Thursday, September 18, 2008

Playing Catch-up

Ronnie and Linda got married a year ago this past Monday and I was happy to be a part of that wedding party, and had one of the funnest weekends of my life. I can't believe it's been a year since our German exchange student was here, because it seems so fresh in memory. Tempus, it fugits. Well -- happy anniversary L&R... I love you guys and wish you many more to come.

In my summations of the recent R&J tour, I missed a show. I'm adding it to the beginning of the last entry, so you get show number 8 on the Baseball Field at Palmer Cove... if you're interested, go back and read. Later... because I want to finish this entry.

Now back to your normal life updates and ponderings from your humble narrator.

School started and has been going well (thus far) for both kids, but we got off to a bumpy start with Jess. She had to miss the first two days because her school started before Labor Day, and she was on the R&J tour. She didn't need to be at the shows until 11:30 each day, so I made her make appearances both days.

Good thing I did.

The first day, she got her schedule and noticed that they had dropped her from her honors physics class. She was devastated. Straight to the guidance office she marched with her best "WTF?" face on, and they told her that too many kids registered for the class so she was dropped. But ... they didn't let her know over the summer. We got no letter or phone call or email or anything saying "oh, by the way... yeah. You're dropped."

So she started to flip out. Like I have never seen. Since she was in sixth grade, she has looked forward to this class. It was the only class she wanted to take (I didn't know this until I picked her up on the first day and she was crying and angry and frustrated...). When she was in 8th grade, they placed her on a lower level math track going into 9th grade that would prevent her from taking this class, and she knew it. She worked exceptionally hard through 9th and 10th grades to bring up her math scores. She started last year, if you recall, with a really horrible situation where they put her in Algebra II with no Algebra I. But she overcame that, got an A in the class, and basically saved the day. At the end of last year she had to petition the school math department to get into honors pre-calc in order to qualify for honors physics.

To show up for the first day and find that yeah, she was in honors pre-calc but was dropped from the honors physics, put her into a tail spin.

"Why bother! I should just drop the pre-calc and take stupid kid math! All that work for nothing!!! I worked so hard to qualify! I can't believe this is happening! Why did they do this to me...!?"

Yeah, indeed... why? That was my question. I could understand if her grades weren't up to par. I could understand if seniors qualified for the class and she is a junior and she couldn't take it because seniors get placed first. But we had no idea why. Nothing.

Her guidance counselor told her that "her hands were tied" and there was nothing she could do about it except to petition the principal's office.

Which immediately sounded like a bunch of school politics and a horse shite.

So I contacted the principal. Three phone calls and a nastygram email. I think I phrased everything in polite but angry and stern terms. My best political sounding "WTF?" format. He and I went back and forth a bit and finally on that Friday she was in the class.

I'm not sure exactly how one just puts a kid in a class that is allegedly too full. He (the principal) informed me that he told the teacher that he had to take her in the class and that the teacher didn't want to, but he did.

My sneaking suspicion is that this is a total "teacher union/too many kids and I'm not teaching them/you just try and make me" kind of move on the teacher's part. Which I understand... if there are too many kids that's a problem. But when there is only one teacher for this subject, and ONE SESSION of this class per school year, that's not our fault or problem.

Fix the system. Don't punish the kid.

And I told Jess that after my pitching a fit she had better get an A in this class, so help me. Or I won't go to bat for her again. End of conversation.

More on Jess -- she had her wisdom teeth out last week which went pretty well. She was supposed to audition for the play at school (Midsummer) on the Tuesday, but all after school activities were cancelled due to the weather.

Auditioning for the role of Nick Bottom after oral surgery isn't easy, and she was really angry about the situation but couldn't change anything. She went in on Friday afternoon to finally audition, using minimal drugs so that she wasn't loopy.

After all, not everyone can be like Dr. House when he's on vicodin.

She didn't get Bottom but was cast as Quince, which disappointed her... but she is one of three students who will be assistant directing and that made her feel better. I think her experience with Rebel will totally help out her vision. She's in charge of the fairies and their scenes... so hopefully she'll make it rock.

Yesterday Jess went and had her stitches removed and the wisdom teeth phase of life is now behind her. Horray.

Geoff started football practice at the end of August and so far it's going pretty well. He has had two games, a tie and a win. So we're already off to a better start than last year. He totally freaked out after the first game and was upset because they didn't win. Last year he pulled this crap and I thought he finally understood that yeah, you win -- you lose -- you learn. It's a game.

I didn't think for a minute this year that we'd have to go through this crap again with him.

Perhaps he never will get it. Jebus. He drives me nuts.

So far this academic year he's right on track. Home from school, homework, football, dinner, shower, study, bed. I love the routine, I love that he's totally on track and task. I wish football lasted all dang year.

Anywho... I guess that's about it. I need to shower and get ready for work. We've got a busy evening. Football practice and straight to Boy Scouts, which Geoff hasn't had the chance to participate in yet since the school year started. Football was going until 8 or 7:30, and Boy Scouts starts at 7. Tonight practice goes to 6:30, so he'll have time to get cleaned up and over to the meeting for the first time since the academic year started.

