While our completed adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing may have suffered a bit from lack of communication between our separate groups, this ultimately made the project an engaging and unique viewing experience! I’ve truly never seen anything like it. While watching, I made note of the biggest continuity issues (though “issues” might be too harsh a word here, since I enjoyed finding the changes between the acts). For instance, Bea begins as the narrator in Act 1; then it switches to the community partners narration in Act 2, then to no narration in Act 3, then to an objective narrator figure in acts 4 and 5. While at first this was disorienting, I found it interesting to see how each group chose to relay the events of their respective acts. We also go from Claudia, to Claudio, to Claudia, back to Claudio. I found the oscillation between that character’s gender especially noteworthy since it ended up not being an issue at all in understanding the play’s plot, which I see as a potential statement on accepting and normalizing queer expressions of gender. Also, Don John seemed to switch from a student on the rival football team in Act 1 to the rival coach in Act 3, which was somewhat confusing. However, I had a blast watching the final product, and I hope our community partners are also proud of the work we were able to accomplish together!
Author: Nathan Burns
This was a strange and hectic week for me personally. I was unfortunately too sick with covid to attend Monday’s meeting with our community partners. From what I gathered after meeting separately with my group members later in the week, the meeting had a rough start. Apparently the meeting began about 20 minutes late, and our group was not able to record the final run-through of our script with the students. Luckily, we have some of the students’ images, and a previous run-through of the script recorded. Given my inability to attend this last meeting with our community partners, I felt sad that I did not get to say goodbye to them or thank them for their help in conceptualizing and executing the project.
I really wish that I could have attended this meeting even though it was abbreviated, mostly because the project has been a great way to escape from the uncertainty of surviving through the global pandemic. I consider this aspect of the project to be another overarching goal: we’ve aimed to give our community partners and us UR students the power to create and tell a story in a time that may feel so overwhelming and out of our control–all while having fun in the process. I look forward to helping out my group in the completion of our final project. We still have a lot of work left, but we plan to create the remaining images and edit our act as “together” as we possibly can.
This week’s JSP meeting did not necessarily go according to our plan but was nonetheless crucial for our act. We Jepson students had planned to record the audio of our community partners reading through our abridged script. We were a bit unsure about how to record via Microsoft Teams (we had suggested using Zoom this week but that did not end up happening); however, it ended up not even being an issue, since we ultimately decided not to record yet. Instead, we focused on finalizing the drawings of our “stock images,” and we also did a few practice runs of the script. During our first script run-through, a student brought up an extremely important point: we UR students had unintentionally cut all of Hero’s speaking lines from the first act! Keeping true to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, we wanted our Hero to be more reserved and less talkative than our Beatrice character. However, we all agreed that Hero needs to use her own voice in these first few scenes instead of letting other characters talk for her. We brainstormed ways of incorporating Hero’s lines into our script in order to create more speaking opportunities for the students and to give Hero more agency as her own character independent from others. We also had a brief discussion of what pronouns Claudia uses, which I was happily surprised by. I mentioned that Claudia could definitely use they/them pronouns, however, at the moment we wrote her character with she/her pronouns in mind. I think it would be worthwhile to switch the pronouns to they/them (or maybe Claudia uses she/them pronouns?) to incorporate a gender non-conforming character into the play, especially if our students want that perspective. Overall, I look forward to finally recording the audio of our script after Thanksgiving Break!
During this week’s meeting with our community partners, we finally got started on the technical side of our adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Instead of reading through our abridged script with the students who volunteered to be our voice actors, we decided to focus our attention on identifying specific “stock images” that we believed would be necessary in illustrating our plot. For example, we UR students thought that it would be crucial to include a drawing of all of the main characters for when they are individually introduced by Bea. We also agreed to include illustrations of the inside and outside of the school (Messina High), and an illustration of its rival private school (Aragon Prep), where John finds himself at the end of our act.
When determining which students would draw these important “stock images,” there seemed to be a genuine sense of collaboration and encouragement among the kids, which was great to see. The kids also went into great detail when asked to describe the physical appearances of the characters, proving helpful when it came time to transfer those ideas to the page. We then got into a lengthy discussion of whether or not our students should wear uniforms, which ended with us agreeing that the characters should ultimately get to choose how or if they follow the school’s enforcement of uniforms. In a sense, we let the characters decide for themselves based on how their personalities have been constructed by the students. On a different note, I found the hardest part of this meeting to be dividing the work of creating the images equally amongst all of our students; however, some students were very eager and willing to draw multiple characters and settings.
At this stage in the project, I do find myself wondering if our adaptation will be too “bound” to its source play (which I found to be a fault of the high school-set O), or if it will be able to stand on its own as a compelling and coherent project. I ultimately think that, since our students haven’t necessarily even read the comedy itself, our adaptation of Much Ado has no option but to take on a new, independent form. I look forward to next week, when we hopefully will switch to Zoom and begin recording our script.
