28 January 2016
The sense of teamwork and personal responsibility has taken hold in our cast members. Progress is being made faster. Teaching the first act’s music was painstakingly slow; teaching the second’s was quicker and with better retention and ownership of material. It helped that it hasn’t been as cold, but also they’re now attuned to the rehearsal process. Harmonies and four-part counterpoint, which I had thought almost impossible on day one, started coming through with a glimmer of confidence. On day three, ten students out of fifty were late to the morning rehearsal; on day four, it was down to two roommates, and that was, they claimed, because their phone was broken and they didn’t get the automated wake-up call. (Maybe we should switch rooms. I get the calls and don’t want them.)
Two of the chaperones, teachers from the Clifford School, have been gleefully lurking in the background, trying the choreography. We can’t give them roles, but one may get the “Seasons of Love” solo.
We’re not without our challenges, of course. In real life the students are comfortable touching members of their own or the opposite sex; boys climb on each other, and girls and boys have no problem leaning on each other. But get them onstage and preteen awkwardness comes through. Partner dancing gave some people a fear of the cooties, and a move involving girls jumping on boys’ backs led to a chorus of laughter. The production of feather boas—and the resultant colorful shedding on the floor—caused a distraction.
The cast’s English ability is generally very good, especially considering the music and dance jargon we use, though there are a handful of surprises. One of the older students didn’t know the word “expression,” but an eleven-year-old came up with “indoctrinate” as a synonym for “brainwash.” A few of the kids seem occasionally lost, and I don’t know if the language overwhelms them or they’re genuinely aloof. Yet everyone has shone through at least once. One lead, often in her own world, was confidently ready for her part in a music rehearsal after a half-hour of waiting for it.
To help the cast stay healthy, a pot of hot sugary ginger-steeped water is brought in almost every day and ladled out. A mid-afternoon snack consists of apples and little crackers that I’d love to find in the USA—slightly sweet and subtly spiced. The long workdays have their periods of high and low energy, with noticeable rises in enthusiasm as we approach a milestone and a definite drop-off in focus late in the day. But they understand the need to keep pressing on, and we don’t temper our discipline just because we lose their attention: Parts get reassigned to the most diligent and taken away from those who can’t handle the repetition and demanding schedule. Hard workers are recognized at the end of each day.
We’re more than halfway through our program and things are coming together. I’m sure the performance will be a success, but more importantly, it’s clear we’re providing a unique and rewarding experience. For those of us who love musical theatre, how can we do better than share it with young people lacking easy access to it?