Right then. More later!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Part 3 of the Romeo and Juliet North Shore Tour Extravaganzapalooza wrap-up, where Rebels have fun stormin' da castle

This is the last installment, I promise. After all, there is so much more to talk about, and writing about the plays that took place almost two weeks ago is a little behind the times. School started, football has started (in fact, Geoff's first game was Saturday) so life rages on beyond the R&J run. I'll try and complete this all today and get to entries about real life, for those of you who care.

Eighth Show: Palmer Cove Baseball Field, Salem MA. Photos are here:
"Romeo and Juliet," Rebel Shakespeare Company, Palmer Cove Baseball Field, Salem, MA After the senior center, the kids seemed tired and worn out from the production run. That show hadn't gone as great as the previous shows, and I was afraid they'd lost momentum. Alex and Chris gave them the big lecture and encouraged them to stick with it. They were more than halfway through the run and they needed to continue giving it their all.

This location was back in the same neighborhood as the Mary Jane Lee Playground, but a very different setting, it was on the baseball field and the idea was that we would start an hour later than the other afternoon shows so we could turn the baseball field lights on.

Ross was Juliet and Emma was Romeo. Madeline was the nurse and Jamie was Paris. The kids really used the props this time, and used the baseball field elements. Henry and Josh ran the bases at the beginning before the big Montague/Capulets fight. And Emma and Ross used the dugouts and the backstop of the field as probably the coolest balcony scene ever. The Capulet's party scene was completely off the hook, with Ross wearing a bra and Jamie as Paris gently pushing the strap down off his shoulder as Tybalt stalked around bitching about Romeo being at the party. Emma paced the field and dugout area before the balcony scene almost like a lion in the zoo, in heat, on the prowl... angry. And Frazier's Mercrutio was dirty and sexy and very gay. The whole "fiddlestick" exchange with Marisa's Tybalt nailed the hatred between the two of them, and their fight was extra rough and violent.

As night fell, were sitting around plot of cement off the field in a "Romeo and Juliet," Rebel Shakespeare Company, Palmer Cove Baseball Field, Salem, MA circle. The sun started to set, and the ballfield lights were turned on. The sky was simply amazing... and as Juliet's father beat her down (her being Ross, don't forget) and Mercrutio died, it was just simply a gorgeous setting, with colors swirling and sadness filing the air. Very electric and amazing.

For the crypt scene at the end, Alex and Chris had them use the bleachers, but I don't think it worked too well. We really should have returned to the baseball diamond and had everything end on top of the pitcher's mound. There were too many props around and to be honest, the actors were doing an amazing job of just ACTING, without the props. At the last location, at the Senior Center, the props were ignored because I think the kids weren't sure what to do with them that would be okay to do in front of the old people. Here, it was more like the Text took over, and props were unnecessary.

There was a guy there who was a Big Brother to two little boys in the neighborhood. The older boy had seen part of the play on Saturday, and while we were hunkered down around the cement square he signaled to two friends to come over. These were two boys who were at the Saturday show.

They didn't stick around but chatted for a while. I heard them say "Romeo and Juliet is the best play ever. This is the BEST PLAY EVER." Chris K and I looked at each other at that one instant and it was like "YES!" that's exactly what we want to hear.

The littlest boy of the Big Brother was really into the story and the play. At the end, he made a point to go meet the cast.

"Romeo and Juliet," Rebel Shakespeare Company, Palmer Cove Baseball Field, Salem, MA

He was really cute... and perhaps we planted a little seed here in this little guy, and someday he'll be a Rebel. All told,

Ninth Show: Moseley Woods Playground and Park, Newburyport MA. "Romeo and Juliet," Rebel Shakespeare Company, Moseley Woods Park, Newburyport, MAPhotos are here:
We took the tour up away from the City of Salem and surrounds and came up to the Merrimack Valley.

I had wanted the show to take place in downtown Newburyport, behind the Firehouse Theatre and Not Your Average Joe's... but we stumbled upon Moseley when our church had outdoor service there earlier in the summer and Doug suggested that it would be perfect.

And he was right.

Kind of far outside downtown Newburyport, Moseley Woods is on the Merrimack River and is a large, pine-shaded playground, with tons of options for staging... including a gorgeous jungle gym, woods and trails, and a small pavilion overlooking the river. The park is much nicer than I ever remember it being. We'd done a geocache there a while back, and it was kind of a beat-up, worn down kind of a joint. I guess in the past couple of years, a friends of group took it over, and invested a lot of time and effort into cleaning it up and making it family friendly instead of just a place to have a barbecue on a run-down hibachi.

Unlike our last playground appearance, this park was totally different. The playground revelers were children much smaller than the kids at Mary Jane Lee, and parents were everywhere... giving us concerned looks as we set up.

The Rebels were doing their warm-ups, very loudly and boisterously, and I went and worked the skeptical and confused crowd. "Hi, I'm Chris, I'm with this here theatre group. We're doing Romeo and Juliet at 1pm. We hope you'll stick around and watch. The kids can feel free to play on the playground and not worry about just sitting still and being good. It's their playground, we're kind of invading it but to bring them a play. They're the residents of Verona... I hope they like it."

