Monday, May 5, 2008

"To unpathed waters, undreamed shores" - William Shakespeare

Documentary III: A Community Event has been uploaded.

Written by Vinny Ng, Project Director:

I find at the end of the project, it’s often hard to find words to say.

How would I begin to describe the eagerness in one of the student’s voices as they asked if I would come to see their basketball game the week after the show was over.

How do you convey the excitement that a ninth grade student shares with you as his eyes light up with bubbling enthusiasm as he describes the conversation that he had with Father Rich, the pastor at the local Catholic School.

“Can you believe what Father Rich said to me! He asked me if it was possible to rent out our show so that the Assumption kids could see it! He wanted to rent our actors!! I just can’t believe it!”

How can I even begin to capture the feeling I experienced when a student opened up his life up and told me how he cried when got home after the last night of the show. He simply couldn’t believe it was over. He did want to believe it was over. As one of the other students wrote in a note to me “these past couple of weeks were the best weeks of my life.”

Then there is the performance itself.

How do I describe the almost electric experience of being anywhere in the audience during the first night of the show? How would describe the anticipation of being back-stage before the opening night’s performance? How do I describe the stress of having to run between two simultaneous events on the first night of the show with our donor’s reception and backstage? How do I describe the nervousness twinkle in students’ eyes when they heard that the President was in the audience on the second last night? How do I begin to describe the excitement of arriving in Laura and putting on the high school’s first touring production? How to I capture the gut wrenching laughter from the principal of the high school as he burst out in delightfully raucous laughter?

Later he would go on to describe how he was taken back when his daughter asked him in the car “daddy, why were you laughing so hard at the show? I thought only kids and teenagers laughed like that. He would later go on to describe the experience as being the same feeling of being absolutely captured and transformed in the moment that he felt when he was watching a show on Broadway a few years ago.

Sitting and watching the final performance was magical - the way the kids in the crowd would eagerly move to fill up the seats in the front row… in fact they would go further than that. They would slowly creep right up onto stage to get as close to the show (or perhaps in the show!) as they could… And as deeply satisfying an experience as that was, I also realized that while the show was the end result, the other part that could not go ignored was the process. How had the students gotten there? What needed to happen in order to create the drive to create, to practice and rehearse everyday after school, to put the effort into each session, the be able to trust each other as team players do?

I guess it comes from a common purpose. I guess it comes from a belief that it will all turnout ok. I guess it comes from a place of being able to let go of every single decision and trust that whoever is working with you is more than capable of delivering. I guess it comes from a place of affirmation and hope.

The cast party the day following the show was an incredible day. It just reminded me of how important closure and celebration is to a project. Closure provides the opportunity for reflection and the opportunity to celebrate the true essence of the project – each one of the students in their full uniqueness and their efforts to pull it all together. Yet there was another beautiful thing that I can only credit to Jess’s radiant creative zeal.


Setting: A sterile, yet oddly cozy Marshallese diner. All 6 team leaders / volunteer teachers are present
Jess: “Excuse me for just a bit! I have to finish of the script guys. I’ll be right with you.”
Jess moves to stage left where there is a diner table set up and furious scribbles away the final scenes of a remix version of the five-act Comedy of Errors play in rhyming couplets – all of which, incidentally, was written in less than 45mins!

Snapshot 1:

Time: 10.13am Two hours before the cast party.
Setting: A sterile, yet oddly cozy Marshallese diner
Mission: To cast and run through the remix version of the play
Jess: “And that’s this is the part where Mike, you as Luciana are wooed by Antipholus of Laura… Hemant… no wait… Dan! Yes.”
Vinny: “Hey… how about this! What if Dan at that point wraps his arms around Mikes belly and holds onto him just as in the scene from Titanic and Mike spreads his wings out as if he’s a bird on the bow of a boat…”
Dan: “Wait… what about the kissing scene???”

