After spending the semester at St. Joseph’s Villa, I am very pleased overall with Act 4’s performance in Twelfth Night. Our solid core members all showed up for the performance: Rufus as Sebastian, Charles as Malvolio, Christina as the Clown, Dale as Sir Andrew, and Talia as Olivia. I played Mario and Jacob played Sir Toby/The Priest. Our actors excelled in projection and seemed to enjoy themselves on stage, which were some of the most important parts of the performance. They were good sports and seemed proud of themselves afterward!

A few comical highlights:

  • Christina, the sweet young lady who played the Clown, had some…issues with her trousers during the performance (i.e. they fell down quite a bit). Poor girl! Luckily, she seemed so focused on the performance itself that I’m not even sure she really noticed it enough to be embarrassed.
  • On the upside for Christina, she decided to add in a clown nose just before going on stage, which she originally didn’t want to do.
  • Our “prison door” made of giant tinker toys almost took a tumble during scene 2. Luckily, a quick scramble by Dr. Bezio, and later Natalie, saved the scene, and the actors continued, unperturbed.
  • Charles did a hilarious improvisation during Christina’s final song in scene 2, to the point where Jacob actually laughed out loud backstage.

I think our group’s performance had a good vibe to it, focused but lighthearted. The students really took the spotlight and dominated the stage. Our timing was stellar and our students were just awesome!

There were certainly some challenges in Act 4, though. I’ll list them:

  • About an hour prior to the performance, we met up with Act 3 to do a final read-through of both the scripts. Act 3 was also at St. Joe’s and had many of the same students as Act 4, so we felt that this collaboration would help get everyone on the same page. However, Act 3’s script is a LOT longer than ours, and it took the students so long to read through the entire thing that Act 4 didn’t even get the chance to review the script with them. This was a major cause of concern for us, because that put our kids at a huge disadvantage, being the only Monday group (I think?). This meant that our kids’ last full read was on Monday, as opposed to all the other groups, who got to read through on Thursday or even immediately before the performance.
  • Most of the students came in feeling nervous, stressed, or otherwise flustered. Rufus was a particular concern; I asked him how he was feeling when he came in and he sort of blew up at me, exclaiming “I don’t feel very good at all!” I gave him some space and left him alone for a while to center himself after that. Christina was also anxious, although she exhibited a little more emotional regulation than Rufus. I think that has to do with her previous theater experience.
  • Rufus’s anxiety became alarming just as we were about to begin Act 4, when his shoes got tangled in the garter from Act 3. This caused a huge delay in transition between Act 3 and 4, and left Rufus very upset and ruffled. I helped calm him down backstage for a moment, having him do a few deep breaths, then gave him his sword and his script and sent him off. As soon as he was back on stage, he transformed and got all his confidence and gusto back. Well done, Rufus! Great recovery.
  • Speaking of the transition–ours was not the smoothest! This largely had to do with the Rufus-shoelace incident. Because that absorbed so much of our transition time, we didn’t even have time to set up the ivy for the garden scenes. We also had to rush out the prison door for Charles, which probably loosened the pieces (re: Dr. Bezio’s epic save).

Overall, I am extremely relieved that the performance went so well and that our students had a lot of fun! I already miss the group and we plan to send Timone an email to read aloud to all the students.

This project was really fun!

Well.

Today was our last official rehearsal before the Big Day, this Friday December 2nd. We had five students join us: Rufus (Sebastian), Christina (Feste), Talia (Olivia), Dale (Sir Andrew), and Charles (Malvolio). We began the day as usual, with a brief introduction and an overview of the day’s objectives. We prefaced this particular overview with a note that Friday is performance day–this seemed to sober the group a little more than usual, and I suspect it contributed to their increased focus today.

We then reminded everyone of their roles and let them know that, if they arrive for the show on Friday, they can expect to keep that role. Timone was especially helpful in incentivizing the students; he has arranged for the participants who show up on Friday to take a field trip of their choice sometime next week. While I was fairly certain that every student who showed up today would have shown up on Friday regardless, the incentive did reassure our group that we would definitely have a solid group for performance day.

