As I had a scheduling conflict, the group was not able to meet at St. Joe’s today (I am the designated driver for our group). We did assign the students “homework” at the end of last week’s meeting. They were supposed to watch She’s the Man and review the script using copies handed out. Hopefully they will at least do the first part, as that requires less of the interpretative skills necessary for reading Shakespeare.

Because of car troubles, we ended up getting to St. Joseph’s Villa five minutes late. However, because of St. Joseph’s Villa troubles, we ended up starting rehearsal 20 minutes late. And with the students having other things to do at 2, we didn’t get to have as long of a rehearsal as we wanted. We could not be in the chapel (no reason was given), so we were in a small room with a table and just enough rolling chairs for everybody. But we made it work!

I was thrilled to see that three of the five students from last week were back: James, Aisha, and Jayvon. I was more thrilled to find out that the other two weren’t there not because of a lack of interest, but for other reasons. Katera was sick, but she wanted to return. Dale had foot surgery over the weekend, but apparently was talking about the Shakespeare project quite a bit! This made us feel very happy: the first rehearsal had obviously been successful! Finally, we were excited to see that two new students were joining us: Curtis and Mike. Curtis and Mike are younger than all of the other students (freshmen), which means they have a little more childish energy that we had to control. We noticed, also, that they are sort of a duo – we decided before we officially started rehearsal that we would need to make sure they were both on stage at the same time, so they could play off of each other’s energy. Toby and Andrew?

When we tried to officially start rehearsal, we realized what our big challenge for the day would be: maintaining control. Whether it was because of the presence of the more disruptive Curtis and Mike, or perhaps because the small room prevented us from doing any movement games to release energy, they were all much more distracted than they were last week. All, except for Aisha, who tried to help us directors by encouraging the others to be respectful. We appreciated that. We wanted to keep control, but because they are so close in age to us, and because we didn’t want to lose them by appearing harsh, we let them get away with a lot. We will need to brainstorm how to handle these guys next time if they have the same unmanageable energy.

Rehearsal went well! We started by showing them a trailer of She’s the Man that we thought did a great job of explaining the plot of Twelfth Night. The students responded well to the trailer and seemed to have a better understanding of the plot, but then they started asking about playing Duke and Viola. Of course, neither of them are in our act… *sigh*

After this, we played a game of emotions. On the car ride there, we brainstormed a bunch of emotions and wrote them on notecards. Then, each student (and each of us) took a card. We then had to say a predetermined sentence (“I’m going to the zoo”) in the emotion we drew, and everyone else had to guess. Some students really got into their emotional performance. Others were either barely trying, or if they were trying they were failing to make big enough choices to make their emotions clear. We should play this game again next time, hopefully in the big space where they can add some physicality to their emotions.

Finally, we handed out the scripts, and tried cold reading the first lines of Act IV in different pairs. The students were making comments about the lines, and a few seemed a little nervous once they saw the difficulty of the script. However, they were all doing much better than I thought they would! They were reading the lines pretty well: mainly we need to work on punctuation and (obviously) inflection. We let them keep the scripts so that maybe a few of them would glance at lines before our next rehearsal.

One thing we realized was that explaining the lines in modern language really helped them. So on our workday, we typed up modern translations for every single line in our act. Hopefully next rehearsal this will help them to better connect with the lines and characters! Our next rehearsal is, unfortunately, not until October 17th, but we hope students come back and that we can jump right back into it then!

 

Our work today for Act 4 went well. We started with a bit of a bump–our reserved Zipcar hadn’t been returned on time–but a quick call to customer service got us placed in a different car. We were only 5 minutes late to St. Joe’s.

Upon arrival, we went into the chapel, where we quickly pieced together that Timone hadn’t yet arrived and turned on the lights. I attempted calling him twice, but his cell phone was out of battery, so we walked over to Dooley School, where we expected to find him. Another staff member radioed him for us, and brought us over to Cottage 2, the Center for Alternative Education, and set us up in the conference room. It was another ten minutes or so until a group managed to assemble and seat themselves.