Snapshot 2:

Time: 1.45pm During a lunch break at the cast party
Setting: The adjacent stage area about 300m away from the cast & crews
Mission: To rehearse the five-page script in pure improv to a rap / folk musical score that Kristin beautifully wove together on the spot.
Kristin: “Can anyone beat-box, because we’re going to need a good beat to work in Shakespeare’s prologue…”

Snapshot 3:
Time: 2.32pm
Setting: Just outside the bokanake (thatched hut where the party was going on)
Mission: To change into a tight, sweat-dried, manky set of costumes in less than two mins and to be prepared for multiple costume changes in a ridiculously short period of time
Mike: “Vinny go… go! You’re on!!”
Vinny: “Yeah but my butt and boobs aren’t in place”
Mike: “Just go!!.... (laughing) actually it looks funnier if you go with parts of your costume that aren’t quite on right!”

Snapshot 4:

Audience keeling over laughing. Slapping their knees. Slapping the chair. Slapping each other…. Lots of slapping. Oh yes… lots of slapping.

I don’t quite else know how to put it. I think the remix for the students was like looking in a mirror at the absurdity of the whole play. The whole 11weeks. The whole story, cast, and for that matter the experience. As a role reversal, they were also finally the audience. They could appreciate the show. They could now laugh. They could now sit back without the stress of costume changes, memorizing lines, being attentive to cues, dance moves, musical interludes, and backstage plate dinners finally behind them.

For me, I think part of the reason why I enjoyed that process so much was that in many ways it was a culmination of the best parts of the project jammed into the space of about two hours or so. The team coming together, having to work on a tight deadline, having to craft a collective artistic vision, and building off of each others ideas and strengths. And all in a way that lent credence to a collective humility. We were no less directors than we were actors. We were no less correct than we were prone to making mistakes. We were no less serious than we were ridiculous.

And then…. there comes a time though when it must all end. The awards are presented to every cast member and crew member. Quirky awards that is - such as “The Air Marshall Islands Award for always being grounded.” (The biggest running joke in town was the national airline that was every week promised to be running, yet would be delayed yet another week, and another week, and…oh surprise surprise, another week.

And when the awards are all given out, the slideshow is over, then come the questions. “Jess, Vinny, Kristin, will you guys be back next year?” … I have to stop to remind them, “that’s not the question you should be asking. The question you should be asking is what play will WE be producing next year? And what will it take for US to pull it off?” because as we had to remind the students – they were more than capable of pulling off a terrific show and it really doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to believe that they could produce and direct a show themselves. Granted it may have to be scaled down, but if they believed it was possible, then damn. It sure was.

Flash forward two days:

Setting: The teacher conference room, during lunchtime, the Tuesday following our last performance
Baren (one of the leads, a graduating senior): “You really think that we can produce a play ourselves?”
Me: “Absolutely! Look, here… take a look at how this project started. It all started with an idea. (I show him our original proposal). Then you have to build a team around the idea, and before you know it, you’re off.”

A couple of days later, after Jess had left, Kristin and then sat down with a small group of the graduating seniors and our two Assistant Directors (the MIHS grads / current college students Jason and Martha) and led them through a short workshop on how to produce a theater production in the Marshall Islands. I put together a reference sheet for all the steps to consider in building a production – starting with writing a proposal all the way up to organizing a cast party. We had the students there brainstorm ideas about how they would be able to draw on the resources available to them to be able to produce a play and I remember noticing the light sparkle in their eyes as they began to consider the possibility of what they could do themselves.

Gary, the principal at the high school told me on the second last day, “you know Vinny. The Marshallese are like hermit crabs. They hide in their shell, but when you pick them up you have to gently breath hot air onto them to coax them out of their shells. That is what you guys have done for our kids this year.”

But then again Gary, aren’t we all hermit crabs? It’s not just the Marshallese. As I sat and thought about what he said, I don’t think I would have begun to crawl out of my shell if it hadn’t been for the many teachers and roles models that I have had that have also been breathing on me encouraging me to poke my head out.

I guess it ends with final words and in some ways those were the hardest words to find. What do you tell a students who has inspired you with their resilience, their dedication, their commitment and perseverance? What do you tell a student who has so much brimming potential? What do you tell a student who you know has the ability to transform and change the way things are?

One of the quotes I put in the final slideshow sums it up best.

“Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
~ Harold R. McAlindon

Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to go where there is no path.