Most parents looked at me with surprise. Something like this had never happened in their playground, and they were amused. One woman told me she was leaving but thanked me for the invite and wished us luck. At the end of the play I looked over and she and her kids and a friend were hunkered down, watching Juliet open an umbrella over her head to take her draught of death and fall asleep. The skeptical parent who was looking to beat retreat discovered her kids were interested, and they stayed through the whole thing.

That's the kind of thing we were going for... you betcha.

"Romeo and Juliet," Rebel Shakespeare Company, Moseley Woods Park, Newburyport, MAThe jungle gym was awesome. The company used the height all the way up to the top, and the balcony scene was lovely and priceless, with the slide being used and Ross climbing all about. Ross was Romeo, Emma was Juliet. Jess was the nurse and Jamie was Lord Capulet. Maeve was the friar, and Emma2 was Mercrutio.

Again, the little kids had no fear of breaking through that invisible wall and becoming part of the play, part of the witness to what befalls Verona. Tons of little girls climbed to the top of the playset during the balcony scene, perhaps one day they will also play Juliet... who knows. Some of the kids were restless and noisy during the play.

They wanted to play ON their playground equipment, they didn't care about the play going on and watching. It made it a little distracting and I was relieved when we gave them back their playset and moved to another location for the second act.

"Romeo and Juliet," Rebel Shakespeare Company, Moseley Woods Park, Newburyport, MAIf you go through the photo gallery, after the company moved off the jungle gym and over to a hollow log structure, kids really surrounded the action and got right up in the play.

Little girls with ice cream sat next to Ross as he hid in refuge in Friar Laurence's cell.

When Juliet is dead asleep, and the nurse came to wake her up on her wedding day, one little boy was popping up through the hole in the fake log, watching every minute.

His facial expressions were amazing, and I can only imagine what he was thinking while Jess cried "Help! Help!" Was he scared? Concerned? Why isn't anyone helping the girl on the floor? He was my favorite kid of the day because while the play was taking place, he went and got a book and started reading it out loud to the audience. He "got" it. This is an audience, to be entertained, and he's going to help out with that. Where's the German-English Dictionary. That's a great place to start.

All told, the audience was huge, my press release actually brought people out that weren't parents (excellent). Even our pastor from our church came out. I thought he'd just make an appearance for the first half and then leave... he's a busy guy. But he stayed for the whole thing, and I liked watching him soak in the story with concerned, confused, and sometimes incredibly sad facial expressions. He got it too. It was funny because the whole first half is rather bawdy... and our Emma2 did a very naughty Mercrutio, rubbing on everything like an alley cat, with Mia's "oh you guys!" Benvolio chuckling in the background. I apologized to him at the end of the first half, "Rob, I'm so sorry you had to see that!" And he and Doug laughed... "It's acting!" says Pastor Rob.


Great uses of the props at this show... Maeve as the friar picked up a huge eraser that had "Big Mistake" printed on it when Romeo was telling her how he was totally in love with the daughter of mine enemy. Looking stunned and shocked at the audience, holding that giant eraser up, she got huge laughs. Tybalt (Marisa) killed Emma2's Mercrutio with the dinging of a small desk bell. She covered her ears and screeched, and then suffered and died holding her ears as if they were filled with sharp, pointy things. Emma's Juliet in butterfly wings at the Capulet's party proved to be my favorite photo shot of the day... She and Ross were totally badass in one of the shots, and I loved it. She drinks the daught of death by opening Geoffrey's old baby umbrella, which Doug brought with him out of his trunk that day, and finally dies by using the Magic 8 ball.

Ross and Emma were amazing... watching them on the play set was just plain thrilling. It was a tremendous performance. I hope the audience thought so too.

Tenth (and final) show: Winnekenni Castle. Photos are here.
Cast at the Castle When Keri asked me to arrange the show locations, this was the first place I thought of. Where better to put on a Shakespeare show than a castle. Right?

I called the woman in charge and asked if she had any availability that week... she said she had one day. It was the day we wanted. The entire month was booked, except that one day.

Providence. Destiny. Whatever. Hallelujah... I was overjoyed.

I told her that I was planning on hosting the cast party after the show here at my house and she said "Hey, why not have it here?"

Are you KIDDING me? For Realsies?! You're offering your castle up not just for the show but for a pack of crazed wild nutcases to have a rowdy party in?!? Well, if you insist!

By far, this was the best possible situation. A 5pm show, and a party raging until 10:30pm. The show in and of itself was amazing, with the best use of props yet. Tybalt (played by Josh) beat the crap out of Frazier's Mercrutio with a fly swatter that I bought at the dollar store. It was an amazing beat down. Like nothing seen yet in the prior shows. The audience couldn't believe it... And Frazier, just like he was supposed to, played the wound to his ass "a scratch, a scratch" by rubbing his butt cheeks.

Henry was Juliet, and by far this was his greatest show. So many of his facial expressions, and running out onto the deck pulling his shirt over his head after the wedding night has taken place got a ton of laughs, but he didn't break a smile or let the laughs derail him. His look of earnestness as Romeo is getting ready to leave sticks in my mind to this moment. No bad second half for him. Grace was great as Romeo, and their use of the upper balcony inside the hall for the balcony scene worked out amazingly. Henry didn't stand in one place, but moved all about... and that caused Grace to have to move all about the audience on the main level. Very well done. Madeline was the nurse, and was a bit more low-key than previous runs. That's okay. It was crowded in the hall so her incredible physical humor was reigned in a bit by the very large group.

