Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Curtain teasers

I helped herd kids at the school's choir concert tonight. There must have been 400 audience members packed into the cafetorium to hear the show. I'm told that the usual audience for theatrical performances is around 50. This leads me to believe I should include more kids in my next show, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Our stage isn't all that big, so I can't just add 100 fairies to the show. I was thinking of starting a bit smaller and just having my sixth grade class perform a curtain teaser, and/or some kind of epilogue (a bergomask?). My only two ideas so far are a choral performance of "once more unto the breach" ending in an air broadsword battle, and a song and dance of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."

Both these ideas seem a little twee. Any other ideas? Has anyone ever had success with any kind of curtain teaser that's unrelated to the show?

15 Comments:

At 10:47 PM, Blogger educat said...

Didn't we discuss how the jig was used specifically because Shakespeare needed a place to put his 6th graders so they'd try out for the one act next year?

Seriously, that's a jig-shaped problem you got there.

So MSD ends with the lovers all happy, the jig (done with a seperate cast) shows how all is not forever happy with the lovers.

Maybe you also start off the show with a Reduced Shakespeare-like pre show?

Or it's dessert theatre and you use kids as waitstaff?

 
At 11:09 PM, Blogger Emily said...

how about a...

STRIP curtain teaser(r)

!!!

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger Walker said...

Why not do a "background story" with Oberon and Titania, showing how/why they had a falling out?

You would be introducing two of the main characters of the play, and make all the sixth graders fairies and such. Once the teaser is over, the sixth graders can join the audience. You'd have little fairies all over the theatre :)

-mel

 
At 11:33 AM, Blogger Shakespeare Teacher said...

Ok, little 6th grader fairies all over the theater is too cute!

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger Meg O'C said...

Your post made me smile.
I'm directing Macbeth at a middle school right now and Shakespeare & Company policy is not to cut any kids who show up for a residency production, so when 50 kids auditioned, I thought: "gulp." But now we open with a 'ghost battle' where each kid gets a line of text--it's sort of like a prologue, they repeat the prophecies, bits of advice given to Macbeth and some things people call Macbeth.

You could start your show with a slow-motion battle between the amazons and Theseus' troops. Take the text from "the Lunatic, the lover and the poet," divide it into a choral reading piece, and have a bunch of extra fairies speak it. Actually, you can have fairies speak text you cut from other characters about the nature of love or commenting on the action. Keep them in the back of the house until their scene or transition.
Other ideas I've seen: Have a Mr. and Mrs. Egeus. Cast a Nedar. Have three pucks, not one. Add an extra mechanical named "Pat" for the groaningly bad joke "are we all met? Pat! Pat!" Philostrate could be a commitee of 4 kids. Or go whole hog and have different kids playing the roles in every scene. (use a base costume to help the audience tell who is who.) Ultimately, the more people who come to your show and see their kids enjoying shakespeare, the bigger the win. The parents will beam at their kid and then say they couldn't understnd it pretty much no matter what you do, so you might as well welcome as many kids as possible. If your stage is small, use the audience. Work in common light for some scenes that you can't light. Think in terms of increasing participation, rather than a strict interpretation of the script. As I always say to myself "you may be their first encounter with Shakespeare, but your chief goal is to make sure you aren't their last." give as many kids a line of text as possible.

Okay- that was way longer than I intended, sorry! But I also want to reinforce Jen and Mel's ideas.

Let us know how you work this out--I'm always looking for creative ways to increase participation!

 
At 11:16 PM, Blogger educat said...

Meg has a great idea and I agree with her, you need as many places for kids to be involved as possible. Let tons of people own part of this show.

Dates for this event, please? I would love to attend...

 
At 12:10 AM, Blogger chitarita said...

Oh, yay for Meg and Jen for validating me today!

We just finished casting the musical, and, as usual, we included everyone who auditioned. I was feeling pangs of inadequacy/disservice to the dramatic arts/fear for my own sanity as I looked over my bubbling crowd of 144 junior high schoolers and six high school assistant directors at rehearsal today. So, Meg, darling, I've usurped your message to Craig for my own reassurances. Thank you for it!

 
At 12:11 AM, Blogger chitarita said...