We then ran through the act twice. We had the students focus on three specific components of the performance: (1) projecting their voices, (2) facing the audience, and (3) never quitting. The last part was especially important because timing is essential; all of our run-throughs have been at the upper limit of the time bound for each Act, and we wanted to make sure we were going at a proper pace. Personally, I was most concerned about Christina’s continuity in reading, because she often struggles to get her words out, and mixes word order. I coached her quietly in the vestibule before she made her entrance–“Remember, they won’t know if you skip a word here or there, or if you change a word or two. Just keep going, try to read as clearly as you can, and don’t give up.” She then went out and gave what was, in my opinion, her best two performances as the Clown yet. She had a few small reading hiccups, but she took my advice and made minuscule alterations as she went, which improved her clarity dramatically. She also projected her voice louder than anyone else performing, and was very attentive to the way in which she entered and exited the stage. I am so proud of Christina today!

Talia’s confidence is also growing after today’s performance. In previous rehearsals, she would sometimes appear reluctant to participate, but after successfully entering on her cues and reading her lines with what clarity she could manage, she even exclaimed at the end of the first run-through: “That wasn’t so bad!” We were all pleased to hear that she felt more sure about the performance after that.

Charles and Rufus are as attentive as ever, and are the clearest readers of the group. Charles is so sweet and gentle, and Rufus just has a spunk to him that makes me crack up every time he starts reading his lines. Both of them seem to need the least assistance out of all the group members, and I have no worries about either of them for Friday.

Dale is the final concern. Today he was particularly energetic and goofy, so his focus was especially impaired. Even when he was seated and calm, he struggled to follow along with the script and pay attention to what lines and cues were being delivered. With Jacob most likely portraying Sir Toby on Friday, he will be able to guide Dale (Sir Andrew) onstage during the performance, with some discreet prompting. However, I think it would also be wise to have either Natalie or myself in the vestibule and having him standing and ready, several lines before his cue. He is not the fastest or most reactive mover, so we will have to compensate for this. I think that, with the appropriate coaching, Dale should do fine on Friday.

Our setup of the props seemed to work well. I think Act 4 will do splendidly. Can’t wait for Friday!

Our star student, Christina, was not present today at St. Joseph’s rehearsal! Jacob and I took turns playing both the Clown and Maria (Mario, for a male actor). We had a small group today: Charles, Rufus, Dale, Jacob 2, and Talia were the only students to return. We immediately jumped into performing the entire act, and managed to complete two full run-throughs.

The first run-through went well, and we finished at 14 minutes in total. This was promising, but we have to consider that Christina was not there to read Clown–and she sometimes struggles to get her lines out. We will consider one final cutting of some of her lines, and some of Olivia’s (Talia) lines. But I think we will be within our time bounds for the actual performance, especially considering that Jacob 2 said he may not be there (meaning one of us may take his role, which would speed up the performance, if only marginally).

A bulk of our time was spent today on staging and practicing moving on and off stage. While most of the students did well and responded to the cues appropriately (Charles, Jacob, and Rufus did well), others struggled, largely because they were having a hard time staying focused and reading along with the script while their peers were on stage. I think it would be beneficial for one of us to be in each of the offstage rooms with the students to help them follow along and give them their cues if we think they might miss them. Another component of staging we worked on today was the sword fight in the first scene. I took a moment at the end of the rehearsal to remind our sword fighters to show anger as they entered stage and began the sword fight.

Overall, I felt today was really productive, although I wish Christina had returned. Hopefully she comes back on Monday!

As the project is now closing in on performance day, we dedicated most of our energy at today’s rehearsal to staging. We had the biggest group so far today, so keeping everyone on task was a slight challenge. We had Rufus, Dale, Christina, James, Jayvon, Charles, Jacob 2, and Talya participate as Sebastian, Sir Andrew, Clown, Malvolio, Fabian, Mario (nice save, @Jacob 1), Sir Toby, and Olivia, respectively, but for the most part, all the students cooperated and seemed invested in the project.