Three of the five original students, James, Jayvon, and Aisha, returned, as well as two other new students, Mike and Curtis. We began by introducing ourselves to the new members, and then attempted for a second time to clarify the plot of the play. In order to engage different learning styles, we played the trailer for She’s the Man for the students. Some had seen the movie, but it appeared helpful for everyone’s understanding. We compared the characters in the play to those depicted in the trailer, and answered some of their questions about the plot as well as about the performance more generally.

We then conducted some activities to help students develop their expressive techniques. Natalie wrote up a series of emotions on index cards, then had everyone draw a card (examples include anger, confusion, joy, boredom, and fear). Then, we had each student say the same sentence (I have to go to the zoo today), under that particular emotion. For some of the stereotypical emotions (anger, sadness, happiness), the students were more expressive and clear; however, for the more nuanced emotions, like love or awkwardness, the students seemed less confident. At times in this process, it was difficult to keep the students’ attention for more than a minute at a time. We think this may be because Timone had an extra workload today, and so he could not act as a supervisory presence the entire time.

The next activity that we did with the students was simply an expansion of the first, but applied to reading the script. We had the students separate into pairs, and assign one person as the Clown and one person as Sebastian. Then, each drew an emotion, and read their portion of the first page of Act IV. Some of the students paused during the middle of their readings to express frustration or incredulity about the language used in the play. However, to our delight, ALL the students who participated in the activity read the text very fluidly, with only minor issues interpreting punctuation and pacing. The rehearsal ended shortly thereafter, with a reminder to the students to review the script and potentially watch She’s the Man, as the next two meetings have been pushed back due to conflicting schedules and Fall Break.

Today, 9/26/16, my group, Act IV, had our second rehearsal. Me and Maddie went to get the Zip Car at 12:30, but we realized that the person who had it before us didn’t return it. We were worried at first that this would pose an issue with getting to St. Joseph’s Villa on time. We called customer service, however, and they let us switch our car reservation so we could use a different car. We picked up Jacob from his rehearsal and were on our way! I didn’t even spill my lunch on the ground this time. Once we got there, we headed to the Chapel, which is where we had previously decided our rehearsals would be held. We realized that there was an issue when we arrived at the Chapel and the lights were out and Timone and the rest of the students weren’t there yet. We walked over to Cottage 2 and found Timone. He told us that we would be using a conference room for today since they had an issue turning on the lights in the Chapel. This room worked really well for this rehearsal because we were planning on working on emoting and reading Shakespeare, so the set up (chairs around a table) helped a lot with that.

For this rehearsal, we planned on seeing which of our original five cast members returned, learning the plot of Twelfth Night, familiarizing ourselves with Shakespearean language, and practicing reading and emoting lines. We planned an activity where we had notecards with emotions written on them (like joy, sadness, love, shock, disgust) and had the students go around in a circle saying a sentence (like “I went to the zoo today”) in that emotion. Once we were done with that, we wanted to move on to them reading various lines from the play in those emotions as well. This activity initially went well, but we found that some of them didn’t know how to get some of the more nuanced emotions (like love) across. Also they seemed to be more worried about embarrassing themselves.

We also showed them the trailer for She’s the Man. I think this helped them understand the basic plot and who the characters were. It also gave them a reference point for when we referred to situations or characters. For example, when we talked about Duke, it was easier for them to picture Channing Tatum and know who we were referring to. When we sat down, I tried to jump into the trailer and explaining the plot, but Jacob reminded me that we had two new students with us today, and that they might not even know what the Jepson Shakespeare Project was, what they were doing there, or that they were even participating in a play. We decided to slow it down a bit, and re-introduce ourselves to the 3 out of 5 original students that came back (1 was sick and the other was absent from school that day, so both of the 2 that weren’t there today might come back for the next rehearsal) and the 2 new ones. We then described the project and the play.

It was harder to get the students to focus today. I think a big part of that was that Timone wasn’t in the room with us for the beginning part of the rehearsal, so the person that usually acted as an authority figure wasn’t there. Since they’re so close in age to us, it was hard to act as a leader in that situation. It was also difficult because we had moved from games and introductions to the actual play, and this seemed to lower their motivation to participate or pay attention. I think incorporating an improv game at the end of each rehearsal as a means of rewarding them for focusing would help this issue.