To you, I am deeply indebted.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Documentary Update

From Documentary Coordinator, Dan Caccavano:

Well, it was a bit of a struggle, but we now managed to get BOTH parts 1 and 2 of episode 2 of the documentary uploaded to YouTube. Episode 2 features several of the cast members talking about what it is like to be an actor in the play. The media team worked very hard to get this video completed on time! Most of the team was willing to come into school even during Spring Break. I am very proud to say that the students are taking a more active role in the documentary. Barelson, TJ, and John are learning the editing process and have helped me in that area. Lynn has been an amazing interviewer extraordinaire. the other guys are learning about filming and how to set up good shots. It is all very exciting. We are currently working on episodes 3 and 4 simultaneously. They SHOULD be out in a week's time. Episode 3 will focus on leadership and sustainability, and episode 4 will take a look at all the volunteers that have helped put this project together. They will be great!

here are the links to the three movies that we do have online, enjoy:


Episode 2, pt.1

Episode 2, pt. 2

-Dan Caccavano

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Journalism Update

From Journalism Coordinator, Loren Lindborg:

To update all those who are curious about the media team is up to, I am here to inform you that we're still chugging along and that while there are have been more updates as of late from the documentary crew, our student writers are working their butts off as well. Writing articles that will be posted here and in the local newspaper, our small team of intrepid journalists are currently working on a variety of pieces that will eventually coincide with the release of third and fourth videos online. With topics ranging from what makes to a good play to an analysis of role of females in the play vs. Marshallese culture, we hope to have those up and available A.S.A.P. for your reading pleasure. Till then, here's another student profile, from the prolific Jake Anni:

Here at the Marshall Islands High School, there are many students that are helping out with the play, “A Comedy of Errors.” These students have learned how to speak English very well, and learned these skills all from the play. These students aren’t just learning about speaking well and speaking out loud, they are also learning how impotrtant team work is. This play therefore is a great challenge for the students in the play. One such example would be PJ Williander. PJ Williander is an 11thgrade student. He is 18 years old and lives in Ajeltake. PJ was so shocked and excited when he first realized that he had a part in the play. In Act 1, PJ is one of the main characters in the play. PJ’s character is the Duke. In this play the Duke is a leaderor in Marshallese an "Irooj." So in the play the Irooj’s task/job is to decide who will live and who will die. PJ thinks that he has an easy part in the play, because the Duke only stands and talks.

PJ has learned two important things from the play so far. PJ has learned that teamwork is the key for the team to get along together. His motto for teamwork being, “One for all and all for one.” And he also has learned that if every member in a team gets on time (according to what the team had planned out) everything will plan out exactly on schedule. For example, if a team planned to start their activities at 9:30 AM and go back home at 4:00 PM and every member is on time, then they’ll all get to go home at exactly 4:00 PM.

The most challenging thing for PJ is memorizing his lines. So PJ made a bet with one of the directors of the play, Jessica Swale. The bet is if PJ remembers all his lines then Jessica will give him a prize, but if he doesn’t remember, then Jessica will get to use his car for a day. PJ did this so that he could force himself to memorize all his lines and never forget them.

In conclusion, if you want to know more about the play, keep on reading us at and

Yours truly,

Jake Anni

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Team Comedy Hits the Lanes

March 30, 2008: Update written by Vinny Ng, Project Director

Just a quick update for this week: It’s been another productive week in the play with the highlight of the week being the team-building bowling tournament we held. In particular we made a lot of progress blocking out Act IV, Scene IV - the part of the play where Dr. Pinch is summoned to cast away the spells and demons that have seemingly entered into Antipholus of Rita’s consciousness.

Last Thursday Majuro Bowl kindly gave us a discount as we prepared to face of in one of the most anticipated bowling tournaments of the year… the Comedy of Errors bowl-off! With Team Silver Bullet pitted against The Spartans it looked as if the Spartans war cry was more than enough to deter any serious competition. Meanwhile The Wolves battled it out and edged out Team On Fire. In the finals, however, led by the fearless Abess, Frina proved that not only has she got the lanes of the Abbey under her control but also the lanes of Majuro Bowl and with Jebenu’s 5 strikes they led the way toward a trouncing defeat of the Spartans who’s brave war cry by the end of the game sounded more like a whimpering lost puppy yelp.