I didn't get to see the end of the play because one of Jess' friend's moms showed up to pick up her girl, and I had to pay the pizza guy... I heard Lord Montague's cries over his son's death under the tree out in the field and knew the show was over.



I'm peeling off 20s and the show is over. I missed the end. Out of all ten shows, I missed the end. Oh well. Kind of a let down, but there was a party to be had.

And what a party it was.

Need I say more?

I woke up the next morning and realized I had to go to work. Not that work is bad. I like work. But. All of a sudden, I missed my kids. I missed Henry the most. Always there to lift a box of move a 200 pound cooler filled with ice. I missed how he is so tall but curls himself up in such a little ball when sitting and thinking. I missed his smiles, and giving him a ride home, listening to him and Jess and Geoff do Spongebob dialog. I never thought I'd miss Spongebob dialog.

I miss Frazier's insane Mercrutio, and Luke's unbelievably over the top Evangelvist. I missed Emma's Mercrutio too, when she would Groan, oan, oan about love. I miss that insane energy that Ross and Emma had, no matter which one of them played Juliet and which Romeo. They were just magic.

Oh dear. I miss them all.

So all told, this was probably the most creative and exciting thing I've had a part in for years. I don't feel very creative at work. I think I wrote in a recent entry that I don't know what's wrong with me, so I'm losing my mind and running around throwing whipped cream plates at teenagers for fun. The zany is missing, the energy is missing, my life is just mundane. Day in, day out... the same the same the same.

So this was a blessing. An amazing blessing for me. And after three entries of me foaming at the mouth about each and every show, I think you get it. And yeah. You get it.

Next year, mark your calendars. None of you Boston Area readers graced the shows with a visit and I shake my fist at you... Next July we're doing "Twelfth Night," and August is "Hamlet." And yes. We're touring. Both months.

"Twelfth Night" will most likely be staged on one of the Boston Harbor Islands. George's Island most likely. I've started working on that now. It will be AMAZING baby. Amazing.

Don't you miss it.

Okay... so if you've read all of these entries, thank you. I promise your normal Way Out Inn content will resume shortly. We have tales to tell of Geoff's first football game, and Jess is getting her widsom teeth out, and she's auditioning for the Fall Production at her school...

which happens to be "A Midsummer Night's Dream." So this won't be a Shakespeare Free Zone anytime soon. Sorry.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Part 2 of the Romeo and Juliet North Shore Tour Extravaganzapalooza wrap-up, where a Ross by any other name smells as Henry.

Oh good friends, thank you for bearing with me as I write and record the memories of the past couple of weeks... I doubt that I'll ever forget anything, because it was so memorable, but just recording these events for myself for posterity, I'll feel so much better. And after all, isn't that what a stupid personal blog is for? yeah. It is.

Here we go with continued recaps of the Romeo and Juliet tour.

Fifth Show: Lynn Woods Reservation Rose Garden. Photos are here.
LynnWoods 65Sunday's first show was held at the Lynn Woods Reservation Rose Garden. I booked it sight unseen at the suggestion of my girl C from the office. She said it was amazing.

It was funny, because when we GOT there, none of us could even FIND it.

Talk about a hidden jewel!

We eventually figured it out, found it, and it was indeed amazing. The place was indeed amazing, and the garden was perfect for the production. Perfect size for the small crowd. There were several people there who weren't parents, which was awesome. A beautiful family and their baby came out for the show, and the baby was amazingly sweet and quiet for the whole thing.

We had Henry as Juliet and Grace as Romeo. Jessica was the nurse, and Frazier was Mercrutio. Once again we had our Evangelvist, and he decided to be blind on top of being Elvis. Which was bizarre and amazing.

The show moved quickly, and the balcony scene was adorable with Henry hiding behind the black eyed susans. My favorite Juliet with my favorite flower. They came in handy as he gestured that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and got a good laugh from the crowd. There were awesome uses of props, with Romeo hiding behind and umbrella at the party scene and Jessica and Frazier both using this bizarre heart shaped lion for very different purposes.

It was a really nice show, and I loved the location. I just wish more people had come to that show other than parents. It was truly lovely. I'd rebook there again.

Sixth Show: Derby Square, Town Hall, Salem MA. Photos are here.
Derby Square 94This one is probably my favorite show of the run. We had an aural conflict with my favorite little restaurant in Klop Alley, right across the street, because they had a band playing that night.

Note to self -- always remember to find out what is going on around the show on the date of production. I had no idea they'd have a band playing, and they knew we'd be there... but forgot. Oops. The band played soft but didn't quit. At times it drowned out the action, but it wasn't a show stopper. In fact, the Grateful Dead pickin' and grinnin' style of tunes they were playing gave the show a real interesting feeling at times.

Madeline was the nurse and was INSANE with energy. She was a drop dead riot and a pleasure to watch. Jess' Peter to her nurse was a yo-yo flippin, book reading aloof jerk, which made for a nice comedic pairing. Ross was Romeo and Emma Juliet, and it was by far the most intense performance yet.

