Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Directorial Debut! Act III (Conclusion)

{ When we last left off we'd decided to cut out the Athenians and focus on the Mechanicals, in the interests of time.  Call it a sacrifice to the gods of slower than expected readers. }

I quickly summarize that Oberon and Titania are fighting, and that Oberon has sent his trusty minion Puck to hunt down this special flower that will act as a love potion such that, when Titania wakes up, she'll fall in love with whatever the first thing she sees, whether it's a boy or a girl or a bird or a bug.  "Or a monster!" says one student.

"Exactly!" says I, "That's kind of the whole point.  Oberon thinks that would be hysterical."

It's here that I make my first real mistake, as the children are waiting for me to do something with the first of the props that they've made and realize that it's not going to be used.  I'm to learn later from my daughter that, "Daddy, we spent a lot of time on that flower and you didn't even use it."  So, I felt bad about that.  That turns out to be the only prop that was not used, and of course it's the one my daughter made.

But!  I've given her the sleeping Titania role, when she wakes up and falls in love with monkey Bottom.

The scenes go on apace, and for each exeunt I collect and redistribute the scripts.  Every time the hands go up just as excitedly, so I guess they are still having fun.  And every time I save Bottom to the end, like a prize.

This time we introduce Puck, who brings us the first real stage directions.  "Don't enter until your line," I tell him, "And remember, no one can see you."  Later, when Pyramus exits, I tell Puck "Follow him!" and lead both of them right out of the room, palming the monkey mask that I've hidden in the props.  "Ok," I tell them, "You've just turned him into a monkey.  So Bottom, when you hear your name called again, come in holding this mask in front of your face. And remember, you don't know you're a monkey."

I return to the class and whisper to the other actors on stage, "When Bottom returns and you get to the stage direction about exit screaming in panic, I want you all to do exactly that, scream and run away.  Then each of you runs back on for one line, delivers it, and runs away again."

This turns out to work quite well, and it's the first acting they do.  Bottom is summoned, he returns, they scream and run away.  I thought the scene would get more laughs than it did, especially with lines like "I know what you're doing, you're trying to make a monkey out of me!" but I got very little.  Ah well.

And now comes the next big highlight of my day, as my daughter wakes from her slumber and begins, "What angel wakes me from my flowery bed? I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.  Mine ear is much enamour’d of thy note; So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape; I swear, I love thee!"

This marks the first time that one of my children has performed Shakespeare.  In public, on a stage, reading original text.  I damn near wept.  I am thankful that it turned out to be a small part because I think that the longer it went, I might well have exploded.  And you know what?  She was good.  She woke up on cue, and actually got up while reading her lines, which she did not stumble over.  Definitely one of my better performers, duly noted for future reference.

We move quickly to the big finish. I explain to them how everything resolves, and how the final scene is the big royal wedding.  All of the humans are guests at the wedding and will remain in their seats, calling out to the actors on the stage.  I call for the props.  I should have taken inventory, I don't even know the complete list of props I have.  There are two swords, which would have been used for Lysander and Demetrius to fight, which we've cut. So one will be used for Bottom to kill himself.  I make the mistake of saying that out loud and somebody says, "Bottom KILLS himself?!"  so I have to turn around and say, "Well, no, he *pretends* to.  You'll see."

One girl has arrived to school very late today, and missed the majority of the excitement.  Not wanting to leave anybody out, she becomes my Hippolyta.  She has no idea how to read a script, or that I have told the humans to remain seated when they deliver their lines.

For "Wall" they have taken a big roll of art paper and covered in a red brick pattern.  So I go to the girl who is playing that role and say, "Arms up!"  She does.  I hold one end at her side and say, "Arms down!"  She complies, realizing that she is to hold it in place.  I then wrap her up in it, mummy style.  Wall gets the laughs and I get a sense of awareness from the audience when she says things like, "I present...a wall."

She gets to the bit about a chink in the wall.  I'm standing behind her, reach my arm out and say, "Give me one of these," sticking out two fingers in a sideways V, like scissors.  She does the same.  I tell the audience, "I'm totally not even kidding, that's the stage direction. That's the hole in the wall that Pyramus and Thisby talk through."