3 weeks to go until the play and we have set an ambitious goal of having all the actors off book by today. Music team meets today. The art competition at MIHS to design the program cover has been kicked off and the media team is launching the first two documentaries with a public screening on Tuesday at 7.30pm by the RRE marketplace area. Lot’s happening!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring Break... but not for the Comedy Cast

Update: Vinny, Project Director

Spring break allowed us to really get into the text and we’ve been very diligent about setting weekly goals for the kids to gradually get off book. Thursday was our first complete run through the play and the whole play has been blocked (with perhaps the exception of one short scene in act IV). The kids are off book on about half of the play so far which is we’re feeling very good about.

Other highlights:

- Community and social events: Last Friday the cast participated in Tourism Awareness Week. With support from the Marshall Islands Visitors Authority we bussed out to the airport and did a garbage clean-up in the area. Heading back into town proved to be a great bonding moment with the entire busload breaking out into song and cheer as we pulled into the RRE marketplace for a movie screening “The Ron Clark Story.” Think inspirational teaching movie about a inner-city teacher (Matthew Perry) who experiments with some rather unconventional approaches.
- Venue – We have found a wonderful location for the play this year. RRE has been kind enough to let us use the marketplace stage area for our performances in Majuro
- Fundraising: donations continue to come in as our fundraising cash total approaches $11,000. Special thanks to Framingham High School Drama Company in MA who are sending us lighting equipment, make-up, a generous donation, and have also been showing our documentary trailer at their most recent school production.
- Media Team – Dan’s turned our media team into a “well-oiled machine!” A team of 10 strong, they have a production schedule all outlined, goals to meet, tasks divvied up, and skills that they are all playing to. Our goal for the next documentary is the end of weekend so hopefully we’ll have it uploaded by mid-week.
- Youth Leadership Program: Wednesday night we invited our production interns over for a meal to thank them for their involvement and support on the project. Jess also led a very constructive and useful discussion on directing techniques, suggestions, and ways of working with actors
- We’d like to welcome Mike Cruz aboard our team and are excited about the skills he brings. Mike is an English Teacher at Assumption, who graduated with a dual major in theater and film from Pomona. He has kindly offered to assist in directing the production and work with students on the play and led a very productive acting workshop last Thursday.
- Costumes: Mona Strauss has once again kindly offered to help out with costumes this year and has been talking to all the cast members this week about details.
- Dance Team: Stepping up rehearsals to 2 times a week next week. Steady progress continues to be made on the 3 dances in the play
- Documentary – do check out our first documentary if you haven’t already:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Student Profile

The Following post was written by Jake Anni, a 9th grade student at MIHS:

Here at the Marshall Island High School (MIHS), there’s a team/group of students that are helping out with the play, “A Comedy of Errors.” This team is called the Media Team. This team of high school students, lead by 9th grade teacher, Dan Caccavano, and 11th Grade Teacher Loren Lindborg, is learning all about how to use a camera, how to edit film on the computers, and how to write newspaper stories for the Journal. In addition to all of these skills, these students are also learning to have confidence, and to have the courage to do whatever they must do to reach their goals.

One example would be Taner Rijke. Taner Rijke is a 9th grade student. He is 15 years old and he lives in Rita. Taner said so himself that he wouldn’t have believed in himself if he hadn’t joined the Media Team. For example, during the first quarter of school, Taner was a shy student who did not like to read in English. But, after joining the Media Team, he learned that it’s okay to learn how to speak in English even if he doesn’t know how to say/pronounce the words. Now, in the third quarter of school, whenever teachers ask him to read something in English, he just reads it right away. Taner thinks that he’ll have the opportunity to get a job that uses cameras.
To sum it all up, Taner would like to tell everyone who is shy that they should join the Media Team to experience what he’s been through and see the confidence and skills that he has gotten from being part of the Media Team.

The Marshall Islands High School Media Team is currently documenting the progress of the Shakespeare production, “A Comedy of Errors.” The first video in a series of documentary videos has already been released to YouTube. The team is currently working on the second video. In addition to working on the documentary, the media team is learning how to write articles for the paper and for the project website. For more information about the media team and this year’s play, please visit the following websites, and

-Jake Anni, 9th Grade Marshall Islands High School student

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

First Documentary Segment Released!