Derby Square 42 Derby Square 44 Derby Square 41 Derby Square 40

Emma's Juliet had a serious dose of the crazy after finding out Ross' Romeo was "banish'ed." She actually had me worried for her mental health. Wow. The death scenes were astonishing, with Ross killing Jamie's Paris most violently, and his drinking of an entire bottle of Ginger Ale as his poison from the Apothacary almost brought me and the girl I was sitting with to chant "chug! chug! chug!"

In fact, I made an LOLCat, or should I say, and LOLspeare of the shot, just for fun.

Oh, I'm so funny.

Anyway... Derby Square was very well attended, a huge crowd, and the buzz was going around about more shows, awesome shows, other shows for other age groups.

Rebel was taking over the North Shore. Excellent.

The kids had Monday off. A well deserved break... but I think it took the wind out of their sails for Tuesday. Sunday was such a blasted amazing show, that it was hard to come back after a day of rest and kick more ass...

Show Seven: Salem Senior Center, Salem MA. Photos are here.
SSS 29When I was working with the city of Salem, planning where to stage the shows, and I shared the idea of bringing theatre to the people who normally wouldn't be able to go see theatre, the park and rec director suggested the Senior Center.

It is a "hang out" kind of for the oldsters in town. They get snack and hang around and play cards and do stuff. Most towns have them, or at least have a county Senior Center.

I was really worried that there would be no one at the show, but it was incredibly well attended, and not just by parents. There were large round tables set up, and all the Seniors sitting around them with their friends were really cute.

The kids all seemed a little sluggish that morning, and I think they tried really hard to make the speech and language clear and understandable to the audience, and also toned down the naughty.

Emma2's Mercrutio wasn't as crotch-grabby, with just one or two really good "boner" kinds of jokes (using a toy dinosaur skeleton bone to gesture at the nurse a couple times). Consequentially, the energy just fizzed out and the show was not as good.

Grace was Juliet and Henry Romeo. Henry told me after the show that he has had a problem having a great first half but then completely falling apart after intermission, forgetting his lines, not really playing to the audience right. He really beat himself up and I felt horrible for him.

The thing is, he knew, and the cast knew, but that audience didn't know. Not because they're old and stupid... but because they were just engrossed in the story. They didn't realize a page of dialog was skipped over. They weren't really aware of that because they were following the story.

Jamie's portrayal of Lord Capulet saved the day. When he attacked Juliet because of her refusal to marry Paris, the audience was completely engrossed. When he stormed out of the room, a round of applause followed him, causing Juliet to have to wait to deliver her lines, begging her "honey sweet mother" for help in postponing the wedding. Jamie was on fire, and was the star of the show.

Jess' nurse gleaned very few laughs, because she didn't slow things down very much. She just did things as frenetically as she'd been doing them. Madeline's Peter was more like a playful puppy than ever before. She found a ball and played with it, and used a troll and Shakespeare doll to dance along on the floor. It was quite funny.

Maeve played Friar Laurence, and she plays it without a costume but with a tough, Catholic School Priest kind of vibe. A simple cross around her neck and rosary beads were her only costume. My father in law commented that he liked her acting but had no idea what her role was, until he saw the Evangelvist do the same role the next day. Her utterances of "holy Saint Francis" while shaking her head side to side were like a soft, incredulous swear, whereas Luke's screaming cries of "hoooooollllllllly Saint FRANcis-ah!" were a righteous cry to the heavens.

The look on Grace's face when she was whining about the nurse, griping "But old folks, many feign as they were dead; Unwieldy, slow, heavy and pale as lead..." was amazing. She looked around the room filled with ... old folks. Yikes! I think she was on autopilot and was just doing her lines, and then something clicked and I saw her blanch a bit right before she said it. But she got through it. Another funny thing was the introduction of a toy unicorn head/hat into the prop mixture.

Maeve did an amazing job by using the audience and doing her scenes inside the table area. She did a fantastic job of that, where everyone else was reluctant to get in that tight. Her entrances through the back door of the room worked amazingly well. I'm proud of her for taking that angle instead of using the easier option and staying out of the tables.

That was the major problem with this show. The kids didn't work the audience as well, and hid behind the folding screens, didn't bring the action as close upstage as was hoped for. Alex and Chris tried to force them into a center circle with chairs but they still stayed behind them. Hiding is not good in theatre. The use of props was minimal... and the show just really dragged. Intermission was amazingly long because the Senior Center staff brought slushies in for everyone and it took forever.

SSS 49All of my pictures have a chair in the middle of them, so my flickr set is like "A chair with some play happening all around it." The show was indoors, and it had almost an antiseptic feel, kind of institutional. The fairy lights along the top of the wall were a lovely touch though, and the light pouring in the window made the balcony scene really sweet. Grace sat on the windowsill/heater and just bathed in the glorious light... so the "east and Juliet the sun" was ... rather touching. The use of the two folding screens worked well here, as they were hiding from one another. I liked it so much I had to use it as my horizontal banner, as you can see.

