“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!

This week we really started to work with our kids on reading through the script. We started with a few games before sitting them down to read through the script. Now that we have a small room all to ourselves, it is easy to hear the kids speak. In the session before, we casted and explained the parts to the kids while giving them out to them. This week a good amount of the kids from the week before returned, which was somewhat of a relief. When reading through the script, it was amazing to see that a lot of the kids could read through it pretty well, as if they had red Shakespeare before. We have one kid who is playing Duke Orsino who has some trouble reading through the script and forming the correct words but he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. The kids seem extremely excited about the play. Especially one girl who was not happy to be there at all who, by the end, was asking to read more lines and potentially have a bigger part in the play. We are excited to see how many kids come back this week and we are excited to start focusing on props and costumes!

“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.

A few days ago my group and I went to Henderson. I had never seen a Higher  Achievement program firsthand so it was cool to see how they run the program. I immediately recognized some richmond students who walked in late and they were mentors for the students. While we took a group of about 12 students (with one exit and one late addition), the rest of the students worked on other specialized projects or had small mentoring groups. There were quite a few adults who also came to help and mentor, I thought the mix of college students and older adults was very cool.

We started our session by telling the kids our names and then we quickly transitioned into a fun Hop game in which I asked them questions and if they agreed they jumped towards me and if they disagreed they stayed in place. The kids got pretty riled up by this activity but it was fun to see them get excited and smile.

Next we sat in a circle, which some kids did not enjoy because apparently the floor is gross, and we had each kid tell us their name, grade, animal, and favorite ice cream flavor. It was a nice ice breaker and they seemed to  enjoy having a chance to speak to us.

We then played a charade game in which you are assigned an animal and you must act out that animal and find your partner without making a noise. They enjoyed this activity so much that we played it two more times.

We sat back down at the table and passed out scripts while Maren explained who Shakespeare was and why he is a cool guy. The plot was challenging to explain to a bunch of middle schoolers. I ended up drawing  a love triangle chart so they could visually see the craziness that takes place in Twelfth Night. A few kids seemed super excited about having big parts which was encouraging to see. Next time Maren will go alone since Page and I had already booked flights home. But I cannot wait to return and work with them.

Sarah

“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.

After many class periods of preparation and cutting the script, we were finally able to meet with the kids from HA-Henderson. I was extremely excited to meet all of them and get started with this project and I really did not know what to expect. When we arrived, we entered a huge gym that doubled as a cafeteria where there were over 75 kids waiting for their mentors. Initially, I thought all of those kids were for the Jepson project and I wanted to run out the door, how could we manage 75 kids? There are not enough roles for 75 kids yet alone 20! The kids actually ended up being broken up between different groups and we received about 15-20 kids.

We started by playing a game with them in which one of us would say a statement such as “jump forward if you like candy” and if they did they would jump forward. They really seemed to enjoy this game, trying to jump further forward than their friends. After that we played the name game and asked them to give us their name age and an animal that started with the first letter of their name. This went well, yet, the only downfall was that we could not hear the kids because the room was so large and there were so many people in it. After this, we played another game in which each kid was given and animal and they then had to find their pair without speaking, just using motion and noises. Most of them liked this game while others found it pointless and childish. Lastly, we started to explain the storyline of act 1 to them. To my surprise, there were a lot of kids who were really interested by the play, while others balked at the size of the packed of lines we handed to them. Hopefully some of the kids to sparked an interest in the play will return next week.

All in all, I think this session went really well. Our goal for next week is to start delving more into the play while still playing games. We also hope to get a room dedicated to just our group so that we will be able to hear everyone.

“If music be the food of love, play on” – Duke Orsino Act I Scene I Line 1

After years of being an audience-member-only of the theater world, I’m thrilled to have the chance to see what the director’s side of things looks like. I’d be lying though if I said I wasn’t a little nervous as well.

What if none of the players show up?

What if they hate us?

What if we can’t get them to stay quiet long enough for us to actually do what we need to do?

Although I won’t be able to know or control any of those worries or more until we actually start, I feel like we’re at least going into the experience as prepared as could be expected.

We’ve been in contact with our site supervisors, my group partners are lovely and hardworking people, and I even have a Word document labeled “Henderson Battle Plan.”

If everything goes according to plan, we’ll b able to get to know our troupe relatively well by the end of our one hour session, will have briefly summarized the play, and gods’ willing, have a general idea of who wants what part.

We’re borrowing the “animal charade” game from the “revolutionary theater” reading and have even designed our own “hop” game to get to know the students at the start and a “noise game” to get the students to be a part of our explanation of the plot.

For the “hopping” we’ll have the students and two of us stand in a line while another, some distance away, calls out statements like “hop forward if you’re wearing blue” or “hop forward if you have a sibling.” The object of the game will be to see who reaches the speaker first, although we as facilitators are hoping it will help get rid of any excess energy in our players as well.

The “noise game” will be during our explanation of the plot – we’ll give a brief statement of plot, such as, “there’s a ship crash” and the students will take turns making a noise that could be associated with the action.

We’re hoping this will allow the students to be more engaged in the summary, rather than us just talking at them.

So in short, we should be just fine if everything goes according to plan.

I just wish I could believe that that’s actually going to happen.

Our initial experiences with Act 1 have been challenging, particularly because in Twelfth Night Act 1 is the longest act in the entire play. Not only do a lot of things happen during this act, but also many people have long conversations. We initially cut the script down a lot but when we timed it realized that it was still verging on 15 minutes without actions added in. We are currently cutting it down even more and removing a semi-inappropriate scene between Sir Andrew and Olivia’s maid. I think our biggest challenge will be explaining this script to the kids in a way that engages and excites them. We have planned our first improvisation game and how we are going to show the kids how silly we are and that it is ok to be silly. Hopefully we can break down the barriers between everyone and create the safe space we want to provide them.We are excited to meet them and to show them that anyone can be successful with Shakespeare.

Sarah Jacobson