Monday, 11/2, was a sad turn of events. We sent out our first email to all of the students who signed up for the project on Monday, hoping they would be checking their emails while at school and this would be a casual reminder to get them to stay after. We did not want to email too early, like Friday, because we didn’t want them to forget. However, maybe sending it on Monday was too late? We didn’t get any replies…

On the way to John Marshall, I called Laura Ramsey’s office to check in and make sure her students were in her classroom, and planning on staying (so we wouldn’t be turned away again…) She told us that no students had stayed, and we might as well turn around. Ouch.

So we see a pattern forming that is really worrying us. When we call Mrs. Ramsey, we almost invariably get bad news. But we have to call her, because otherwise, she does not communicate with us in any way that plans for rehearsal have been called off. Honestly, The Jepson Shakespeare Project does not seem like it is a priority for the students, and that really makes us sad.

We have big ideas: we want to empower Hippolyta’s character, play up India’s natural style to play quirky and ethereal Hippolyta, and reinforce Dante’s natural charisma and hilarity (he’s a great story teller!! He was killing us a few weeks ago with a story about a lady on his bus.) to make Bottom really shine with dimension.

But none of this can come to fruition if the students don’t show. We are going to send a more timely email next week, and check in with Mrs. Ramsey on our way again, hoping for the best!

***Note: Ditto with the last post. This post was written and meant to be published the week of 10/26, but it as saved as a draft mistakenly.***

Alright. Things, once again, did not go as planned. When only three students showed during our last visit, I asked Laura Ramsey for her cell number so that we could communicate with her most closely and quickly to prevent attendence from slowing. Well, we called Laura on my phone on Monday, to make sure things were good to go, and it seemed to be the wrong number. Well, it was definitely the wrong number, because a dude answered who had no idea who I was. So we also emailed Laura so to remind her we were on our way, since it had been a few weeks. No reply. She’s a busy public school teacher, so that’s understandable.

However, from the moment we got in (with the help of a random janitor in the parking lot, since all the doors were locked and there we didn’t know how to contact Laura) it felt like we weren’t supposed to be there. We came up to Laura’s room at our regular time, and only one girl was there. Laura said, “Oh, I should have told you guys not to come. You should just go back.” We stayed to talk with her though, and discuss what we could do differently to make sure this didn’t happen again and we got our production on track.

During this meeting, Laura told us that from now on, getting the teenagers to rehearsal was our responsibility. Okay. So I got the emails for each student from her in order to communicate with them ourselves. We also brainstormed other ways to attract the students back to our project. Food? Fun games? More explanation? Should we try to come earlier? We bounced ideas off India, the only girl who attended, and got her feedback. She said the students really had no reason for not being there as far as she knew; they just didn’t feel like it.

So as a team, the three of us are really strategizing about how to take on this responsibility and get our students to rehearsal. We are going to send out an email next Sunday to remind the students of rehearsal, let them know about our fun ideas, and encourage them to reply/let us know if they cannot attend for any reason.

***It’s important to preface these posts by saying that I made a pretty awkward blog-novice mistake. I saved three of my blog posts as drafts, thinking that meant they were posted, since I could see thiem in the “All Posts” list. Oops. So I am going back in and pressing the PUBLISH button on them now, followed by my new updates from November.***

Though last week did not have the outcome we hoped for in terms of theatrical progress, it was a great bonding session, and a crucial lesson in the value of relationships when it comes to attempting to lead a group. One of the dissappointing scheduling outcomes, however, was that we found out we would not see our group for another two weeks. Our fall break is, well, now. So we will not see the kids until the 10/19.

So in the meantime, Taylor, Allison, and I have been discussing prop lists in order to get the ball rolling on our production. For one thing, we had a pretty big character switch in the last few weeks. Originally, our Bottom was going to be a very stylish girl from the group. Despite fairies and queens and fairy queens being presented as options, she volunteered to be the ugly donkey dude. Awesome! However, she has not been showing up and we were introduced to another one of Mrs. Ramsey’s students- Dante. Dante is the only boy in our production, and he is a fantastic kid. Theatrical, artistic, interested in the project, and he is our new Bottom. While our orginial female Bottom was going to go the unicorn route with costuming, Dante is feeling a more classic interpretation of the role- Donkey Head. We’re cool with that! So as far as the prop list goes, and important decision has been checked off.