Doug heard some "old folks" behind him talking. "I think that's poison she's drinking." "Oh... now she's awake... and he's dead." "Oh, that's so sad." So they were following along and knew the story. The props threw them off a little bit, but the kids used empty cups as props for the items they were supposed to be drinking... except Juliet who used a yellow highlighter as her suicide device and she scribbled all up and down her left arm and then died. But they got it... they saw it as a "happy dagger" and it worked.

The audience totally loved it. As they were leaving, a lot of the "old folks" were praising the kids and saying it was the best play they'd seen in a long, long time. And that was the goal.

Three shows to go, dear heart. Hang in there. I have to get ready for work now. More later.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Part 1 of the Romeo and Juliet North Shore Tour Extravaganzapalooza wrap-up

Hello, dear reader. Hopefully you remember me and you've not totally given up on my existence. I have had many adventures, and neither the time nor the computer to update you all on my tales of amazingness.

First of all, the whole Romeo and Juliet thing... I'm still processing the amazing feats of theatre that I saw. I don't know if I want to bore the snot out of you by telling these tales. It's my journal, so perhaps I will. Later in this entry, and I'll warn you so you can check out if you like. I have 10,000 photos taken with my new awesome kick-ass camera. I'm proud of what I was able to capture visually from the ten shows. Almost all of them are up in Flickr. At the bottom of this entry I'll link to each of the shows. In fact, I'll write about each and link to the galleries, for those who care about this kind of thing.

I'm madly and amazingly in love with all these kids... some more than others but mostly because I didn't get a chance to really know some of them. I miss them, I want to talk with them, know how they are... instead I live vicariously through my kid and stay connected through facebook comments and tags.

It truly is sad.

Secondly, the other day I sat down here to update all y'all in the blogosphere about my mad R&J adventure week, and somehow my operating system was eaten alive by something insidiously wicked. Perfervidly wicked. Ghastly. I ended up on the phone for 5 hours between comcast and dell, and it finally came down to rebuilding my operating system. Which trashed all of my applications. So thanks to a certain lovely lovely Apple Cake Bakin' friend of mine, I now have certain softwares that I need to make my blog happy. You know who you are ... and I thank you from the bottom of my web designy soul.

The one thing I can't figure out is making the FTP work inside this certain software... so I downloaded my favorite FTP software, CuteFTP. But it isn't free anymore, which pisses me off. I have a 30 day trial, and in that time I have to figure out what da dillio with the built-in FTP over here in order to keep you all properly updated.

Anyway -- I may as well tell you about the Romeo and Juliet thing. Those not interested are welcome to come back another day.

Essentially, director Alex decided that since we had to tour, it would be a good time to introduce kids to the philosophy of The Factory.

The Factory does Hamlet.

And that is pretty much what they do.

The cast knows all the parts, so any night an actor can be called upon to play any part. Tonight, you're Hamlet. Last week you were Gertrude. The week before, Guildenstern.

Usually in the middle of the week, the cast is notified via email or an announcement on the webpage saying "We are performing here at this time." And they show up, without prior knowledge about the location where they are playing. So there is no scene blocking, no nothing. They just have to figure out how to do it where they are.

There are no props. The props are whatever the audience brings with them. So umbrellas, cell phones, tampons, stuffed animals, books... these can all be used as props. The actors must use the items AS THEY ARE, not as a substitute for something else. So, if an actor picks up a pen, he or she cannot pretend it is a sword or knife. They have to write with it to commit murder or suicide or do whatever they're supposed to be doing with that prop.

Sounds interesting? It is. But is also insane. The kids had a hard time initially with this. Chris and Alex taught them that no matter what the object is, as long as you commit to it as your prop, it is believable. Sell it. Make it work.

They did.

There were 10 shows. Each show in a different, new location. The props were all the same, and the audience got used to donating things (and getting them back). Each student knew two parts. So Jess knew Juliet's Nurse and Peter the house boy. Juliet knew Romeo's part, and Romeo knew Juliet's part. There were two pairs of Romeo and Juliet, and they switched off show by show, and sometimes gender for gender. So Henry could be Romeo in this morning's performance, and the following afternoon, he's Juliet. Same with Ross. Same with Emma or Grace.

With this kind of cast switching, it was like seeing a different play every time. Every single time. And they were all unique, different in feel, based on the cast or the location.

Initially, I kind of rolled my eyes at the idea of the boys playing Juliet and girls playing Romeo. But the girls get to play guy parts all the time... this could be interesting for the actors... a real deep investigation into the roles they're playing based on the gender differences.

And it truly was. The boy Juliets were amazing... and not to take anything away from Grace, who was wonderful -- Emma owned the role of Romeo and did it better than all the boys did. No lie.

On top of this, there was no set stage. Based on the location, Alex and Chris would move the audience in its entirety to another point in the park or area to give a different feel to the show. Sometimes it was one move, other times three. Depending on where the show was. The audience initially didn't like the idea of being moved at some shows, but once they did, it was fine and everyone was cool with it. They'd settle right in for the second half, or the second move to the third location where the Capulet crypt was located, and magic was seen.

All told -- this was an intense thing to watch. The play was shortened to its core story... about 90 minutes total. Sometimes running 2 hours if the breaks went long or it took a while to move the audience.

