting behind Dante and India, Act 1 was already performing, and I asked Dante if he wanted to be Peter Quince in Part 2. I knew he could carry the scene (Quince has the most lines in scene 2, and as of now, Dante only played Snug) and he would be great opposite India as Bottom. But would he want to step up and take on another extra roll? “Okay. Yeah I’m down!” Dante agreed, per India’s urging. So it was settled. And I would fill Snug’s shoes, while Taylor would play the left over Mechanical, and Allison would stage and help with costume changes. Oliver stepping up too! He agreed to play Egeus.

We figured it out, and I think things went very smoothly. I was nervous for the costume change after Act 3, since it was the only act that really needed to pull off a group costume change, and we needed to give them space to change back from their togas. However, the students remembered the costumes for each other multiple parts and we got everything picked up and organized. Dante’s cold read was fantastic, Mrs. Ramsey was a star, and the music was a hit. Marvin Gaye for the win!

I am happy with the performance, not just because we were proud of how things turned out, but because it seemed as though the students were. That is a huge pay off. After these many months, I could not ask for more.

“Your flight has been delayed until 9 p.m.”

Ughhhhhhhh. The words every airport occupant dreads, especially early morning on a Monday. And especially when one finds themselves in Cleveland.

But because of my involvement with JSP, this unwelcome announcement sparked more than frustration in me; I was worried. Not only because we had a big paper due at 5 p.m., but because at 3 p.m., our first truly l successful (and my successful, I mean full attendance. YES!!!) rehearsal was supposed to take place at John Marshall. And I was PUMPED. This excitement came from the fact that for the last seven weeks, Taylor, Allison, and I had been pushing hard for this rehearsal to become a reality. As chronicled in my other post, we had  attendance and communication problems leading up to December. Disappointment had become the norm, as calls went unanswered, emails went unanswered, and the logistics of our performance became nerve-wracking. I was losing faith that our students would show up at all, especially across town for a performance, and we had instated a back up plan: Osher Lifelong Learning. Yay for old people!!

We were expecting the worst, but that particular Monday, we got the best news in a long time.

Our usual Sunday email was sent out, and the students replied! We had three RSVPs, and that is three times what we were used to. From our experiences at John Marshall, while no students or one student meant bleak prospects (obviously), a few students meant reasonable hope for more, as social capital (never underestimate high school social capital) always ended up attracting a few more. Now, a good portion of my nerves about the performance were built around the logistical concerns of staging our particular act: almost every single character from the entire play made an appearance in our act, and we were looking at having one or two students. Could we manage? Absolutely. Because of the support of our fellow students, professor, and Dr. Soderland, not to mention our own abilities, we would be able to fill every roll no matter what. What concerned me was that the students who did make the effort of appearing and performing would feel less comfortable and less at home staging a performance with us than they would with their classmates, and that the goal of the project might be in jeopardy if our group continued to bail. These worries were most likely unfounded, but worries they remained. I am a worrier.

Anyway, Monday was a big day. It was the day we could really put our blocking and staging concepts to the test, and that we could get characterization sorted out so that the students would feel prepared.

So when I heard those words, “You flight has been delayed…”, they took on a new meaning for me. They meant, “Now you’re the one not showing up.” And that made me really sad. It was the last chance to connect with the kids before the performance, to see our ideas and hopes come to some fruition. For weeks, our kids “couldn’t make it,” Now, they finally could and now I was the one who couldn’t make it.

Did I have control over the situation? Of course not. It was discouraging, but I choose to do what I could: communicate with my team. I texted the talked other girls to plan and strategize the rehearsal, and they were going to call me and fill me in.

In hindsight, there was something fruitful about my absence that day. You see, most of my stress over the project came from the fact that I felt we were not getting a chance to serve the kids as well as we could have. What I neglected to remember was that our kids were one half of the JSP–we were the other half. What we gained from the experience, from leading a group, from challenging ourselves to make the best of a tough situation, from working with classmates who had different lives and schedules was just as much the point of the project as the kids were. And the day my flight was delayed, and I realized how much I cared about being there, and cared about my groupmates, well, that was as valuable as anything I could have gotten out of the rehearsal.