From Documentary Coordinator, Dan Caccavano:

As of 3:40 a.m. on Tuesday the 11th of March 2008, the first film in the documentary series has been uploaded to YouTube. After patiently waiting the 7.5 hours (at a blazing fast upload speed of 5 kbps) it took to upload the video, I can proudly say that the documentary project has officially gone public. This video is the first of hopefully five that I and the media team will be making over the course of the project. This first video serves as a brief overview of the entire project.

We (the media team) are currently working on the second installment of the documentary and hope to have it released by the end of next week! The next segment will focus on the student perspective of what it means to be involved in the play. You will see and hear from the mouths of the stars of this years production about all of the ups and downs, trials and tests, of what being part of a drama production means to them.

I am very excited about the next segment because the students themselves will be taking a much more active role in the project. I have completed the first video editing workshop with the students and am conducting the second tomorrow. I am amazed at how quickly the students are picking up all of these new skills. Most of the media team has never even used a computer before, let alone a camera. It is all quite exciting and I could not be more proud of these kids.
Because I promised them I would, here is a list of the 2008 Media Team members:

Jake Anni
Jebenu Lorennij
Barelson Jacklick
T.J. Kiona
John Clarence
Johnny Rubon
Helmar Anitok
Price Langidrik
Taner Rujke
Auskalee Jim

Here is a link to the first video on You Tube:

Go check it out!

--Dan Caccavano, Media Team leader and Documentary Coordinator

Monday, March 10, 2008

Blog Update March 2nd & 9th, 2008

March 9, 2008

Well. Anther busy week here in Majuro, and another week closer toward the play. I think that one of the things that I am most amazed by is how much support there continues to be from the local community. That - and the fact that we have an amazing group of kids this year and every week as both Jess and I get to know them better, it puts it all in perspective… why we are actually here.

The week’s highlights!

Fundraising continues to be moving really well. This week we raised $1150 with support from a private donations from two of the yachties, The American Ambassador, North Pacific Insurance, the National Telecom Authority.

Jess has been continues to be leading some great rehearsals. We have blocked up to Act III, Scene II now and the one of our students is off book and we are pushing for the others to be off book by up to this point in the play by next week.

We have branched out and are doing a number of initiatives to support the local community:
Yesterday we teamed up with a group of over 40 Japanese Volunteers (JOVC) and students from Delap Elementary to participate in an island clean-up and managed to collectively fill a full truck load of garbage and recycling! We followed this activity up with an hour long theater based workshop that looked at environmental issues, which the students really enjoyed.

Jess led an issues based drama workshop the week before with Youth to Youth in Health, an organization that uses theater for education about health issues. She led a forum theater based workshop which was incredibly well received!

Our next cast community event is planned for next Friday and we hope to be able to work with the Marshall Islands visitors authority on an airport trash clean-up and show do a movie screening afterwards. Mack and Jason, our two Assistant Directors are taking the lead on this project.

Media Team – Dan has finished off the first of the documentary films in the series! We will be screening it tomorrow for the cast. Loren is now coordinating the journalism team. We have been talking with the College of the Marshal Islands and one of their radio broadcast journalism classes may be working with V7AB, the local radio station to air stories on the project. The media team has been very busy this week doing a series of interview with cast members for the second documentary film we hope to release… stay tuned!

Photography workshop number II was a success. I took a small group of kids out on Saturday to train them in the basics of

Kristin’s went on tour with her rugby team and was able to secure a first place in the international tournament held in Guam!!

And the yacht team that I joined today won Meico Yacht Club monthly race today!

Please Consider a donation to support the project at


March 2nd, 2008
Highlights of the past week:

Another good week in fundraising! This past week drew in just under $1500 in cash and in-kind donations. Supporters this week include: PII, RRE, US Ambassador Clyde Bishop, EZ Price, Deloitte and Touche, Monica’s Restaurant, and North Pacific Insurance
Special thanks to Alson who has been working very hard to get us the first half of the script translated into Marshallese. The kids have really enjoyed getting into the text and are making great progress now through to Act III.