We started again with Zip Zap Zop, with a particular emphasis on vocal projection. To our amusement, Charles voiced his concern over being too loud inside a church, which we countered by explaining that we are performers in a theater during rehearsal. James in particular did a great job at projecting, both during the game and throughout the rehearsal. Talya and Dale struggled the most with enunciating and sending clear signals to their peers–something we should focus on during our final meetings.

After the game, I proceeded to give a brief explanation of stage directions found in the script and the cues that the students need to pay attention to. We had the group break into their respective scenes and then practiced entering the stage and blocking each part. Natalie and I stood in the offstage rooms and gave preparatory directions to the actors inside each one, while Jacob stood on stage and helped the students face the proper direction and follow the cues in the script. This was very successful, as Natalie and I were able to prompt the students to enter the stage in expressive ways based on the point of the plot being performed.

The meeting concluded with Jacob giving the three rules for performing: (1) never turn your back to the audience, (2) project your voice, and (3) stay in character, even when not speaking. The students seemed to absorb the rules. We distributed scripts to everyone who wanted to continue practicing between today and next meeting. We plan to bring props and costumes for next time.

 

This week’s rehearsal was stellar. We were happy to see that Jayvon rejoined us after a few weeks’ hiatus, and he played Malvolio. We started with a brief warmup for emoting; each student had to walk across the stage acting out a particular emotion. Everyone did well.

 

We then split into two groups: Jacob and Natalie, with Dale, Rufus, and Other Jacob; myself with Christina and Jayvon. It is my understanding that Natalie and Jacob’s group focused more on physical elements like swordplay and slapping, and that things went quite well. My little group did a readthrough of scene 2 to help Christina enunciate and read with more clarity. I read each line to her as clearly as possible, then had her read it back to me. The difference was night and day. She is phenomenal. Jayvon seemed rather uninterested but reads very well. I hope he stays on!

Rehearsal on Halloween was both entertaining and productive!

We had a return of nearly all of our previous students, including Dale–who missed the last rehearsal due to bunion surgery on his right foot. He rejoined us today in a wheelchair but otherwise in good spirits. It was nice to have him back. Neither Aisha nor Katera returned, unfortunately (S/O to Thursday’s group–you have them, right?). We did have one new addition, Morgan. At first, I wasn’t sure if she was actually interested in the production, but she quickly turned out to be one of the better performers.

After some brief introductions and an overview of the act, we went through another read of the entire script, which was edited and reformatted during the most recent workday. We made some of the language simpler, included phonetic pronunciations in the margins, and reformatted the script so that it was easier to read. These changes–especially the phonetic pronunciations–helped some of the students read more fluidly. Notably, Christina’s reading of the Clown, who has a lot of lines, improved significantly since last week. We were also touched when she told us “I love you guys” upon discovering we’d replaced the Clown’s original song with Taylor Swift lyrics.

Christina is an amazing young lady. She is high-energy and very invested in the project. But her biggest struggle is reading the complicated language of the play. This has been slightly frustrating for our group, as we have intentionally made changes to the Clown’s parts so that they accommodate Christina, yet she still insists she would rather be Olivia. We will likely end up casting her as the Clown regardless, but we are still working on strategies to help her feel more comfortable in that role. Next week, one of us will work with her, one-on-one, to improve her reading.

After a full read-through of the act, our timing came down to 23 minutes! Obviously, this is not acceptable for the actual performance, but we estimate that the true time is closer to 15 minutes because we had a few interruptions during the first read of the rehearsal. Dale ended up leaving to go to the bathroom before his lines started, and, being in a wheelchair, took a long time, so we had Rufus read both his and Dale’s lines instead. This slowed things down significantly. Also, Kendra…disappeared (?) about 15-20 minutes into the rehearsal, and Natalie took over her role as Olivia for the day. With some more practice, especially on Christina’s part, we think the act will fall within the time limit.

The last activity we did during this rehearsal was another attempt at the emotions game. We started the group with the phrase, “I went to the Zoo today,” assigning each student a range of emotions. Charles is very good at this exercise. The next phrase we used was “an apple fell from the tree.” Again, the whole group was very engaged. Emoting is mostly a struggle for Dale and Rufus, but we will take time to work with them as we get closer to performance day.

