It still hasn’t really set in that we’re done with the Jepson Shakespeare Project. Maybe writing about the final performance will help it sink in.

AJ, Dylan, Matt, and I arrived to St. Joseph’s Villa around 3:30 after our ethics class. Luckily we had already highlighted our scripts so our lateness didn’t affect us. It was nice to finally see the “stage” on which our students would perform. I was worried about staging because typically in rehearsal the kids would just stand and read their lines, using little body language. Occasionally they would look at another character when addressing them or throw in a sassy head turn, but do little to utilize the space of the “stage” where we rehearsed. I was also concerned because our rehearsal space was a very plain room and when our students we’re actively reading their lines they often meandered about the room or would sit down in the “audience”. The stage at St. Joseph’s was a lot of room to fill, but ultimately the stage shifted downward to the floor in front of the audience so issues of space were not as pressing.

By the time our students arrived we had organized our props and scripts, trying to make things as easy as possible. AJ shared some stories about our rehearsals and everyone was excited to meet our students. We had a full cast for the first time in weeks with Khalil, Adrian, Janiyah, Tamiyah, and Marcus all in attendance. They were excited to get their props and there was only one small disagreement over who would wear a gold chain, Khalil or Adrian. Khalil got the chain, but Adrian was given a crown to even the score. We did a run through of our act onstage and only had a few hiccups. But it ran longer than 10 minutes which made me worry about time. It turns out our act was not the only one with a time problem. After our run through our a few students went to get stage makeup from Dr. Bezio. Impressed by the beard Dr. Bezio gave Marcus, all of our students paid her visit to at least entertain the idea of getting stage makeup.

By 6:00 PM the play began. It was really cool to see the other Acts perform. It was great to see the investment that the other students had put into the play come to fruition. The fact that other acts also featured the song “Juju on that Beat” ┬áIt was also awesome to see Jacob play a role in all five acts; his stage experience seemed to reassure the students in their own abilities and his enthusiasm rubbed off on some of the other actors. Aside from running over time, everyone did a great job. The large space created some issues with acoustics, but despite some of the audience not being able to hear all of the performance things went well.

When it was time for Act V to begin, our students were nervous to even go out and introduce themselves before beginning the act. Thanks to some last minute encouragement from Dr. Bezio they built up the courage to perform. We only had a few issues with meandering off stage and no fights broke out which was certainly a positive. The closing dance number to “Juju on that Beat” went off with out a hitch and there was even some dancing after the music ended because our students had so much energy. I am very proud of the job they did at the performance and of how far they came over the weeks of rehearsals. I am incredibly grateful to Dylan and AJ. We worked very well together and kept things cool even when issues arose. Dylan was amazing at deescalating worked up students and AJ always knew how to refocus the group by relating our work to basketball or something else relevant to the kids’ lives. I am also grateful for our friend, Chris, who helped out a ton with our rehearsals from mid-October onward. He was in the audience showing his support. I am so glad to have had this amazing Shakespeare Project experience and such awesome people to share it with.

After writing this, I guess it has sunk in a bit that the Shakespeare Project is over. Luckily I have this blog I can look back on when I start to miss it.

This week’s rehearsal was our most positive yet. Before we started our final run through of the script, we talked to our students about their excitement and nervousness for the final production. All of our students are excited about costumes and make-up, but worried about performing in front of a big crowd, but Dylan was able to allay some of their fears with reassuring stage advice. There was also a sense of melancholy as this was our last rehearsal. Week after week of rehearsal have created a bond between the students and AJ, Dylan, and I. This last rehearsal made me realize how far our students have come over the semester, from reluctance to look at Shakespeare to an excitement to perform it. I also reflected on the enjoyment I have shared with the students in preparing for the play. Though we have not always had the easiest time with our students, I think our entire group learned a lot from our shared experience.

Our final run through of the script was relatively seamless. We had to iron out some kinks such as when Viola should remove her hat to reveal herself as Viola to Duke Orsino, but outside of these small adjustments everything went well. It is important to note we were missing one actor, Khalil, but despite this absence our rehearsal was successful. If he misses the show our group will be fine, but we hope he can make it.