Our Production interns are stepping into the limelight now and have really impressed us with their willingness to step up to the plate and assist in directing. Jess structured a wonderful devised theater piece and Jason, Dustin, and Martha eagerly took on leadership in choreographing the rescue on the ship wreck.

The media team got a little taste of a photography workshop I led a week ago – check out some great photos by Barelson, Jabenu, Jason, and Oscar below.
We’re excited to welcome Hemant on board to coordinate our music team!
The cast had a first go at some improv theater with a workshop I led last Thursday and had a great time hurling status insults and praises at each other
Later that evening I introduced them to a night of treachery, politics, and deception over a delightful game of mafia for our cast’s first social event
On Friday Jess led a fabulous murder mystery dinner party for some of the volunteer crew and folks who have been helping us out with the play
Kristin’s been working some magic on our budget and getting official approval for (fingers crossed) the new convention center as a performance venue. Let me tell you - I appreciate accountants more than ever before! She’s away for 2 weeks in Guam at a Rugby tournament so send a little virtual cheer her way!
And this past weekend, I managed to squeeze in a few lessons on sailing outrigger canoes and snag a wakeboarding session with the guys from the Indies Trader – big surf holiday cruiseship. There is something magical about being out on the water in the lagoon.

After putting together a plan for the media team, I was keen to look designing a basic training for the students on the media team, working in combination with Dan & Loren I offered a “Developing a photographic Eye” workshop – think a 101 in shooting still shots while Dan and Loren gave the kids a practical workshop becoming familiar with and using the video camera equipment.

Teaching Photography

Given that it was the first time I have ever designed a workshop for teaching photography it was an interesting challenge. Where do you start with a group of 14-18 year olds, some of whom have never touched a camera in their live before?
I decided that a logical place to start would be to look at elements that make up a good picture and began to piece together and lesson outline (see below – for those of you who are also photographers, I’d more than appreciate your comments on the outline). In order to discuss the different topics, I picked out a few example photos that I had taken on previous projects – the Youth Bridge Global project in Bosnia and in China. Part of the choice to use my own photos was so I could elaborate on the context of where these photos were being taken, but also because I could describe the process that I went through in taking certain photos. After illustrating an example or two of some of the technical vocabulary that I wanted them to become familiar with and begin to conceptually appreciate, I then had them describe to me what they saw in another sampling of photos.

Next came the practical application. First was a walk through in care and handling of the equipment – it’s not easy parting with your own personal camera, but after making very clear how expensive the equipment was and how to take care of it I had to accept that you can only be so protective if you really want someone to learn – at the end of the day, you have to trust them.

The next task was to give them an assignment. Working in pairs with a camera, I told them that they have to alternate photos after taking five shots and their task was to go and take at least 30 photos in three categories. The first was to take ten pictures of a landscape photos. This involved thinking about elements of composition, balance, light, etc. The second task was to take ten photos close-up (still-life shots at less than a meter away). The final task was to take ten portraits of people – by far the hardest challenge and probably the most fun for the kids too.
The amazing thing about digital photography is that kids can make no mistakes! The other thing is that once you give them the vocabulary (and the conceptual understanding) of what makes for a good photo, they just roll them off. I think the thing that I was most impressed by was a. the abstract eye that a couple of them had, and b. the willingness some of the kids had to go up to random strangers and ask to take their photo. In some ways, taking pictures of human subjects is one of the hardest challenges in photography and it was the tip of this ice-berg that I wanted to get the students into. “Walk up to someone. If they are older, then smile and ask them if you can photograph them,” I told them. “Get close though – I want you to be less than a meter away if you are taking a portrait.” For me, I have realized that one of the biggest fears that a photographer must overcome is the fear of rejection. And part of that is cultivating a sense of sensitivity when taking pictures of strangers, but also a sense of connection. Good pictures require a certain level of trust to be built first.

* All the photos on this posting were taken by students during the photography workshop


Shakespeare for our time... not 'Marshallese time'

It's hard to believe that we are now in Week 5 of our multi-culutural, multi-lingual, multi-everything Shakespeare project. We spent a tiring few weeks trying to dissuade the kids from their 'Marshallese time' mentalites (Marshallese time, I think, runs precisely two hours behind usual time, and is the extent to which it is considered okay to be late- i.e. don't be surprised or annoyed if kids turn up to your 3pm rehearsal at 5, when you are just finishing up). However, we seem to have had some success with training them out of this, and we've now got our hard-core group of committed thespians who are bring the Bard to life in Majuro.