This week’s rehearsal was probably the best yet.

Firstly, the group of students we have is WONDERFUL! We had two newcomers join us–Crystal and Charles–as well as the return of Christina, Rufus, and Jacob #2. The new folks were spectacular; they were attentive, engaged, and demonstrated a positive attitude throughout the rehearsal. I’d like to give a shoutout to one student in particular, though: Christina. Last rehearsal was the first time we met her, and she quickly revealed to us her familiarity with theatrical performance. Her energy had also stunned us. This week was even more stunning; Christina arrived to rehearsal with script in hand and a big smile. She cheerfully told us how she’d done “a little research” on Twelfth Night (we’d expected “a little” to mean reading a summary on Sparknotes). Nope. She read through the entire play, took notes, and learned all the characters and the plot. She honestly knows more than us about what’s going on at this point. It was awesome.

Since Charles is also a member of the Thursday rehearsal group, we only had to give a brief introduction to Crystal. Then we commenced with a thorough read-through of the script. We assigned tentative parts, but nothing is set in stone as of now. Before each scene, we would basically explain in simple terms what was about to occur. We then let the students read at their own pace.

Christina, while certainly the most energetic, also struggles the most with reading the script. As a result, there was some mild teasing by the other students, which we tried to deflect and rework into encouragement. However, I could tell that by the end of rehearsal, Christina was becoming doubtful about her ability to play the Clown, due to the large speaking role associated with the Clown.

We’ve considered some support strategies for Christina for the next few rehearsals. Firstly, on Wednesday’s workday, we will be reformatting the script so that some of the more challenging words are written phonetically, and that some of the odd Shakespearean contractions (e.g. i’) will be spelled out fully. Furthermore, we are going to consider combining lines so that they flow as single, comprehensible sentences, removing or adding punctuation so that the kids can read it more fluidly. It might also be advantageous to highlight the scripts according to each character.

We’re all excited for next week’s rehearsal. We really felt like it was the real deal this week and I think that our productivity is only going to increase!

This was my group’s first rehearsal in two weeks, so we were curious to see which of our cast members would return and what their level of interest would be. Since it had been so long since we’d last been to St. Joe’s, we decided to start with introductions, a short description of the project and the play, and some theater games. Upon arrival, we saw that only one student had been there for all three rehearsals: Aisha. Timone told us that some of the other students, like Catarra, were excited to participate in the future but had a conflict this week. We did have a lot of new students this week, which might pose an issue in the future depending on how many decide to come back or attend the actual performance. As of now, we have around two full casts for our act.

 

We began the rehearsal by re-introducing ourselves and the project. Maddie and Jacob did a really good job at describing this in enough detail that they understood why we were there but at a quick enough pace that they didn’t lose interest. We then moved into some theater games, like One Word Story and Zip, Zap, Zop because we’d had success with those in the past. However, they were slightly more difficult this time around because more of the students struggled with enunciation. I think a lot of them didn’t want to put themselves out there at first and were worried about participating. However, as the games went on, they really came out of their shells more. One student, Christina told me how much she loved acting but that she was curious to see how she’d do with a Shakespeare play because she didn’t feel familiar with them. However, when I asked her if she’d ever done Shakespeare before, she listed off around three plays that she’d either read or performed in. I think Christina’s positive attitude will help inspire the other kids and her familiarity with the script will really be an asset.

 

During this rehearsal, we wanted to focus on reading the scripts, getting familiar with the language, and understanding how to play a character. We broke up into two groups, and took turns reading a portion of the second scene of our act. I was really impressed with the students during this activity, because, even though they struggled with the language, they focused really well on enunciating and making sure not to miss any of their lines. Christina, who was the most excited about acting, wanted the largest speaking part during this activity. Once we gave her this part, we realized that she was having trouble interpreting some of the old English, but with some help ended up doing really well with it. Another student, Rufus, who barely talked during the other activities, really transformed while reading the script and spoke louder, more clearly, and with more confidence. Talia, who struggled with the pronunciation of a lot of the words, volunteered to read the part of the clown and persevered throughout the long lines of dialogue.