Ending this post on a positive note, this final rehearsal lacked the behavioral issues that have often come up within our group. I hope that we can end our entire Jepson Shakespeare Project experience on a positive note as well with a great five act performance tonight.

We did not meet this week because of Thanksgiving. We hope that this week off will not taper the students’ enthusiasm for the play, especially this close to our final production. We are also concerned about the group dynamic after a contentious rehearsal last week. Hopefully the week off will let tensions settle. It has been confirmed that Marcus will no longer be participating in our group. This news is troubling because Marcus was playing three roles, but we will persevere with the help of our fellow students.


————————————————– BREAKING NEWS —————————————————-

We just learned that Marcus is actually back and will be a participant in our play. This makes Dylan, AJ, and I very happy.

After a productive rehearsal last week, our students regressed in our penultimate rehearsal. We were back up to four students from three last week: Adrian, Tamiyah, Janiyah, and Khaleel (he was not present last week). Perhaps it was Khaleel’s presence this week that derailed our productivity. On the whole the group had trouble focusing at the beginning of rehearsal. Unfortunately our rehearsal further regressed as tensions between students flared, leading to some physical confrontations. Such aggression tested Dylan, AJ, and I. Eventually Khaleel stormed out of the room, Dylan left to track him down while AJ and I stayed behind to try to reconcile our rehearsal without Khaleel. Without Khaleel we made some progress, but not at the level of productivity of the previous week. By the time Khaleel and Dylan returned, Khaleel was diffused but disengaged, sitting alone on his phone. After awhile we tried to engage Khaleel with the rest of the group again, but with similar disruptive results. We ended the rehearsal playing acting games, which though fun, do not help us much with only one rehearsal remaining before our performance.

The tension within the group makes things difficult as Khaleel plays two parts in our play. Compounding this problem is the absence of Marcus, a solid student who held three parts and has missed our last few rehearsals. Recently I learned that Marcus will not be performing with us any longer. This leaves us with three students who mesh well and hold the three leading roles of Act V, Orsino, Olivia, and Viola. Khaleel plays Antonio and Sir Tony Belch, important characters who are critical to the final production. But Khaleel’s spotty attendance record and behavioral problems make him hard to count on. He has also claimed he will not come to our final performance. This leaves us needing to rely on our fellow UR students for help with most of the minor characters. Though I am grateful for their willingness to help, I cannot help but wish we could’ve completed the play with only our students. For the most part our students are invested in this play, and do not want to disappoint them.

This week’s rehearsal was one of our most productive. We only had three students, Adrian, Janiyah, and Tamiyah, so we were able to focus on the scenes with Orsino, Olivia, and Viola. This allowed us to really hone our opening and closing scenes, focusing on how characters address each other and line inflection. Our three students did a relatively good job staying focuses on the play, leading to a successful full run through of Act V. We also decided how we will close out the play. Instead of Feste signing a song, the students have prepared a dance number to the song, Juju On That Beat. The song tangentially relates to the play, but the students really enjoy the song and dance number. It provides motivation to make it to the end of the act.

Next we week we need to focus on staging and stage blocking. These improvements will allow students to better interact on stage and help the scene to flow more naturally. They are nervous about our production being only two rehearsals away, but I am confident that they will step up to the challenge.

This rehearsal we only had two students attend, Adrian and Khalil. To make the most of this, we split the students apart into separates to focus on their lines and delivery. I worked closely with Adrian who, free from the distractions of other students, got a lot out of his one-on-one rehearsal. He marked up his script regarding emotional inflections in his lines and really enjoyed the extra attention. He asked questions about words he didn’t understand which helped him better understand his character as Duke Orsino. Khalil also seemed to benefit from the individualized attention, especially when it came to figuring out word pronunciations. I’m hoping that at our next rehearsal this individualized attention will translate into a successful group rehearsal next time.