Because we won’t be having rehearsal for the next two weeks, due to a group conflict and fall break, we left a couple copies of the script with Timone and told the students that a good way to prepare for the next rehearsal on October 17th would be to look them over and watch She’s the Man. Our group decided that during the next rehearsal we would try to assign parts. To prepare, we asked the students who wanted more or less speaking parts. We also decided to break the script and the actual lines down into english that they would understand. When we practiced emoting, it seemed to be easier to do once we “translated” the Shakespeare to modern english. We decided to write little summaries like this next to every chunk of lines to have at our disposal for the next couple rehearsals.

My group, Act 4, had our first rehearsal on Monday (9/19/16). The process of preparing for the rehearsal was a little stressful because of the torrential rain storm. We were a little pressed for time getting there, since I had come from a class and had to grab lunch before we left and since Jacob was coming straight from a rehearsal. Because it was raining so hard, my paper bag that I was holding my lunch in ended up breaking, and my salad spilled all over the walkway outside of the Commons. That was really sad. Maddie did a great job getting the Zip Car set up, so we didn’t have any problems with that and were able to leave immediately. We had already visited St. Joseph’s Villa on the Thursday before rehearsals, so my group knew the layout of the campus. We had already taken a tour of the school and planned to meet Timone in the Chapel so we would have a lot of room to work with the students and so we would have a stage to practice on during later rehearsals.

 

Once we got to the Chapel, we met James, Jayvon, Katera, Aisha, and Dale, who has autism. All the kids seemed really excited to participate in the program and some of them (Dale and James) also expressed an interest in music (which our group thought would work really well with all of Feste’s songs in Twelfth Night)! Timone told us that we could even expect a couple more kids (assuming the original five continued to come) to show up next time because of how much fun they were having during rehearsal. I’m really excited to work with this group of students because they all seemed really interested in participating, cooperated and worked together really well. They all have really big personalities and weren’t afraid to show them during rehearsal.

 

We didn’t want to delve too much into the actual play for this rehearsal, so we tried to stick to a basic plot and character introduction. As we began to explain the plot, however, we could see the students lose interest because of how convoluted it was. A couple of them even remarked on how confusing it was that the main character, Viola, wasn’t even in the act we were putting on. Our group realized that it would be too complicated to have them learn the plot in one meeting, so we decided to move on to some theater and improv games and focus more on the play next time when we had more materials accessible to help them learn it. We decided to show them the trailer for She’s the Man at our next rehearsal, tomorrow, because it did a great job at introducing the characters and the love triangles.

 

The theater games we decided to play were Zip Zap Zop, One-Word Story, and Bus Stop. All of the students loved Zip Zap Zop because it was really easy to learn and gave them a chance to loosen up and not take it as seriously. Everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves, which was really great to see. The One-Word Story game was a good transition because it called for more focus and attention. We finished with Bus Stop, which was a game where two people had to pretend to approach a bus stop while acting as a certain character or stereotype and try to get the other one to leave. These games were really effective at breaking the ice between the students and us because we participated too and it created a safe and comfortable space for all of us.

 

We then started talking about characters and which roles people would want. We started by asking who wanted parts with more or less speaking lines. This was interesting because some of the quieter students initially said they wanted bigger roles. Also, Aisha initially wanted Malvolio, but when we described that role as Olivia’s servant, she immediately decided she wanted something else. This was an interesting display of the empowerment that theater brings people. This was really enlightening for us, so we decided to come up with better character descriptions for next week.

 

For our next rehearsal, we decided to get the students familiarized with Shakespearean language by having them read lines from the play while emoting different feelings. We’re also showing the trailer for She’s the Man. Assigning characters and deciding what we want to do about Feste’s songs are also on the agenda. A couple people expressed an interest in doing “Hood Shakespeare” as a means of making the act more interesting to them, so we were thinking of switching out some of Feste’s songs with raps or doing a rap battle instead of a sword fight.

