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.
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.
The 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.
This 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.
This 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.
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.
This 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.
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.