This week was probably the most challenging week of rehearsals yet. When Bliss and I first arrived at St. Joseph’s Villa, we were notified by Timone (our site supervisor) that Patty (who we had cast as Prospero- or- “Prospera”) is no longer attending St. Joseph’s. Additionally, we were informed that the students we cast as Alonso and the Boatswain have had excessive absences lately and likely will not be present at the production. However, Bliss and I powered through after finding out this information and went ahead with our plan to hand out scripts and conduct a readthrough of the script. During our read through, we encountered further issues, as we discovered that the student we cast as Ferdinand (who has a lot of lines in Act IV) has massive stage fright. The student refused to read his parts, and this caused the readthrough to severely lag (we were only able to get through half of the script). Eventually, Bliss and I assigned a temporary replacement for the role, but it looks like Bliss and I will have to recast this role as well.

One thing that Bliss and I realized during our rehearsal was that we were unsure how to address the role of Stephano (the drunkard) to the students. We decided to describe him as “silly” when reviewing the roles with students, and then emailed Timone after the rehearsal to ask him what he thought we should do/ what would be the most appropriate way to describe this role to students. Timone said that to be on the safe side, we should continue to address the character of Stephano as “silly.” I would be interested to know how other people are explaining the role of Stephano to students, especially given that Bliss and I are paired with the oldest age group.

At the end of the rehearsal, Bliss and I felt very discouraged, and I am now beginning to stress about the production. However, I think I will feel better about things once Bliss and I meet tomorrow to discuss recasting.

There are so many interesting things to unpack in Hamilton. In the content of the show, Hamilton explores such leadership-related issues as race, gender, the founding of a new nation, differing leadership styles (i.e. Hamilton vs. Burr), and idealism vs. practicality, among many, many others. The thing that has always interested me the most is the idea of writing history and leaving behind a legacy. Throughout the entire show, Hamilton is obsessed with his reputation and legacy. He’s ambitious (“My Shot”) and a relentless worker (“Non Stop,” “Take A Break”). In the end, after his death, his story is told by the people he leaves behind (“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”). Ultimately, the man who loved control could not control the narrative of his own life. Pre-Hamilton, many Americans would probably not name Alexander Hamilton among America’s Founding Fathers. He was mostly known as “that guy who died in a duel.” Despite all the work Hamilton did during his lifetime, he was not remembered for any of it. And this is not because we do not have access to his work (i.e. we didn’t forget Hamilton because he was a mysterious figure). We forgot Hamilton because he wasn’t an interesting historical figure, despite being an instrumental part in the formation of the United States. This speaks to the biased nature of history. The fact that America needed an entire rapping musical to be interested in Alexander Hamilton is a sad one (although it produced an awesome show).

I would love to explore Americans’ awareness of Alexander Hamilton as a historical figure pre-2015 and post-2015. I am sure that the everyday American knows much more about Hamilton since the musical’s debut than they did before. I know I do. This speaks to how cultural artifacts (like music, film, TV, theatre, etc.) can be leaders in their own right. Hamilton has changed the way that Americans learn/think about American history.

Last week, I went to Henderson alone to introduce the students to our portion of the script. Our entire rehearsal was spent reading through the script (15 pages) in a circle. I was pleasantly surprised by the students’ ability to read such challenging language. While the majority of the students were resistant, many others were happy to participate.

This read-through gave me both hope and worry. On one hand, I was really pleased with how the read-through went. I also quizzed the students on the plot of the play, and they remembered most of the plot points. On the other hand, I am worried about both casting and staging the play. My concerns with casting are mainly due to the fact that I can’t remember any of the students’ names. Joe and I have some vague ideas for who we want to cast in which role, but again, remembering names is proving a challenge for me. I’m also concerned with directing. I definitely have ideas for how the play should be acted and staged, but I’m more concerned with behavioral issues. We read through the play last week, but not without pausing many times to tell the students to be quiet, to remind them what page we’re on, and to tell them to sit in their chair and not roll around on the floor. I’m worried about trying to direct several students on stage while the rest of the students chat, play, and text (which they’re not supposed to do). We have a teacher in the room with us, but it seems as though everyone’s authority is somewhat diminished because this is an after-school program.

The challenge for rehearsal today is to stage the first scene. We could probably do more, but I don’t want to give them too much to do on the first day of blocking. In the following weeks, we will block the rest of the scenes and begin to rehearse. I hope we can continue to keep the students interested in the play!!