Looking ahead to the final performance next week, I realize that I need to stop worrying and keep my cool. Things are going to go wrong, and some kids just aren’t going to show. But that is beyond our control as a team. What is within our control is the way we coordinate and interact, and we are doing the best we can on that front. Most importantly, I care about this project and I know the other girls do too. Come what may, we will get it done.

Mrs. Ramsey replied to my email this week, and let us know what had happened: she was out of school for the time being because her husband was in the hospital. In her email, she also told us that she was going to put Verenda Cobbs in charge of managing the project while she was out, and that she was going to urge her students to show when she could. She really empathized with us about the students not showing, I empathized with her being in the hospital! That’s awful.

We don’t know when she will return to John Marshall considering the circumstances, and as a group, we felt it would be inappropriate to push or press her about scheduling because she is handing a family situation. That being said, we could not go to John Marshall this week (11/16) because we got no word/info from Verenda Cobbs, who, according to Mrs. Ramsey’s last email, would be notifying us when to come back to John Marshall for rehearsal.

It is definitely frustrating dealing with these communication issues, but we have agreed that we have to be patient. Our project is not the only thing going on in these teachers’ or students’ lives- we know that. We really want to be a priority, though. Our production won’t survive, or have the effect it could have, without being at list among the list of things these people care about. We are hoping to hear from Verenda or Mrs. Ramsey ASAP- she has all our contact info, my personal cell number, my email, and we just have to trust her or Verenda to update us. Surely by next week, things will be up and running. If not, we are going to continue doing everything in our power to make things happen, and continue to be honest and upfront about what’s going on with Dr. Bezio.

 

Update: Laura Ramsey was ready for rehearsal on 11/16, but never sent us word (she had my cell and email…) She did contact Dean Soderland and they are having a meeting this week, hopefully to discuss what the heck is going on. Fingers crossed!

On Monday 11/9, hopes for a rehearsal were dashed.

We sent out an email to the students asking them to let us know if they couldn’t come, and in reply, one of our most reliable students, Amelia, dropped out. She emailed Allison and said she just didn’t have the time. She was supposed to be our Hippolyta, and was someone we were really counting on and were excited about. She seemed excited too! She was pretty diligent, always asking us about University of Richmond, questions about college, etc. Maybe that’s what’s bogging her down? She’s worried about the college search/paying for college?

Anyway, we called John Marshall High School on our way there, in order to make sure at least someone had made it to Mrs. Ramsey’s classroom that afternoon.

Well, thank goodness we called, because it turned out not even Mrs. Ramsey herself had made it to Mrs. Ramsey’s classroom that afternoon.

When the front desk secretary told us Mrs. Ramsey was not in her classroom, we inquired if she was there at all. She let us know that she was not present at school at all that day, and no volunteers should plan on coming. So again, we turned around. Pretty downtrodded. I fired off an email to Mrs. Ramsey letting her know what happened and asking if we could count on being there next week…I guess we will see how that goes.

Monday, 11/2, was a sad turn of events. We sent out our first email to all of the students who signed up for the project on Monday, hoping they would be checking their emails while at school and this would be a casual reminder to get them to stay after. We did not want to email too early, like Friday, because we didn’t want them to forget. However, maybe sending it on Monday was too late? We didn’t get any replies…

On the way to John Marshall, I called Laura Ramsey’s office to check in and make sure her students were in her classroom, and planning on staying (so we wouldn’t be turned away again…) She told us that no students had stayed, and we might as well turn around. Ouch.

So we see a pattern forming that is really worrying us. When we call Mrs. Ramsey, we almost invariably get bad news. But we have to call her, because otherwise, she does not communicate with us in any way that plans for rehearsal have been called off. Honestly, The Jepson Shakespeare Project does not seem like it is a priority for the students, and that really makes us sad.