We have also been discussing costuming in a more general sense, meaning, what the heck will everyone who’s not bobbing around in a giant donkey head be wearing? We are really thinking the best option would be to let the kids wear there own clothing for costumes. We want to go this route for two reasons: 1. Simplicity- not only is it cost effective, but our group hasn’t been the most dependable so far in terms of actually meeting with us. It would suck to get the ball rolling on some fancy (togas?) costumes, only to realize our main priority needs to be just getting human bodies to rehearsal.

2. Style- Our students have an extremely individualistic fashion sense. There’s blue hair, orange knee socks, and cool makeup involved in their regular school styling; they already express their characters through what they wear. So why not let them play it up to suit what they want? Besides a few sets of wings, we think this would be a fun way to hand over more control to our students.

Looking forward to next week when we will see our kids again and hopefully make more progress on the script!

(This blog post was written on October 11th, and saved as a draft by accident.)

A recent meeting at John Marshall went all wrong: only three kids showed up, the teacher told us to reschedule (until after fall break), and no progress was made on the script we had just perfected.
However, on our way home, Taylor, Allison, and I agreed that it might have been the best meeting we’ve ever had.
Here’s why: when everything went wrong, a lack of structure actually worked in our favor, and gave us the flexibility to bond with our students (the few that showed up) in a really special way. When we first arrived ready to go and excited to read through, we were met with some defeat. The teacher, disappointed with the turn out, almost immediately told us we might as well go home. But we’d made it all the way there, so we decided to stick around. A few minutes into our awkward hovering, Judah and Amilia starting asking us about college. How did we get in? How did we get scholarships? Did we play sports? Did we like art? How can they get into Richmond? What’s it like there? Is it hard to get a scholarship? When did you apply?
I felt transported to my confused, overwhelmed, and hopeful high school self-I hadn’t thought about these questions since then. They’d all been answered as life unfolded. But for these students, the questions remained. And they were hopeful. Amelia, especially, focused in on a conversation with me about college- and her questions were direct. “What kind of scholarship did you get?” she asked, “How did you get it? What do you need?” In response, we started asking the students what they cared about: what clubs are you in, what do you like to work on, what do you want to do? The answers were amazing. Amilia is fascinated by biology and animals; Judah started her own magazine and writes poetry. We assured them that they were smart and capable and had what it took to be good applications. As we kept talking, we learned more and more about the girls lives at school, at home, and what their dreams were. What started as a casual conversation with a few of our kids turned into a moment that helped build our relationship. The meeting was boundary breaking, and reminded me how important a relationship oriented leadership style is to the nature of our project.

Last week, we had our second to last session at Higher Achievement to work on Act 1. We started off the session with informational stuff, talking about giving permission slips to the parents and trying to get a head count for who would be able to go. The program director helped us with this task, but we are not certain how many children will definitely be able to go. After that, we got right into rehearsal and working on our lines. We made sure to stress to the kids how few practices we had left and how exciting the performance was going to be. They are very eager to come to campus and hopefully this enthusiasm will continue for the next few weeks and into our final performance. Instead of breaking up into groups, we had the students practice walking on stage and saying their names to the audience to work on speaking clearly and loudly. After that, we went through the list/grouping of characters and walked through all of Act 1 on stage. Because a few kids were missing, Devani, Mel and I would step in for the missing characters. We even timed parts of the play to see if we need to cut any lines or add more. I think after next week and we have a finalized number of who will definitely be able to come, we can add final adjustments to the script.

As the kids read their lines, we would correct any words they mispronounced and helped them with different cues for character switches, but overall they did a pretty good job. Their reading skills are definitely there, but they are more focused on reading than acting. We tried to help them work on their theatrical skills by playing a game at the end where we gave them a set of lines and they had to read them as loudly and enthusiastically/dramatically as they could. Some of the kids were better at this game than others, but they all put in some effort. I think our main focuses for next week should be to help the kids focus more on acting out their lines and staying focused while other kids read their lines so they know when to jump in. Overall though I am really excited to see them in the final performance!