This week was one of more productive rehearsals. All five of our students were present and we had additional help from another Youth Life volunteer and UR student, Chris Miller. We ran into a few hiccups with the students losing focus while practicing lines, so we tried to breaking up rehearsal with a theater game. We played a game where each player could only say one word at a time and we moved in a circle trying to form a sentence from each person’s one word contributions. This game started off slowly, but eventually we hit our stride and formed a few cogent sentences. However after awhile the allure of this game wore off and the students grew restless.

When we returned to the scripts the students had another good run up until the end of our rehearsal. On the whole our students are more comfortable in their roles. There are still some issues between a few students, but these conflicts are not as bad as in weeks prior. Dylan, AJ, and I are hoping that acting on stage in front of people will dissolve these issues as the students will be too nervous to agitate each other.

This week’s rehearsal was unique in a few ways. For one, this was our first rehearsal without our biggest personality, Adrian. We were also missing Khalil, another regular attendee. This allowed AJ, Dylan, and I to focus our attention on Marcus and Tamiyah as well as frequent attendee Janiyah. Our rehearsal was also unique in its productivity for the time we had our students. There were no behavioral mishaps which have interrupted our previous rehearsals. We practiced reading lines and also discussed costumes, costume changes for students playing multiple roles, and overarching plot lines and themes in the play as a whole. By the end of rehearsal Marcus asked to take on a third role. His willingness to take on multiple characters is very reassuring. He is certainly enthusiastic about the play, but shows his enthusiasm in a subdued way such as volunteering for extra parts, rather than with the extroverted exuberance of a student like Adrian. This provides a good balance within the group which I hope translates into great on-stage dynamics in the long run and another successful rehearsal next week.

For the first time since Act 1, AJ, Dylan, and I had full attendance from our five students at Youth Life. When we arrived, everyone was relatively eager to begin rehearsal. With Marcus and Tamiya now present after two weeks of absence, we had some catching up to. Tamiya took the role of Viola with some apprehension, It’s a large part for someone who has not acted before, but Tamiya was a good sport about it and seems interested in being the lead role. Marcus assumed the role of Sebastian. This caused some tension with Janiyah (Olivia) because she was afraid that meant she would have to kiss Marcus, but AJ and Dylan assured her that there is no kissing scene in the play. Finally things were coming together and everyone had a part.

Things started to go south however when we started rehearsing lines. We decided to run things from the beginning of the play to introduce Tamiya and Marcus to Act V and give Tamiya a chance to get a feel for her role as Viola. When it came time for Khalil to speak as Antonio, he read his lines slowly and deliberately, as is his style. Midway through his first set of lines, Janiyah muttered under her breath complaining about Khalil’s slow delivery. Khalil overheard this complaint and immediately took to his defense, calling out Janiyah directily. The two bickered across the room with Khalil and Janiyah criticizing each other’s intelligence. AJ, Dylan, and I could inspire temporary cease-fires, but Khalil and Janiyah’s wanting to get in the last word meant extended conflict. Seeing this conflict was going nowhere and was derailing our first full strength rehearsal in weeks, Dylan took the initiative to take Janiyah out to the hallway to talk to her one on one. With Janiyah out of the room, Khalil could focus on being Antonio and we resumed rehearsing the beginning of Act V. However, this verbal fight had distracted our other students, so it was difficult to get back on track immediately. Soon enough, however, we resumed a productive rehearsal.

A few minutes later Dylan and Janiyah returned. Not long after, tensions renewed between Khalil and Janiyah. This time around I removed Khalil from the situation to cool him down. Khalil and I left our rehearsal room, walked down the hall, and found and empty room where we could talk. I tried to listen to him as much as possible and a Youth Life staff member reminded him not to get caught up in other peoples’ negativity. Once he calmed down, Khalil and I went over his lines and I tried to explain the context and vocabulary of what he says as Antonio and Sir Toby Belch. We spent around 20 minutes one on one so by the time we returned to the main rehearsal our time was nearly up. Without Khalil and I, Dylan and AJ led the remaining four students in a relatively productive rehearsal. By the end, Marcus asked to take on a second role and will now play Fabian in addition to Sebastian. I hope the ending on a high note will translate into more success next week. Of course that will be contingent on student attendance and cooler tempers than this week.