 

We decided to end with the Bus Stop game as a way of ending the rehearsal with excitement. Two students, Christina and Jacob (not the one from University of Richmond) acted out a hilarious skit involving Donald Trump and Taylor Swift. I think that this activity really helped them get into the mindset of an actor.

 

We left the students with a copy of the script and asked them to read it over and if they felt really drawn to a certain character, to let us know next time. For our next rehearsal, I think we should focus on casting (very tentatively based on who comes back), solidifying prop lists, and working more with the scripts. Our biggest challenge this week was how long it took to read over the script, so hopefully with time this process will run more smoothly. This group seemed to struggle more with the language but less with focusing, which is the opposite of the last group we worked with. I’m interested to see how this will change if the two groups end up performing together (assuming all the students come back).

After a two week hiatus from rehearsal, our group finally made it back to St. Joseph’s Villa for another meeting with our students. We got there a little early–despite being slowed down by a confused driver who insisted on reversing her vehicle down the road we were on. To our not-so-surprise, we had many new additions to the group, with only one returning student, Aisha. One young lady particularly stands out; Christina is a very enthusiastic student who has had lots of prior experience with acting, even in Shakespeare productions. She was a huge source of energy for our group today and caused many laughs.

We began with introductions and an overview of the project/play, which Jacob and I explained at an appropriate level of detail. We followed these introductions with another round of theater games–essentially, starting from scratch. Zip Zap Zop, One Word Story, and Bus Stop all made reappearances with the students, who seemed to enjoy all of them. We saved Bus Stop for the very end of the rehearsal and were delighted to see the level of involvement from all of the students. One student, Jacob (not to be confused with Jepson Jacob) put on an excellent Donald Trump impression that had the whole room laughing, and Christina played a very interesting Taylor Swift.

The meat of this rehearsal was getting the group some practice with reading the lines. We broke the six students into groups of three, and then let each group take turns on each scene. We selected scene 2, the Malvolio “torture” scene, and had each group member read an assigned part. One student, Rufus, was extremely quiet in normal conversation, but as soon as he began reading from the script, he was a different person–he enunciated, observed proper pauses, and seemed to understand most of what he was saying before we even had the chance to explain the content of the scene to him. He was exceptional as Sir Toby. Christina, who excels at emoting, does struggle to read the script, but I suspect with continued exposure to the material that she will read more clearly in future practices. Finally, Talia displayed great effort today. She struggles with speech, but volunteered to take on the role of the Clown, who had the most lines for that scene. Enunciation was a problem for her, but she did not give up.

We distributed scripts to all the students at the end. Next meeting will hopefully solidify roles and practice the entire script.

I decided to follow Jacob’s lead and combine last week’s (10/3) and this week’s (10/10) blog post into one. We were unable to meet for our third rehearsal, since Maddie is our designated driver and she had a scheduling conflict. Since the shuttle times didn’t match up with our rehearsal times and neither me nor Jacob can drive, we decided to postpone rehearsal until the next time we would meet. Unfortunately, with our fourth rehearsal falling during fall break, this meant our next meeting would be on October 17th. I’m a little concerned that since last rehearsal wasn’t as exciting for the kids (since we focused less on games and more on the script) and since it will have been so long since we held a rehearsal, that a lot of our cast members won’t come back. Timone seemed to really like the program, however, so hopefully he’ll encourage them to show up on Monday. As for planning our next rehearsal, we decided to go over the script more in depth and practice reading Shakespeare more. We went through the whole script and “translated” it into modern English so we would have descriptions ready if the high schoolers were confused on what was happening during a certain scene. We also left the group with a “homework” assignment for the next rehearsal. We wanted them to watch She’s the Man, which they all seemed fairly excited about, and read over the script. My group and I worked more on a props and costumes list, which we will hopefully solidify more next week. As for Monday, I think our goals would be to cast the play, determine if the group wanted to use a creative twist (by making in modern, set in another era, etc.), and figure out what we’re doing about Feste’s songs. I also think we should try to incorporate more games into the rehearsal if we have time, because it seemed to let them burn their excess energy and focus better later on.