I started this blog entry last Thursday night during conferences. Then, I got completely swamped and didn't have time to finish it. 2/25/08
It's weird to think, but in just one week + a few hours, Charlotte's Web will be a piece of history. Tomorrow is our first dress rehearsal, and it's always an intense morning. Here's what led us to this point:
I chose the show this fall. We do one production per year, and I alternate straight plays and musicals. This is a straight play year. I wanted a good piece of literature with a lot of parts, since the musical last year did not have a chorus. I ordered scripts and paid royalties out of my activities account which is fed by last year's ticket sales.
I missed a week of school in December when my grandma died. I had to delay auditions just a bit, but everything worked out. For auditions, the kids come to the cafetorium after school. If they just want to be on crew, they fill out a sheet and rank their preferences for crew. Then they get to leave. This year I have an enormous cast of 42, so my crew positions are only filled with kids who only wanted to be on crew. For other shows, I usually am limited in my number of cast members, so kids who didn't make the show always have the option of participating on a crew. I have pretty massive crews during those years, but I want as many kids to participate as possible. This year I have a set crew who helped build and paint, a prop/stage crew who gathered and made props and will move things during the production, a publicity crew in charge of making the posters and programs, and a sound/light crew in charge of running the lights and sound during the show.
During actual auditions, students take turns reading different parts for me. I make notes on their audition forms, and I try to hear kids reading lots of different roles. We have terrible acoustics in our cafetorium, so unfortunately, I sometimes have to consider a student's projection above potential acting ability. I also watch for how comfortable they are in front of a group, if they read naturally and with inflection, and how they relate to other actors on stage. I always try to end auditions with "going for a walk." The entire group walks across the stage in a single-file line, and I give them a character to portray. The trick is they can't talk... I want to see the character in their walk and posture and gestures.
I was able to get the cast list up and have the first read-through before Christmas break. This is super helpful because then the kids have their scripts and can be reading and learning lines over break. They're pretty excited at this point, so they really do work during that time. I also got the schedule worked out. This is an involved process because I want to use the kids' time as wisely as possible. 50 kids just sitting around every day is enough to make the most stable person blow a gasket, so when we're talking about me, I have to have a different plan of attack.
Here's where I'm continuing for today...
I look at my script and go through each scene, making note of which characters are in which scenes. I then combine them accordingly to make sections. It means that the kids have to learn the script out of order, jumping from scene to scene, but it means I'm using their time as efficiently as possible. It prevents a lot of behavior issues. It also gives the kids a day off once in awhile, unless they're one of the leads. This helps keep the motivation up throughout the cast. For this show, we have 4 sections.
We start with blocking rehearsals, where everyone is on book, and I give them their blocking... where they stand, when they move, where they enter, etc. From there, we move on to working rehearsals. With scripts still in hand, they practice the stage directions I've given. Running rehearsals come next and hopefully go without stopping. By this time, they should be off book and memorized.
We work into running Act I and Act II straight through with props about 2 weeks before the show. My prop crew works from close to the beginning to gather everything we need. I really hate that part of the job, and I'm lucky to have Heather and Cathy, 2 fellow teachers, who take charge of my prop crew for me. I have a great parent, Darien, who builds my set. I like to keep things simple, but what I have, I want to look good. He's great at reading my mind. He's also good about letting the kids help and teaching them how to use the tools. I'll never forget last year, one of my students went home and told his dad, "Dad, girls with power tools are HOT!" Cracked me up! Costumes are usually simple too. I'd rather have basic pieces and few changes, for my sanity's sake... especially with a cast of 42! My publicity crew works whenever they can, typing up the program and making posters.
The Friday before the show is always the day off for conferences. My kids come in from 9-12, and we have our first dress rehearsal, and we add lights and sound. It's always an intense day, but we survived. Tonight was our second dress rehearsal. I had a student home throwing up, one who didn't let me know why they were gone, two in detention, and one who had to leave for a passport photo (she also has to be gone tomorrow for this... don't get me started and don't ask me why... I don't have a clue). So, all that considered, it went well. We ran until 5:30 and still didn't get all the way done. Weather permitting, we'll have our longest rehearsal tomorrow night. We'll start where we left off tonight, take notes, and then run the whole thing again. Wednesday won't be in costume. Tuesday is always hellish, so I back off and let them slack and have fun on Wednesday. It's not worth it to have them stressed out the night before, plus, I can't rehearse late because it's church night. Our shows will be on Thursday and Friday nights, and I have a couple of parents who are hosting all 60ish kids after the Friday show for the cast party.
Monday we'll strike the set and get things back to relative normality. Whatever that is. So, say an extra prayer for me and for the weather and for all of my cast and crew. It's an exciting week, that's for sure!