-William Shakespeare, As You Like It
In the play, As You Like It, this quote is more about life and death and how everyone enters and exits but I think it runs deeper than that, especially for high school students. They're on stage all the time, practicing their future selves, trying on different personas, deciding just who they want to become. But that's not what I want to write about. My students were supposed to write about their favorite quote and how and why it resonated with them. OK good. I did it. But what I want to write about is my past seven weeks working with our school's theater department.
By trade I'm an English teacher and I have no real desire to be anything else. However, this year we were unable to find a qualified drama teacher so all theater classes were scratched. Our school traditionally puts on two plays each year and those were going to vanish as well. My three other English teachers and I decided that we could piecemeal something for this year as an after-school club and put on a couple evenings of one-act plays instead of big productions and the arts need would be met. Then we met with Sarah, an actor.director at the Portland Playhouse, who had worked with our school in the past. We decided to put on Macbeth in November and got to work. That's the background.
So we had three performances at school last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and this Saturday we have one more in downtown Portland in a legit playhouse. I'm excited for the final one but I was so impressed with the first three. I'd never worked with theater before and it was a total blast. The cast comes together like a family and the support they give each other is a joy to observe. As far as my role in the production, it was incredibly minimal. I took a few pictures, unlocked a door or two, and put together to program. Mostly I just watched Sarah work with the actors. She had a co-director, Tevin, who helped out and was amazing too. Technically I think they were awesome in their directing. The play looked good; the kids all knew their lines and cues, et-cetera. The feedback was very positive and I think the play went off quite well. Where I was really impressed with the two directors was in watching them work with our students. Sarah, a Washington-bred redhead with years of theater experience, was so energetic each day, even when she was having stress or life troubles. Tevin, a young man from way down south (Florida A&M grad), also brought his A game each day. These two people became not only directors, but also mentors, guides, and even heroes to the students. I know that every student in the play was positively impacted by both of these two people. They truly made the school a much better place by being here. Thank you Sarah and Tevin. The world will know both of your names.
The kids I met through this production killed me. Not literally killed, but they knocked me out. Blew me away. Ok neither of those. They were just really impressive. I knew a handful of them prior to the play but most were new to me and what a cool bunch of kids. There was Deanna, a senior who was new to our school and played Lady Macbeth. Nobody really knew her and for her to come in, snag one of the two lead roles, and not be shot down by petty jealousies speaks not only to her talent, but also her kind personality. There may have been a couple snarky moments early but they passed. She stayed above it all the time. There was Kendra, a senior I didn't know before this year who played Macbeth. This is one talented young lady who will do more acting in her life. It fits her. Marcie played Banquo and brought her own humanity to the part. She's in my sixth period class and is one of my favorites. Manuel played Macduff and was amazing. He is a senior who has grown up so much since he was a little (literally) freshman. I remember walking into one of his freshman classes to hang out for a bit and deciding that he was going to be one of my favorites. He was kind of a turd back then but he had charisma and now he has grown into a very respectable young man who will become a doctor. Sully played King Duncan and was the most consistent of the actors. Never too up and never too down, Sully is also in my sixth period class and an outstanding writer. Grace played Malcolm, daughter of Duncan, and may have found a home. She is a six foot tall sophomore who had never acted before yet absolutely commanded the stage every time she was on it. Also, one of the best writers I've ever worked with. Tyler played her brother and was such a kind young guy. He took a fairly small part and imbued it with life and heart. Betty played Macduff's wife and only really had one scene but owned it. She was the lead in last spring's play and is so talented. When not wanting to kill me, Betty is pretty wonderful. Trey played Banquo's son, Fleance, and wore an actual onesie for the performance. It was seriously cute. Trey also was a first-time actor and acquitted himself very well. He also hangs out in my classroom each morning and has terrible musical taste. Jacob played Macduff's son and impressed me. He was always an incredibly positive force behind the scenes and developed into one of my favorite people in the cast. Nathan, Lemuel, and Castine played the three thanes and came strong during performance week. Nathan also helped build the set which was a huge help. Taylor played Siward and helped with the makeup and was great. She's in my fourth period class and her presence makes me happy. Alex, another new to our school student and sixth period member, played Seyton and her role had her always running (or tripping depending on if she was wearing heels or not). Alex will eventually earn a few million dollars per year and change the world. No big deal. Ashley played the gentlewoman and brought a smile to practice every day. Rainther played the doctor and was the same. Both of them are hugely positive people. Luna played the porter and stole the show. He got to play a drunk guy making semi-dirty jokes. Luna slayed the audience and the world better be ready for this young person. Luna is coming and positive change will follow. Griffin, Makenna, and Morgan played the three murderers and each of them were amazing. They all used physical comedy so well and were completely memorable. We had eight witches, Lacey, Mahogany, Melissa, Zaida, Martina, Pam, Maria, and Jazmen who were all awesome. The witches had a lot of stage time and were on point each entire performance. Lacey and Melissa were the only two I knew beforehand and and two of the coolest kids ever. The other six I got to know during the seven weeks and I adore each of them. Mahogany and her brilliance, Zaida, Martina, and Pam for their quiet understated personas, and Maria and Jazmen for their true sisterhood. The behind the scenes crew was just as important. Andrew did all of the sound and will be a famous dj. Zoie was the stage manager and ran things better than any adult could have. Sean helped as an assistant director and was so reliable. And Shelby was our costume designer/artistic director/vision keeper. She pictured the 1920's carnival/freak show setting and she designed and made or altered all 29 costumes. Her made each character wear only black and white and then once they killed someone, they would have a red article of clothing added symbolizing the blood they spilled. It was a beautiful production and Shelby is the one to thank for that. She wants to work as a costume designer and she will. She rocks.
The other three teachers, Bethany, Jennifer, and Geoff are all my dear friends and helped the kids and school out a ton. Bethany has a theater background so this was like scratching an itch for her but Jennifer had no background but took to it famously. They are both now theater people.
All in all it was a wonderful time. Some of the days were incredibly long and hard but the people, kids and adults, made it completely worthwhile.