We have big ideas: we want to empower Hippolyta’s character, play up India’s natural style to play quirky and ethereal Hippolyta, and reinforce Dante’s natural charisma and hilarity (he’s a great story teller!! He was killing us a few weeks ago with a story about a lady on his bus.) to make Bottom really shine with dimension.

But none of this can come to fruition if the students don’t show. We are going to send a more timely email next week, and check in with Mrs. Ramsey on our way again, hoping for the best!

***Note: Ditto with the last post. This post was written and meant to be published the week of 10/26, but it as saved as a draft mistakenly.***

Alright. Things, once again, did not go as planned. When only three students showed during our last visit, I asked Laura Ramsey for her cell number so that we could communicate with her most closely and quickly to prevent attendence from slowing. Well, we called Laura on my phone on Monday, to make sure things were good to go, and it seemed to be the wrong number. Well, it was definitely the wrong number, because a dude answered who had no idea who I was. So we also emailed Laura so to remind her we were on our way, since it had been a few weeks. No reply. She’s a busy public school teacher, so that’s understandable.

However, from the moment we got in (with the help of a random janitor in the parking lot, since all the doors were locked and there we didn’t know how to contact Laura) it felt like we weren’t supposed to be there. We came up to Laura’s room at our regular time, and only one girl was there. Laura said, “Oh, I should have told you guys not to come. You should just go back.” We stayed to talk with her though, and discuss what we could do differently to make sure this didn’t happen again and we got our production on track.

During this meeting, Laura told us that from now on, getting the teenagers to rehearsal was our responsibility. Okay. So I got the emails for each student from her in order to communicate with them ourselves. We also brainstormed other ways to attract the students back to our project. Food? Fun games? More explanation? Should we try to come earlier? We bounced ideas off India, the only girl who attended, and got her feedback. She said the students really had no reason for not being there as far as she knew; they just didn’t feel like it.

So as a team, the three of us are really strategizing about how to take on this responsibility and get our students to rehearsal. We are going to send out an email next Sunday to remind the students of rehearsal, let them know about our fun ideas, and encourage them to reply/let us know if they cannot attend for any reason.

***It’s important to preface these posts by saying that I made a pretty awkward blog-novice mistake. I saved three of my blog posts as drafts, thinking that meant they were posted, since I could see thiem in the “All Posts” list. Oops. So I am going back in and pressing the PUBLISH button on them now, followed by my new updates from November.***

Though last week did not have the outcome we hoped for in terms of theatrical progress, it was a great bonding session, and a crucial lesson in the value of relationships when it comes to attempting to lead a group. One of the dissappointing scheduling outcomes, however, was that we found out we would not see our group for another two weeks. Our fall break is, well, now. So we will not see the kids until the 10/19.

So in the meantime, Taylor, Allison, and I have been discussing prop lists in order to get the ball rolling on our production. For one thing, we had a pretty big character switch in the last few weeks. Originally, our Bottom was going to be a very stylish girl from the group. Despite fairies and queens and fairy queens being presented as options, she volunteered to be the ugly donkey dude. Awesome! However, she has not been showing up and we were introduced to another one of Mrs. Ramsey’s students- Dante. Dante is the only boy in our production, and he is a fantastic kid. Theatrical, artistic, interested in the project, and he is our new Bottom. While our orginial female Bottom was going to go the unicorn route with costuming, Dante is feeling a more classic interpretation of the role- Donkey Head. We’re cool with that! So as far as the prop list goes, and important decision has been checked off.

We have also been discussing costuming in a more general sense, meaning, what the heck will everyone who’s not bobbing around in a giant donkey head be wearing? We are really thinking the best option would be to let the kids wear there own clothing for costumes. We want to go this route for two reasons: 1. Simplicity- not only is it cost effective, but our group hasn’t been the most dependable so far in terms of actually meeting with us. It would suck to get the ball rolling on some fancy (togas?) costumes, only to realize our main priority needs to be just getting human bodies to rehearsal.