Finally I left St. Josephs feeling as though we truly accomplished something towards the play! Not having Haley was initially a worry as we were not sure who would get the kids and the space. In reality she was not able to distract the kids, thereby allowing for us to control the attention throughout our time there. This was the first time the students were able to act out the parts and amazingly so we were able to get through the vast majority of the play. The biggest downside was the amount of time that it took to read through what was already a cut down version for the second time. We will more than likely have to cut down again and paraphrase due to the language being truly difficult for many of the students. If our last meeting with them can go as well as this one, I believe that we will be able to put on a rather successful act. Of course this hinges on the ability of our students to show up. One student said he probably would not be able to come. Hopefully this will not be the case by next week. Yet with the Villa, who can tell.

With only a few more rehearsals left, we have been much more focused with the students at Higher Achievement. This past week we were missing quite a few students but were able to continue working on more of a group presentation verses our usual break out groups. We had the students practice walking on stage and introducing themselves and their characters. Although this seems like it would be more simple it was a good thing we practiced it because the kids would have been all over the place as to how they introduced themselves.

Next we had the students go through each act and read through the lines from each section of the act in front of the whole group. Reading through definitely showed us where we need to work on for the final performance. The students are always improving on being able to read the lines but they don’t do much acting but more of stand and read straight from the paper. This is understandable but gives us something to work on. We need to get them to be more theatrical. In order to help out this we had them do a competition. For those who were willing and wanted too we had them try to be as theatrical as possible while reading through about two lines. We have a few that when they put the effort in they can be quite good, but others could use more practice.

For the final few practice sessions we hope to be putting the play together more fully and have them try more acting along with reading through the lines.

This week week I was unable to attend our rehearsal due to a swim meet, and they decided to cancel due to low attendance.  We have a pretty solid hold on our scene so a week off will not set us back.  I plan on getting the script for act 4 out to the group relatively soon, if we are still needed to fill in.  The OSHER participants expressed an interest in being able to look at the scene prior to the production if they were to perform it, so I will do my best to get that to them in the next week.  We are getting more excited as the date of the production gets closer and look forward to seeing all the work the other groups have put into their scenes! We continue to leave the very end of the play up in the air until the day of the performance, but beyond that all of the staging etc. is set in stone.  I have been very appreciative of the enthusiasm the OSHER players have exhibited thus far in the process and hope the high energy level will continue till the day of the performance! We will not meet next week as it is Thanksgiving break and the leaders will all be home for the holiday.  Our next meeting will be December 2nd just two days before the production.  We feel confident as a group that our scene will go smoothly and plan on working out any last minute details on the 2nd.

Today was without question our best day yet. Coincidence that Haley wasn’t there? Probably not. We managed to walk through almost all of our act, and the kids were actually attentive and involved. I am hoping that we have finally solidified our group of students, but we unfortunately found out that one kid will not be able to come to the performance (the 3 of us will be doing a bit more acted than we originally anticipated). We were in a very small room today, which made it a bit difficult to walk through transitions of people being off and on state, but it managed to work out. We also handed out some props. In hindsight it may not have been the best idea because some students were just wildly swinging around swords, but things realistically could have been worse.

All in all the three of us were very happy with today’s work. Now that we are only a few weeks from the performance I hope that we continue to see productive meetings.

Well, this week our ring leader aka Sheryl was not in attendance today and practically no one was able to show today. Therefore, we thought it would be most beneficial to cancel practice today. We were planning on going over parts of Act 4 even though were act 5, just incase if our group needs to fill in for one of the other groups. Naturally, my group is very excited to do this and would be MORE than willing to read more lines and be on stage. If we have another meeting before the performance, that is what we will do. If not, we will speed read right before the performance! As for our actual act, we are feeling confident in our lines, costumes, and staging!