This week was a bit less hectic, though we did begin a bit later again. For this shortened rehearsal, we ran some quick auditions for anyone interesting in reading lines. We had quite a bit of interest in Miranda’s part, as well as Caliban’s role, surprisingly. Those who did not wish to read agreed to act as sailors or other minor characters, especially because that meant that they could color in the cardboard pirate ship while we ran auditions. By the end of the rehearsal, we had a pretty good idea of which scholars were interested in which parts, so next week we can begin to focus on those scholars a bit more. The scholars were definitely happy to work on something besides reading in their theatre elective, and the pirate ship is well under way.

Next week may take a bit more planning now that we have our actors more or less in place. We need to decide how to divide roles and lines, let alone make it through the whole script at least once. Once we begin blocking scenes, I am a bit worried about those scholars who are not particularly interested in acting and their cooperation when it comes time to do something besides color the pirate ship. It might be helpful to bring their prop hats to get them in character in a week or two, but this could also be a distraction. If anyone has started using props yet, I’d love to hear how that went!

This week was definitely a test of Taylor and my ability to improvise– in more ways that one.

We arrived at the rehearsal with the intention of doing a few more auditions for any stragglers, and then we would announce the cast list and begin the reading of the script.

Things went awry almost immediately when some of our regular students announced to us that Chris, our choice for Caliban, was no longer attending the school.

Our cast list, which had been almost complete and perfect, would now need to be rearranged to accommodate this, and as such, we could not announce the roles nor hand out scripts. Thinking quickly, Taylor and I gathered everyone into a circle to play a storytelling game, in which one person built off of the previous person’s phrase to make a story, all the while incorporating large and elaborate body movements.

Then, we played a more intense game of “Tap-Out”, in which two people will do a scene and when their body is in a position that someone could use to make a new scene, someone in the audience claps, taps them out and begins their new scene. It is a difficult game, one that I have played in many community theatre groups, and I was slightly nervous that the group might have some trouble with it.

I was pleasantly surprised, and the students showed a strong ability to build off of each other and communicate, which will undoubtedly come in handy when we finally finalize the cast list and begin reading.

At this weeks rehearsal, Bliss and I were slightly slammed. Bliss and I had been hoping that more students would attend this weeks rehearsal than attended the last rehearsal, as we had planned to finish up auditions, finalize the cast list, hand out scripts, and do a full read-through of the play at this weeks rehearsal. However, the second we walked into St. Joseph’s Villa we were greeted at the door by Timone (our site supervisor) who alerted us that there were only 12 students in attendance. Thus, Bliss and I followed the first part of our rehearsal plan (to hold auditions for the students who were not in attendance at the last rehearsal) and then were left to improvise the remainder of the rehearsal. Thankfully, Bliss and I had a few improvisation games up our sleeves.

For the first improv game we played, we went around in a circle and told a story, and each student was required to add a line to the story. Then, we played an improv game called Three Headed Expert. Three Headed Expert involves three participants, who all work together to answer questions related to an obscure field (for example, one of the experts in a round of Three Headed Expert we played was an expert in “dinosaur fashion”). However- unlike in the first game we played- each person can only say one word at a time. In this way, Three-Headed Expert requires that students work together and listen closely to what the student before them has said so that they can build off of what they say and create an interesting and coherent response. Finally, we played a game called Freeze. In this game, two people are in a scene together. Then, someone who is not in the scene says “freeze,” and the actors in the current scene are required to freeze in the positions they’re in. Then, the person who said “freeze” gets to tap one of the actors in the scene out and start a new scene with the remaining actor. The new scene the actor starts must be related to the position the two prior actors were frozen in. For example, there could be a scene where two people are looking up at the sky, notice a UFO, and point up at it, then someone could yell “freeze,” tap one of them out, and turn the upward pointing hand motion into a sports motion, and create a new sports-related scene. Freeze requires that students pay close attention to the scene that is taking place so that they can choose a good spot to pause the scene at. Freeze also involves a lot of creativity and requires a lot of teamwork between the two actors in the scene. Bliss and I feel as though the students enjoyed Freeze the most of the three improv games (likely because it was the most fast-paced of the three).

Next week, Bliss and I will be announcing the cast list to students, handing out scripts, doing a full read-through of the play, and answering any questions the students may have about their characters or the premise of the play. Bliss and I had a fairly easy time casting the show, with the exception of two things. First, we only had 14 students audition for 15 parts. Thus, we did not cast a Sebastian, and figured that we could reserve this role for any new actors who join. Also, Bliss and I were alerted at our rehearsal on Monday that one of the students (Chris) who Bliss and I wanted to cast as Caliban may no longer be a part of the program. Thus, we have sent our finalized cast list to our site supervisor (Timone) so that he can confirm everyone we are giving major parts to is still a part of the program before we announce the cast list at our next rehearsal.

After a long hiatus from rehearsal, Caroline and I finally got to go back to Henderson to work with the kids again. We met the new crop of kids who we’d be working with, and they did not disappoint. They seemingly all had theater experience, which I wasn’t aware was even an option for kids so young.

When I was their age I had only been in the required school plays, and I always had the smallest roles possible. To see kids that were motivated and excited about it was really encouraging for me.

The rehearsal went well for the most part, but we hit a bit of a snag when we were relocated from the theater to the cafeteria, where two other groups were having study hall. Quickly the kids focus was gone, as they fed off the presence of the other groups. The worst part about the cafeteria was the noise. We couldn’t hear the kids, and they couldn’t hear us.

They were fooling around, running around the stage and hiding in the curtains. I couldn’t blame them though, it’s hard to expect kids to refocus on a dime, especially when you change environments. We were able to still have a decently successful rehearsal, but this was one of the more “roll with it” experiences we have. Next week we’ll have the scripts and we’ll assign roles, and hopefully then they’ll really get into it.

 

This week was cancelled for us, but I think that next week will be a continuation of our audition process, as we still have to cast Gonzalo and several other roles. We specifically designed it this way so that we could save space for people who may have missed our last practice.

We have the majority of the roles cast, and I could not be happier with the selections. The lead roles went to the handful of consistent returners, all of whom were passionate about the roles that they chose.

I personally think that Chris would have made an excellent Prospero, but he was extremely set on being Caliban, and I think that he will bring a fiery anger to the role that will be an interesting contrast to his cheerful personality.

Laura is our Miranda, and from our first meeting I knew that her sweet disposition and natural ability would make her into the perfect child of Prospero.

My one concern is with Jack, our Boatswain. When it came time for him to audition, he hid in the bathroom after declaring loudly that he wanted to be a tumbleweed. I think that he might prove to be upset with having lines, despite his ability to speak with intent. But we will see next Monday, and perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised!

 

This week was not as successful as the last, due to a number of factors. We started about 15 minutes late, as our scholars had not been dismissed from the class before quite yet. Per their request from the last week, we introduced a new game, Elves, Wizards, Giants, though it took quite a while to convince them the game would be fun and explain the rules (effectively a more active Rock, Paper, Scissors). We didn’t settle down to read the script until halfway through our time, and settling 20 fifth graders down to read Shakespeare was no easy task. Most of the scholars were disappointed to learn that they did, in fact, have to read again, while a few scholars just outright refused. However, we did have some of our more interested scholars try and get their friends into it by using funny accents and trying to tackle big passages, which was exciting to see. By the end of our time, which was cut short by another 15 minutes, we had only gone through about 2 pages, though I’m not sure we could have gotten much further.

For the next time, we promised to start with their favorite game, Froggy Murder, since we did not have time to finish with a game this time around. Many of the scholars were more interested in knowing their characters than actually reading through the parts, so it may be time to start picking out our sailors and spirits to help us with the less literary aspects of the play. At this point in the timeline, we should start focusing more on our scholars who are actually interested in having lines and giving them the opportunity to work on their accents and their reading skills. Hopefully, next week we will have our full time to play our theatre games and begin to divvy up the parts. Hopefully, once the scholars see this elective as more than just reading, they’ll be more excited to participate.

On Monday morning, Timone texted Bliss and me last minute telling us that he was cancelling our rehearsal as he was not going to be able to attend. At first Bliss and I thought we would just reschedule the rehearsal for Friday morning. However, when we suggested this, Timone responded that although he will be at the Villa on Friday morning, he has a group going out to VCU that day. This week, Bliss and I had planned to hold a second round of auditions, as last time we held auditions (which was before Fall Break), we had many people missing and were only able to cast about half the roles (we still need an Antonio, a Gonzalo, a Sebastian, a Ferdinand, and an Alonso).

Thus, I explained just this to Timone, and suggested that (as many students will be away at VCU on Friday) we skip this week’s rehearsal and start rehearsing again on Monday. Bliss and I plan to run our second round of auditions the same way we held the first round of auditions, which was by giving students an option between reading four monologues: A Prospero monologue, a Miranda monologue, and two Caliban monologues. After we are done holding our second round of auditions and finalizing the cast list, we will conduct a read through of the script.