The breakdown is as follows:

First Show: Beverly Common. Photos are here.
Romeo & Juliet - Beverly Common, August 22, 2008The cast all rolled die to see who would play what role.

We had a girl Romeo and boy Juliet in the form of Ross and Emma. Ross was demure and shy, doing an amazing job as our sad heroine. Emma was balls to the wall, paired up with girl Mercrutio (the other Emma) and Benvolio in Mia.

Emma2's portrayal of Mercrutio was as just plain horny frat boy. Lots of prick jokes, and a lot of Mia's Benvolio shaking her head with arms crossed with a "oh, you guys..." look on her face. Lord Capulet was played by Ryan, and his ass kicking of Juliet when she refuses to marry Paris was devastating.

Luke played Friar Laurence as a kind of Elvis Evangelist... crazy, over the top, preaching it and being completely mad. His reasoning was "anyone who would have poison sitting around his office and would make a suggestion like "here, drink this and play dead," has to be insane." Good call.

Jess got to play the nurse and her cries of "Scurvy knave!" could be heard all about the north shore. It was adorable to see Ross giggling and cooing and being all girly while she told him of Romeo's intent to marry... and they were very cute together in the nurse/Juliet parts. Madeline got to be Peter to Jess' nurse, and played it almost like a sleepy puppy, which was adorable.

Josh played Tybalt and died an amazing death after Romeo killed him. He laid there dead in the grass with his neck at an awful awkward angle for what seemed like forever. It was terrifying. Jamie's portrayal of Paris wouldn't come into its true character for another show or two... but he did a great job on this run.

Julia's portrayal of the Prince of Verona was stern, and angry. She called it "Pissed Prince," and he was. She would switch off later with Mia for the Benvolio role, and Mia would be the Prince.

See how it goes? Each student knows two parts... and you never know what the pairing will be.

The show was sparsely attended, which was disappointing. But it was an amazing start to the run. I got to see exactly where Alex was going with the whole prop thing, and it all started to click for me.

Second Show: Salem Athenaeum Library. Photos are here.
Romeo & Juliet - Salem Athenaeum, August 22, 2008This show was introduced by the Mayor of Salem, who came to let the huge crowd (and I'm not kidding... HUGE) know that Rebel is a gift to the city, the kind of kids and culture program that she totally wants to encourage.

Which was no lie.

While arranging all of these shows, her staff was beyond amazing. They suggested dozens of places for us to stage the show... so much so that it was hard to really narrow it down. What a cool thing for the kids to see -- a political body actually encouraging what they do in the community.

This time we got Henry as Romeo and Grace as Juliet. Henry's portrayal was shy and wounded, and giggly and eye-rolly when his friends give him grief; Grace just amazingly gorgeous and sweet. Totally different from what we'd seen with Emma as Romeo and Ross as Juliet, or later with each of them playing their regular gender roles.

Jess got to be the nurse again, and Madeline was Peter... Luke was Friar Laurence again, and Frazier got to be Mercrutio. Now, his portrayal of the role was totally different from Emma2... He was almost psychotic and rather gay, hanging on Romeo and acting like a scorned and spurned lover at times when Romeo doesn't show up to hang out with him and Benvolio (again, played by Mia). His death at the hands of Tybalt was beating by sandal. They battled with sandals and beat the crap out of one another, until Frazier fell to the ground "dead." The sounds of the shoes smacking their bodies was intense... the guys said it didn't hurt, but it felt like it hurt.

Here, the prop choices were interesting. Death by sandal, and death by handkerchief. Death by plastic cup, as if the contents were being thrown at the other person. Death by sniffing fake black rose... but the text stays the same, as if a vial of poison has been consumed. That part doesn't change.

See how it works? The props are interesting and curious, and the kids commit to using them... sometimes with amused results, and other times with "aaah..." of agreement or "gee, that's clever..." The audience was wonderful, and I heard people crying... which made my day.


The show was amazing, and I think the setting outstanding. What a tremendous place to do this, and I'm so glad Keri had the connections to do it... the program director is a former Rebel Parent. So the love was there. The balcony scene was gorgeous on the long, tall steps of the back porch, the use of the yard and property all worked out so well. The kids could have used the space INSIDE the crowd better, and played to the group of people off to their right, who were sort of stuck out there by themselves.

But that's all part of figuring this whole thing out.

Third Show: Mary Jane Lee Playground, Salem MA. Photos are here.
Romeo & Juliet - Mary Jane Lee Park. Salem, MA.  August 23, 2008This was the show I was looking forward to the most, for a lot of reasons.

And I hope you're still reading... because this is the one I want you to know about the most.

Keri really really wanted us to bring theater to, as she put it, "people who normally wouldn't ever go see theater." And part of that is the poorer neighborhoods and sections of the cities in the area. She wanted to bring the show to kids, and what better place than a playground in the middle of a neighborhood.

This was the location that Chris K., the other director, struck upon the idea of USING the playground equipment. The kids in the neighborhood were initially confused as to what was going on. They made a lot of noise and told us to get out of here. There were some adults too who made similar noises, yelling "this is a public park, get the hell out..." but the kids ignored and the directors and adults didn't engage, so the gripes eventually died down. Also, a guy from the local Spanish Language station made a point to really sell the show on air, and brought his kids to the show. He was awesome.