We continue.  My Pyramus is one of the better readers and seems to be getting into the silliness of his lines at this point. When he's supposed to look through the chink in the wall I tell him, "Get down there and look through the hole in the wall!"  He bends his knees so that he's down to wall height, clearly keeping some sort of 8yr old mandated minimum distance between boys and girls, like he's trying to see through the hole in the wall from about 3 feet away.

Thisbe happens to be a girl at this point, and delivers her lines.  Bottom tentatively delivers his "Kiss me through the hole in this vile wall" line, and Thisby rolls right into "I kiss the wall's hole and not your lips at all!"

My Pyramus, who I told you was smart, fist pumps and utters an audible, "Yes!" as he realizes that he doesn't have to kiss anybody.  Bravo to him, if he'd read ahead and knew that line was coming, that he didn't panic!

Enter Lion, holding a lion mask that I brought.  "Roar," I tell her, "You're a lion.  Thisby, when you see the lion, drop your scarf and run away."

"Roar," she says.  Thisby drops her scarf and runs away.

"Well roared, Lion!" calls Demetrius from the audience.

"Well run, Thisbe!" calls Theseus from his seat.  I realize that he is wearing a crown, because apparently they made king and queen crowns and darn it all these kids have adopted an, "I made that prop I'm going to use it!" attitude that I commend.

Silence.  "Hippolyta," I say to the new girl, "You have a line."

She stands up and walks onto the stage, flipping through her script.  "Where are we?" she asks.

"Just say Well shone, Moon! and then sit back down."

"Well shone, Moon!"   Sits.

Exit Lion.  Enter Pyramus.  I hand him a sword and try to whisper to him, "When you get to your last line, just drop the script, stab yourself, and say "Die!" like 7 times as you stagger around the stage dying."   I figure he's my best shot at actually understanding what I want out of this character, but he's still more shy than confident, and his death stagger is about a step and a half and then he falls down on stage dead.  It's a start.

(Funny bit where dying Pyramus gets to "Moon lose thy light!" and I call in, "Lose thy light, Moon!"  Confused look.  "Leave the stage!")

Eventually we wrap it up as time is clearly not on our side.  I sweep everybody off stage in one direction as Puck enters from the other to wrap it all up. I'd love to say that there was some sort of magical significance to the most famous of all the Dream lines, but really it was just another string of trying to understand, for them.

I congratulate and applaud them all.  "Congratulations," I tell them all, "You have all just performed the work of William Shakespeare. What you just read, right there in that script?"  I go and get my First Folio again, and hold it up, this time taking it out of its case.  "Is right here in this book.  400 years ago, William Shakespeare wrote what you just read."  I open up the book and walk around, showing them what the original text looks like.  They are spellbound.  I only wish that I'd planned ahead that I would do this, because I would have bookmarked Puck's final passage so that I could tie the two together.  Oh well, lesson learned for next time.

And that's my adventure!  The teacher asked if she could keep the scripts in case they got time later to play with them some more, and I said absolutely.  Later she emailed me and asked if I would be interested in doing it again next year, this time with some more planning and study of what's going on.  Again, absolutely!  I'm unclear whether she meant "Come back and do a third grade class again" or "Do it for fourth grade" since my daughter will be moving on, but I'm pretty sure I'd be up for both.

Later I heard from my daughter about the flower issue, and about how one girl got three parts (whereas the others all got only 1 or 2), and a couple boys who told my daughter that they only said they liked it because it wasn't regular school work.  Standard gossip.  I heard my daughter saying both, "I got to be Titania!" and also, "I only had a couple of lines" and "I only got to go once," so I'm a bit bummed out about that.  But when I come into my kids' classes I am overly sensitive to the possibility of giving them *too* much special attention.  Besides, as I told her, I've come into her classes and brownie troops many times so she's had much more opportunity to experience this stuff that was brand new to most of the kids.

I don't know what I'd do differently next time. It's hard to just pull a single scene out of context and really dig into it.  I think that next time I'll have to do a series of visits, maybe do some rehearsing of scenes leading up to a final performance.  I've still got a lot of years to go!  We haven't even gotten started with my boy yet (who is 7 years old).

No comments: