One of the reasons I've been not as productive on the blog front lately is that I have been swamped with work this fall. With the addition of a smartboard to my classroom, I've spent many afternoons and evenings working to put class lessons, discussion, lectures, and even reading material into smartboard format. Another big reason is that it is fall play season where I spend a couple hours every afternoon holed up in our school auditorium helping guide teenagers through this thing we call acting. Our production this fall is Twelve Angry People (yes, we're gender inclusive here if only because the eleven girls playing jurors would probably mutiny if I asked them to perform in Twelve Angry Men).
As I began working on the show this summer, I realized how difficult it could end up being. I was essentially asking 13 high school students to be onstage for an entire show -- no entrances, no exits, not a ton of lines in some cases. I was asking 13 high school students to commit to attending every single rehearsal. I was asking 13 high school students to play these blank slates of characters, characters with little background information that they could latch onto as characters to drive their performances. Could we do it? Could *I* do it?
The requirement that students attend every rehearsal was the first key to sort of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Of the 35 or so kids who expressed an interest in auditioning, only about 20 actually showed up. I know that a few kids were miffed at the "mandatory rehearsals" requirement, but the script sort of tied me to that. I did make an agreement that I wouldn't hold auditions every day after school until tech week. I'm not a TOTAL tyrant!
I managed to put together a cast of 13 pretty strong kids -- 2 freshmen, 2 sophomores, 4 juniors, and 5 seniors. Of those 13, we have two boys. Two. For our first read thru, I gathered the kids together and we talked a lot about character development. I have them all the assignment to create histories for their characters -- names, education, family, careers, et cetera. Many of the kids took to this almost to an extreme, but their choices are rooted in the script. The young woman playing Juror #8 (the Henry Fonda part) decided early in the process that her character, whom she named Julia, was pregnant and that provided her with the inspiration to "protect" the young man on trial. The actor playing Juror #5 (who talks about growing up in the slums like the kid on trial) decided that her character had turned to stripping to help her escape from the slums. The actor playing Juror #9 (the elderly juror) has created a detailed, tragic backstory full of sons killed in a war, suicide, and murder. It's been revelatory to see the kids attack this task with such zeal.
Of course, such zeal can present problems during notes. More than once I've given "jury notes" -- notes intended for the cast as a whole that deal primarily with reactions or filling silence with ad libbed chatter. Inevitably, an actor will raise a hand and explain why THAT note doesn't fit with the character he or she has devised. It's a challenge sometimes to bite my tongue and keep myself from screaming, "JUST TAKE THE FREAKIN' NOTE!" but I do. I don't want to squash their creativity -- until I have to.
The other nice thing about this rehearsal process has been the comaraderie that has developed amongst the cast. Because they're all there every day, they have really become a "company" that works well together. Even those with diva tendencies seem to have gotten it under control for the good of the company. We've done some company building exercises, some improv games to develop unity, and they seem to have worked. Yes, we still have some work to do -- we have some projection issues and we have one dear girl who just constantly looks like she's just waiting for her line to come and until it does, she's just going to fix her hair and twiddle her thumbs -- literally. Don't worry, faithful readers, we'll get her where she needs to be....or die trying!