Romeo & Juliet - Mary Jane Lee Park. Salem, MA.  August 23, 2008One little boy was not afraid to break that invisible wall that exists in theatre. He walked around, picking up props and handing them to Ross the entire time.

Ross hardly missed a beat. A couple of times he laughed at the choices the boy gave him as "gifts" in a little gift box. This little dude became kind of a star in the show. The bigger kids were trying to get him out of there, but I gestured that it was okay... and I think that made it easier for them later when they were involved in the show's action as the Citizens of Verona.

The kids totally USED the playground equipment for the whole show. Up, down, under, on top, around, climbing, flying, flinging... sliding. It was awesome. It was exactly, precisely what we wanted to see them doing with this location. It was the City of Verona, and the neighborhood kids and our cast, its citizens.

Ross was Romeo and Emma Juliet. Julie got to be Benvolio for the first time, and played him kind of like a stoner frat boy, which, combined with Emma2's over sexualized crotch-grabbing portrayal of Mercrutio was hysterical. The two of them were a drop dead riot together and I could not get over how funny they were.

During the Capulet's party scene, the cast pulled the neighborhood kids INTO the show. They were invited to dance at the party, and climb on the playground equipment. When Ross kissed Emma for the first time, the kids were shocked. Oh snap. He kissed her. Then, he kisses her again, and they're like "OH SNAP!!!"

When it came time for intermission, the kids were getting restless. Not the cast, but the neighborhood kids. A couple of them told others that they planned to completely disrupt the show and act bad. I pulled a bunch of them aside and gave them water, juice, snacks... and said "do me a favor, and keep your buddies in line. We're doing this for you guys... here. In your neighborhood. And we want you to enjoy it. But if anyone gets out of control, we'll have to stop and leave."

These older kids kept the lid on the simmering pot of restlessness, shusshing their friends or chasing them off when they got too rude. When the action was under the playground, they were on top, looking down. When the action went up on top, they ran below and watched. They were engaged. The were locked in, invested, interested.

And this is the cool part. At the end, when Paris is dead, Romeo is dead, and Juliet is killing herself, they were hanging all around the actors... very very close. Almost like they were the ghosts and spirits of Capulets past, bearing sad, solitary witness to the closing moments and tragic end of this story that didn't have to go all wrong.

When the show was over, Ross stuck his hand out to one kid to get a pull-up, and the look on this kid's face was ... I can't do it justice. Let's just say... I think a life or two may have been touched that day by this performance.

Jess was on fire as the nurse, Jamie as Lord Capulet was terrifyingly brutal and violent. He's not very tall, but man alive the kid is an amazing actor filled with an energy that makes you just stop and soak it in. Luke was back as the Evangelvist Friar, and it was an amazing show.

Fourth Show: Marblehead's Fort Sewall. Photos are here.
Ft Sewall 40This was an important show to a lot of the kids, and to Keri, Alex and Chris.

Rebel used to take place at Fort Sewall until a nasty dispute with a neighbor resulted in the Company's withdrawal from the property and their landing at their current home on Winter Island in Salem.

It's not my story to tell, we weren't involved then, but many of the current Teen program participants "grew up" in the program on the Ft. Sewall stage... Alex and Chris among them. So this was a Rebels Return kind of night, and we wanted it to be amazing and special.

Frighteningly, it was freezing, stinking cold... and the crowd kind of sparse and spread out too much. The wind through the trees on top of the fort made the dialog very hard to hear at times.

Henry played Juliet and Grace was Romeo. There was a much older, white-bearded sea-salt of a man who just about died laughing when he realized what role Henry was playing... which was kind of funny and the first time anyone did anything other than a polite or confused chuckle upon the entrance of one of the boys as Juliet. Henry did a great job but seemed to lack a lot of confidence.

Madeline finally got to do her role as the Nurse and she was amazing. Loud, boisterous, hysterical. Jess' low-key Peter to her insane nurse was a nice contrast.

They used the natural formation of the fort as the balcony scene. The death of Mercrutio was in a BUG SPRAY battle, as Josh's Tybalt slayed Frazier's Mercrutio, and probably dosed a number of audience members as well.

Alex had everyone join into a large circle for the final act, when Romeo kills Paris, Juliet wakes up, and all hell breaks loose. We saw a little bit of Rebel History take place as Ryan, playing Paris, picked up a wooden recorder, and Grace, playing Romeo, picked up a guitar.

When you can make your directors ...They "battled" with the instruments, because remember, the props have to be used AS THEY ARE, not as you want them to be, like a sword or dagger or what have you. Grace struck a particularly bad chord and Ryan fell down dead.

The epic Battle of The Bands was over. The audience was laughing hysterically, but the best part was the look on Alex's and Chris' face when Ryan died. When you can make your directors make faces like this, you're either on to something magical or you're really screwing up. This was ... magic. I think Alex was honestly shocked. It cracks me up every time I see this picture.

Alright. That's four of the ten shows. I need to pee, Jess needs the computer. It's late. If you've made it this far, you get a cookie. I will finish up later. I promise, and I hope you're interested enough to read more.