2. Style- Our students have an extremely individualistic fashion sense. There’s blue hair, orange knee socks, and cool makeup involved in their regular school styling; they already express their characters through what they wear. So why not let them play it up to suit what they want? Besides a few sets of wings, we think this would be a fun way to hand over more control to our students.

Looking forward to next week when we will see our kids again and hopefully make more progress on the script!

(This blog post was written on October 11th, and saved as a draft by accident.)

A recent meeting at John Marshall went all wrong: only three kids showed up, the teacher told us to reschedule (until after fall break), and no progress was made on the script we had just perfected.
However, on our way home, Taylor, Allison, and I agreed that it might have been the best meeting we’ve ever had.
Here’s why: when everything went wrong, a lack of structure actually worked in our favor, and gave us the flexibility to bond with our students (the few that showed up) in a really special way. When we first arrived ready to go and excited to read through, we were met with some defeat. The teacher, disappointed with the turn out, almost immediately told us we might as well go home. But we’d made it all the way there, so we decided to stick around. A few minutes into our awkward hovering, Judah and Amilia starting asking us about college. How did we get in? How did we get scholarships? Did we play sports? Did we like art? How can they get into Richmond? What’s it like there? Is it hard to get a scholarship? When did you apply?
I felt transported to my confused, overwhelmed, and hopeful high school self-I hadn’t thought about these questions since then. They’d all been answered as life unfolded. But for these students, the questions remained. And they were hopeful. Amelia, especially, focused in on a conversation with me about college- and her questions were direct. “What kind of scholarship did you get?” she asked, “How did you get it? What do you need?” In response, we started asking the students what they cared about: what clubs are you in, what do you like to work on, what do you want to do? The answers were amazing. Amilia is fascinated by biology and animals; Judah started her own magazine and writes poetry. We assured them that they were smart and capable and had what it took to be good applications. As we kept talking, we learned more and more about the girls lives at school, at home, and what their dreams were. What started as a casual conversation with a few of our kids turned into a moment that helped build our relationship. The meeting was boundary breaking, and reminded me how important a relationship oriented leadership style is to the nature of our project.

I envisioned plenty of scenarioes for our first day at John Marshall High School.

1. The kids would hate us and/or the JSP.

2. The kids would like us (maybe) but not be so pumped for the project.

3. No one would show up.

4. The kids might seem interested, but stop paying attention the moment they got pages of old English by some guy named Shakespeare plopped in front of us.

The one thing I did not prepare myself for was enthusiasm- and guess what? The first thing I heard as I walked into Mrs. Laura’s classroom was, “Heyyyyyy look who’s here?! THEY’RE HERE!!!!” The seven teenage girls waiting for us were there to listen, there to learn, and there to be as sassy as possible as I decribed to them the plot of Midsummer Night’s Dream, i.e. “Ohhhhhh Helena…no way she should NOT have gone there! Get it together girl.”

Day 1 was so much fun. We met our girls, who shoned so brightly with personality and character, Allison, Taylor and I could already envision Judah’s bright blue braids twisted around a flowery crown as Titania, and Amilia’s big eyes and slight smirk emboding a quiet but fierce Hippolyta. The hard part was describing the plot form start to finish, but our students made it fun, bringing to life the dramatic twists with Ohhhs and Ahhhhs that made me feel more like I was recounting an episode of Gossip Girl than a 500 year old Shakespeare play. We took time to ask them what they thought of each character, and gauge reactions as they first looked at the script. I think that part was the most intimidating, but we reassured our girls that we barely understood it ourselves the first time we say it, and we would work through it all together. We also made it very clear that the creative process was open- we wanted their ideas, their costumes, their dance moves…it was their stage! The girls seemed excited, curious, and maybe a bit suspicious of the whole thing as well. I don’t blame them. But all in all, the three of us were welcomed far more than we could have imagined. As the ladies left the room, Mrs. Laura urged them to come back next week with their boyfriends (and ‘just’ friends who are boys) so we could mix up the roles this week. I can’t wait to see what they choose tomorrow…I envision some serious glitter in our class’s future.