It is difficult to comprehend what a tough job they have ahead of them. Most children read very little English or Marshallese, there are few books on the Island and most text-books are shared between several students, many of which are very dated (Robert Reagan is the President of the USA according to some of the MIHS library books). We are not only expecting them to read a full length script, but to learn speeches in Shakespeare's language, and to jump between Marshallese and English as the script dictates. The exciting thing is that every single student has taken this in their stride and arrives at rehearsals excited about what lies ahead. Keeping people's attention is the next challenge of course, when computers, books and places to sleep after a hot day are all temptations offered by the school library, where we run rehearsals. But the further we get into the script, the easier the students find it to engage with the text and their characters. You can see the Dromios beginning to find their clown-like qualities, Antipholus becomes a little prouder and more haughty, and Adriana and Luciana find the sparks of their sisterly relationship. One by one the characters begin to emerge, and it is a joy to watch.

In contrast to the early rehearsals, when, more often than not, actors spoke upstage with backs to the audience, and a slight twitch was as much of a gesture as we could expect, the students are now bringing their own ideas to the floor. Physical comedy seems to jump out of the lines, the actors throw each other on the floor with abandon (something we need to work on!) and whole languages of expression have started to develop from the Marshallese-English hybrid of a script. We are almost half way through blocking the play, and a few of the kids have learnt some lines. Thankfully, those who haven't seem to notice how much easier it is to act when you're not attached to a ream of paper, and others now seem to be following suit!

We have a very long way to go. The blocking we have done so far is certainly tentative, and there are some characters who appear so late in the play that we haven't even met them yet. However, Spring Break next week will give us the chance to work full days with some of the actors, so it is time to knuckle down and get going! There is so much for everyone to learn here, myself included. Even having directed a good number of Shakespeare plays before, I feel like everyday there are brand new lessons learnt about culture, theatre and Shakespeare- simply having to look at the play from the outside, seeing how people in a different culture read contrasting messages into the story, gives me the chance to see the text in a new light. Let's just hope the audience thinks it's as interesting as we do! Until next time,

Jess x

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Bawdiness, bardiness and bedsheets

We are now well into rehearsals and the Comedy of Errors is beginning to emerge, crab-like, from its Marshallese shell. As with any play, the first week or so of rehearsals is settling in time. The actors are beginning to get to know eachother, both as characters and as themselves, and we are discovering the many and varied talents of the Marshallese kids, from natural comic timing to a great sense of physicality- and an ability to laugh at pretty much anything!

Having spent the first week getting tangled up in bed sheets in our depiction of the shipwreck, we are now moving onto the 'play proper'. The shipwreck has emerged as a success, with rhythmic drumming, a physicalised sail ship and a seascape of sound replacing what threatened to be a laundryroom-like scene with actors stumbling around mummy-like in great swathes of cloth, whilst a cacophony of squawking pigeons threatened to descend overhead- we have now limited the sea bird sound effects to two of the actors to avoid the audience mistaking the setting for a zoo.

As the play focusses so heavily on mistaken identities, there is a great demand for comedy from our actors. Unusually there is little intense emotion in this play, as his first, perhaps the bard was building up to that, using this play as an exercise in how to entertain an audience. Reading it in English, at first I was disappointed by the lack of poetry in comparison to his later plays. Whilst there are moments of exception, generally the dialogue here either propels the story forward and plays on witty double entendres. This is great for an English speaking audience, but the confusion of a 'crow', the bird and a 'crow bar' just isn't funny in another language! However, the further we have got into rehearsals, the more I have realised that this is an ideal play for translation. With such a strong emphasis on visual comedy, onstage brawls and mistaken identity, it can't fail to go down well with an audience who loves to laugh. And boy, do the Marshallese love to laugh!