Also, Craig, if you do have a large crowd scene, all the better to have a student lurking in the background, disguised in a hot dog suit.

 
At 3:20 PM, Blogger Walker said...

Never underestimate the power of fairies.

When I did MND last year anyone who didn't get a speaking part became one of Titania's fairies (all girls) or one of Oberon's tree spirits (mostly guys--they objected to being called fairies.) All the fairies had flower names and their costume matched their name. All the tree spirits had tree names.

Then, whenever Titania or Oberon were on stage they would have a retinue (the number would vary depending on the scene).

And they all really got into the roles; the groups had great interactions between each other. As rehearsals went on non-verbal relationships sprang up---Oak flirted with Rose, Ash would make faces at all the fairies.

So, everyone got a part and we had some awesome scenes because of the "extras." And they all got to the jig at the end.

 
At 8:05 PM, Blogger Holbrook said...

Wow, what great ideas!

I'm casting the show entirely out of my Advanced class, so I can't give real roles in the show to other kids because they won't be there for rehearsals.

But I'm liking the idea of telling the back story to open the show. Not just Theseus and Hippolyta, but how the mechanicals labor for a living while yearning to be actors, and the soap opera of the lovers. It would be cool if I wrote an epic introduction in rhyming couplets, but I'm a terrible poet. Maybe I'll see if the kids have any talent for writing verse.

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger Sandi said...

Y'all are all geniuses. All I have to offer is that when we did MND last summer on the Mountain, we cast all the extra fairies (we had a plethora of 6th grade types-about 8) as "flower fairies" (various colored fluttery tunics, flowers in hair and matching makeup.) I literally had them in trees and bushes, until the Titania Lullaby "Philomel and melody...." Then they all had this neat choreographed dance that went all through the audience. We got a composer to write us a new melody for the song that I like better than anything else I found. The "blessing of the lovers" at the end was similar, and we had another song comissioned for that. (We used the opening 9 two bars of that song to introduce any fairy scene.) One of the flower fairies, violet, was a flautist, and she'd play while the others danced. We also used another 2-bar musical signature from the dance song for Puck.

It's amazing how the kids just started in on this and ran with it.

I have the original music we came up with--I'd be happy to send you the lead sheets if you want to try it out.

 
At 10:41 AM, Blogger Emily said...

I agree with Meg's idea of casting different kids in each scene. That way, each kid gets to be the star at some point, and no one gets saddled with hundreds of lines to memorize. There could be cool transition scenes where the characters pass whatever shared element they use (ex: Helena passes her red heart necklace to the next Helena). That's a cool place to use the fairies, too: they could introduce that convention with a speech they write, and they could facilitate the transfer during each transition (think dancing fairies carrying Helena's red heart necklace to the other Helena).

=D
Have fun!

 
At 12:19 PM, Blogger Shakespeare Teacher said...

I like that idea quite a bit too. I split my Romeo and Juliet between two casts: Act 1&2 is one cast and Act 3-5 is another. I placed the intermission after Act 2 and when the curtains open the audience gets a whole new interpretation of those characters. It's pretty fun to watch!

-Rachael

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger chitarita said...

You can also exploit the other artistic talents. You already mentioned having students write additional verses, consider having them write music as well. One of my little eighth grade girls last year wrote music for "Sigh No More" for our production of "Much Ado". Her mom called me to say that the girl had been researching the music written by Henry VIII, so she could get the style right. The girl played the song on a guitar, sang the lyrics, and even recruited a boy to accompany her on a tamborine.

You could also consider having student choreograph dances, design particular props, figure out "magic" effects, or design the scenery.

 
At 4:56 PM, Blogger Meg O'C said...

One of the old standby gags that Shakespeare & Company has been using for years in "Midsummer" is to have a sound effect (could be the fairies squawking or laughing or shaking tambourines) every time a character says "the woods" in the first act or so. It requires almost no rehearsal time for the sound makers, but gets the payoff of a laugh. (the characters on stage take a beat to react to the sound, then continue on.) Of course, you've gotta get kids that will make the sound effect, then STOP...
Anyway, it's an excellent lesson in comic timing and explaining what a "running gag" is. Because there's always opportunity to teach theory, say I.

 

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