This past Monday (September 19th), the Act 4 group had its first rehearsal at St. Joseph’s Villa. Before we arrived, I will admit that I was a little unsure about what it would be like. The car ride up was very quiet — I think we were all pondering what might happen. Maybe the rain had something to do with it too.

We arrived, and went into our rehearsal space (the Chapel, which is great because there is a lot of room.) There, we met four African-American high-schoolers: James, Javon, Aisha, and Katera (I’m pretty sure this is how they spell their names but I’m not sure — we should figure that out next week!) These students all had a lot of energy right from the start, and when we told them about the project and the play, they seemed interested! However, our explanation of the play was a little shaky and went on a little too long, so I think we lost them. But for next rehearsal, we found an excellent trailer of “She’s the Man” that explains the plot perfectly. So we’ll show that.

One more student joined us, after about 10 minutes. His name is Dale. He has autism, but is high-functioning. I am very interested in working with Dale. My younger sister Rachel (18) has autism, and she is not high-functioning and has a lot of trouble with learning and social cues. I’ve also found myself working with a number of other autistic students, whether they are at my sister’s special-needs school, or they are in my town’s school system (where I now work as a substitute paraprofessional when I go home on breaks). So I’m not at all fazed by Dale’s autism: instead, I’m looking forward to showcasing him — he really wants to be Sebastian 🙂

We played games at this rehearsal (Zip Zap Zop, One-Word Story, and Bus Stop). Though it took a couple of minutes for them to understand the games fully, I was so pleased by the energy they immediately brought. They were having fun, laughing, and getting really into it! That sort of energy and willingness to perform are going to translate really well onto the stage. And during Bus Stop especially, they proved that they all can play quirky characters and maintain a good stage presence. I think it helped that we were playing the games with them as well. It created a very safe space.

Finally, at the end of the rehearsal we discussed the parts and started getting an idea of who might want to play which character. One interesting thing that happened was when we were explaining Malvolio. We had almost convinced Aisha about doing it, and then I made the mistake of using the word “servant” to describe him. She immediately backed off, clearly not wanting to play him anymore. My thought was “Good for her, but darn!” We’ll have to explain it better next week.

I’m really excited for this project, and look forward to next rehearsal!

8:00PM- After the performance on Saturday, I was exhausted and amazed that we had pulled off such a feat with all of our challenges.

–Rewind to 2:00PM–

Earlier that day when we arrived at 2PM at Perkinson Hall, we started off with getting ourselves ready for the show. Molly, Taylor, and I donned fairy makeup. I was a pretty intense and goth-chic Cobweb! After helping to set up props, our students were the first to arrive to Perkinson. While Taylor was doing Molly’s hair, I went to pick up our students and greet them. One of our students was unable to come but Ms. Ramsay accompanied them. We read through the script while other groups were rehearsing onstage. We then proceeded to have students covered in makeup by Dr. Bezio – Ms. Ramsay kept taking pictures of the process. All of the students were excited and felt empowered with their makeup! The students highlighted their lines while the last fairies went with Molly to get covered in glitter. I got the props assembled while Taylor had the students highlight their lines. Ms. Ramsay offered to step into the Titania/Hippolyta role, which her students loved! They were very excited to have their teacher participating with them. We assembled the props and rehearsed on stage. Each student remembered the work we had done earlier this week and we worked on our transitions. The rehearsal went very smoothly and since I was not in the second scene I directed Benjamin on the sound effects that we wanted. He was extremely helpful.

One of the students came to talk to me about how she had work later that night. She thought that she would be fine because she thought that the other acts would be shorter. I reassured her that if she was unable to perform, we would be able to acomodate and find people to fill roles. (I.e Oliver who stepped up and was our Egeus!) She was upset during the performance and walked out. Ms. Ramsay and I followed her to calm her down. She left in the middle of Act III. Taylor, Molly, and I made the changes to fill the characters that she would be playing. While Taylor filled in as Hermia, Molly filled in as Snug. I acted as a stagehand during the performance. After my performance as a fairy and then switched to managing the props and passing them off to the proper person.