My group’s fourth meeting with our community partners marked a shift in how we typically structure our meeting time. Instead of starting with a review of which kids previously expressed interest in speaking or “tech” roles, we started by thinking conceptually about how we actually intend to present our adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing in its final form. This involved the unveiling the draft of our act 1 script to the students. We assigned speaking parts based on who had expressed interest in voice acting in the past and then spent the rest of the meeting reading through the script (which the kids, fortunately, seemed to love). We made the difficult decision of splitting Bea’s lines into 3 different speaking parts, primarily because Bea has the most lines and because we wanted to give as many students as possible the chance to participate.
After reading through our adapted act 1 scene 1, I was happily shocked by how clearly and deliberately the kids delivered their lines. They seemed to make the characters their own just by how they chose to speak. In this moment, I felt the project finally coming into fruition. At the end of each scene, we paused to discuss how we wanted to portray it from a technical standpoint. We did this in order to include the kids who did not necessarily want a speaking role but who instead preferred the technical aspects of theatre. For our intro scene, we decided to include quick “freeze frames” after Bea introduces each main character. We also decided on the location of our third scene when Claudia professes her love for Hero to her football friends (we decided the stadium bleachers would be the most fun to draw). Having the script in front of me definitely helped me to better understand the work that still needs to be finished, and I look forward to our next meeting. Hopefully we will begin to record some of the audio for the speaking roles and begin to draw some of the characters, though I’m a bit worried about how that will go from a logistical perspective.
Instead of rushing to present our abridged script of Much Ado About Nothing to our students, we decided to use this third meeting to gather more information on how the students wanted to revise Shakespeare’s characters. We first began the meeting by reviewing which students had previously indicated their interest in a speaking part and/or in “behind-the-scenes” work (such as drawing pictures and creating the set). We then got a show of hands for which students were interested in specific roles. Many students wanted to voice Bea, so we decided to split up her speaking roles among 2 or maybe 3 students.
Once that logistical work was out of the way, we asked the students some more questions about each character’s individual personalities so that we could have more to work with while we write the script. When talking specifically about Hero’s social status, we got into an interesting discussion about popularity—how many of our characters should be popular? Can they all popular? I was happy to hear that, while almost all students wanted her to be pretty and ultimately more popular than the rest, they also thought it was crucial to make her smart and kind. The students seemed to naturally complicate Hero’s character by adding these overlapping attributes.
Lastly, we asked the students how Bea and Ben should get into their petty argument in order to demonstrate the “merry war” between them. Many students were very passionate about having this argument take place in the cafeteria, eventually leading to a massive food fight. The other UR students and I supported this idea because it would be lots of fun to create and because it could allow for more speaking roles. Overall, this meeting definitely cemented many of the ideas previously brought up by the students and gave us plenty of new material to work with when finishing up our act 1 script this weekend. My main concern, at the moment, is ensuring that all students get the ability to voice a character if they want to.
My group’s second meeting with our community partners was just as productive and fun as the first. To our surprise, we had a few more students join us for this meeting. We began by explaining JSP in more detail for those weren’t in attendance last week. We then focused on the logistics of our virtual project, determining who wants a speaking role and who wants to work on the technical side of our adaptation. Fortunately, we had many volunteers for both of these positions. The students also expressed interest in creating stop-motion style images for the project, along with the use of Legos and action figures.
After getting these technical questions settled, I went through the plot of act 1 very briefly for the students who were not with us last meeting. I was surprised by how much plot information the students retained, especially since they’ve never even read or seen the play. I think this is a testament to how engaged they are during our meetings. Overall, we had the most student participation when we began to decide on character names and personalities. I was happily shocked by the fact that the students so willingly wanted to change Claudio to Claudia, with the further intent of making her “emo.” I support these changes—I think having a girl be the star of the high school’s football team makes our story more interesting and potentially more progressive. Along with the Claudio/Claudia switch, the students basically modernized all of the character names except for Hero, which I found intriguing because it seemed like our class also wanted to keep her name the same. Maybe we can incorporate Hero’s unique name into the script as we begin to write it (maybe it’s a nickname with a relevant backstory). Furthermore, it seemed like the students also wanted the characters to reflect their own interests. For example, one student really wanted at least one character be in the theatre club. I look forward to continuing to draft our abridged script of act 1 and present it to the kids next week!
My group’s first meeting with our community partners went well! I was a bit nervous about how Monday’s meeting would go, considering we had no idea what age the students would be, what previous Shakespeare experience they would have, or even how many would be assigned to our group. For the most part, these nerves subsided once our Microsoft Teams meeting began. I never thought I’d be presenting Shakespeare to a group of 15 or so fifth and sixth-graders; however, the experience was less chaotic than I expected it to be. Excluding a few very minor instances of talking over other students, the students were all well-behaved, engaged, and raised their hands politely using the “raise hand” feature. We realized that we would get the most kids to participate by including them directly in the decision-making process, rather than simply telling them what our class had already decided. For a large portion of the meeting, we (UR students) offered some limited options about the plot, and the students expressed their own opinions about which directions we should take our adaption. I was shocked that, when asked how Don Pedro should set up Claudio and Hero, most students thought that it should be done in-person instead of online. Overall, for having never heard of Much Ado About Nothing, the kids were very excited to be involved in deciding what elements of the story we should keep or change. I look forward to continuing our discussion of the plot and officially voting on the options we provided next week!