Overall the experience has been extremely rewarding. Despite having lots of problems and issues, we united and were collaborative in the end in order to fulfill the task and perform together. I’m pretty sure the students received a reward for participating in the performance. I was pretty shocked by Ms. Ramsay’s enthusiasm to participate but her interaction really made the students excited. It was nice to see that her relationship based leadership had such a positive effect on the performance.

(Nov 30th)

This has most definitely been our second most successful rehearsal. We had a lot of new students but they seemed to be dedicated, we saw some students repeat. The student that was very proactive and diva-ish last time helped the new students catch up by giving them the synopsis. One student was extremely show and did not want to immediately talk to us about the conflict that she had at the same time of the performance. Another student who was unable to perform but had attended previous rehearsals helped her friend assume her role in the cast. We distributed the props among the students – they were all extremely excited about getting their wings, mustaches, and hats. We ran through the play twice with Taylor and I donning wings and acting as the fairies. We interjected in between lines to help with blocking and staging the performance. We would stop in the middle of the act to swap out characters, props, and clarify the scene for our new students. After the second run through, the entire room was covered in glitter from the wings. The students took selfies in their costumes and props.

We collected the props, cleaned up and had the students sit down. We asked them about any remaining questions that they had for us. We got asked a lot of questions on the logistics of the performance. We wondered about the permissions slips and asked the students to submit them by Thursday the latest. For the students that did not have slips, we directed them to Ms. Ramsay. We also asked students about how they were coming to campus and a few students mentioned that they would be driving themselves. Taylor and I left the rehearsal feeling accomplished and relieved that we had students to participate in the act. I can’t wait for Friday, it’s going to be great!

(Originally November 16th)

Earlier on last Sunday, I sent an email out the students that Ms. Ramsay had given us. I included a Google poll to get an estimate of the number of students attending, questions, and etc. I figured that some of the students who might be uncomfortable contacting us directly would feel more comfortable emailing us instead. I constantly checked and waited for responses only to hear back from two students. One student mentioned that she would no longer be participating in the project. The other student mentioned that she would be unable to attend this week’s practice due to prior commitments but was still interested in attending future rehearsals and performing in the play. I emailed her back exclaiming our excitement that she was interested in participating.

Before we left campus to attend the rehearsal, Taylor called John Marshall to see how many students were in attendance. Taylor was extremely calm and authoritative on the phone. She updated us periodically during the phone call. After being transferred to Ms. Ramsay’s room, with no response, Taylor was retransferred to the main office. Taylor put down the phone and told us that Ms. Ramsay had not come in for work that day. Molly tried the number that Ms. Ramsay gave us — which was unsuccessful. We unloaded the call, frustrated that Ms. Ramsay had not informed us earlier that she would be absent.

Molly the next day informed us that she had finally gotten in contact with Ms. Ramsay. She was absent because she was going through family issues. One thing that was mentioned was that her husband was in the hospital and that she was unsure when she would be returning to school. I understand the situation that she is going through and although I’m not sure what the exact issue is, family situations can be difficult to navigate. I hope that whatever she is going through is settled and that she is alright!

We may have to work with a different group such as the Ocher group (since they follow our act and are extremely enthusiastic) about the play.

(November 9th)

Last week, on November 2nd we were unable to visit the students. We also received an email from the CCE that informed us that we had to go through background checks to confirm that we had good backgrounds. Initially, we were sent an email from an affiliate of Verenda Cobbs that told us to wait for a confirmation and link. We were told (and included in an email chain) between Dr. Bezio, Dr. Soderland, and etc about the new addition to working with the public school system.

In addition, we had not heard back from the students regarding permission slips and transportation for the day of the performance. At the moment, it seems like we will have possibly one student participating. This student has come to all of our rehearsals thus far. She mentioned that she had a possible time conflict with the performance. It is difficult to not feel frustrated when we have had multiple conflicts. I think a large part of this is our communication between all the groups. We have tried to connect with students but we do not know them as intimately as Ms. Ramsey does. We are only there for one day a week which makes it difficult to really connect with the students and when we are there, Ms. Ramsey watches our rehearsal. (It feels almost Big Brother esque haha! But she has been supportive of our rehearsals and giving us space to work with the students.) Often the students get distracted and talk to her about issues instead of approaching us with questions.