There are huge challenges for a play director here. We got the Marshallese script last week and had a read through... suddenly I felt as if my grip on the play had just been ripped away and I had no hold on it. How can you direct a play when you don't speak the language it is spoken in! Whilst I am trying hard to master Marshallese, I can just about manage to call a cab and say thank you for the lift, but a full length Shakespearean translation is another matter entirely.

However, as we take each scene, moment by moment, the process becomes workable. Line by line, we work on the meaning and emotion of the words, giving the character intentions so that each is clear of what he is trying to do with the line- what does he want? Why does he say this? How can his tone make that clear? It is certainly a fascinating process.

This week we are embarking on blocking (setting the characters in their positions on stage). This does, however, rely on full, on time attendance, which seems to be a stumbling block in the Marshalls. We have been bribing the actors with food and games, so hopefully we'll make some progress. Unless it rains, of course, when the entire island shuts down and everyone decides to stay at home. It's certainly different from life in the English theatre!

As for the other aspects of the play, Alisha and I are embarking on a new spin for one of the dances- as a contrast with the Fijian opening and closing dances, the festival dance half way through is going to be performed to Michael Jackson's 'Black and White'. The students are desperate to do something to this kind of music, and it provides an effective contrast with other music in the play- it'll certainly liven up the show. Plus, whilst the singer clearly didn't stick to his own views on the concept of skin colour being unimportant, we still think the song has a great message for this project- uniting different countries and cultures in one umbrella of bawdiness, bardiness and fun!

Let's just hope they start learning their lines!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Week 1: Auditions

Feb 17th Blog update:

7 things to get excited about after the first week:

1. Auditions went so well and there is a tremendous level of interest amongst the kids in being a part of this year’s play
2. We have successfully cast 33 speaking parts
3. The youth leadership program has been launched and we have a core team of interns that have been selected to work on the project

4. A local fundraising plan has been developed and we have a list of 100+ businesses and individuals to approach to solicit support from on the project
5. The documentary team – Dan Caccavano is our team coordinator, and a curriculum is being developed / planned
6. Jess has taken on the role of Artistic Director and led a fantastic first rehearsal on the shipwreck scene.
7. Kristin has taught me how to make damn good humus & I speared my first fish while swimming in the ocean.

A snapshot of the first week… Auditions. Location: the School Library

In another time and another context “Rolly polly” would be his name. 5 ft squashed version of a man into a pre-pubescent teenage boy. Coaxed on stage, about to begin an improvised scene in which he is acting as the imbecilic slave to a authoritative master. Opens his mouth to say a line. Immediately he bursts out laughing. The entire room is in hysterical fits of laughter. Rolly polly cannot contain himself and actually runs right out the door.

Enter Franklin. Enter Marshallese Steve Erkle. His pants hiked up so high you’d have to wonder how he managed to walk on stage. Now think big arms. Big gestures. Another round of ruckus laughter – a glance over at Jess (our Artistic Director) - a definite cast for Dr. Pinch

Allow us to now drift our attention to the chair behind. To some (perhaps rolly polly) a beast of man – to others, a romantic that would charm birds out of their winter nest - Barren, the senior who at the drop of his hat felt ever so at ease to pour his soul and heart into the lines

Antipholus of Syracuse : “Sing, Siren, for thyself I will dote.
Spread o’er the silver waves thy golden hairs
And as a bed I’ll take them and there lie
And in that glories supposition think
He gains by death that hath such means to die
Let Love, being light, be drowned if she sink”

(I take a quick look around and the girls are all awe-struck. I wonder if they are still breathing)

Her hand still resting on the curve of his arm. Time standing ever so still yet thoughts that brushed gently against a subconscious desire that taboo’s fingers beckoned ever so slightly. If temptation were the light of a candle a candle this would be the moment right before it was to blown out. Her hand slowly left his arm as she tilted her head ever so slightly – if eyes could have spoken, “try me” they would have coyly implored.

Julie as Luciana: What, are you made that you do reason so?

Now an excerpt from our casting discussion 3 hours later in the day:

“Barren. YES YES YES. Antipholus for sure”
“Yep.. yep”
2hrs and 20 roles later…
“Ah Jess… yes. I know. He’s rolly polly but he’s just so funny! Think about it… we need a few characters on our crew (well… ok, we’ve already got more than a few!) I vote for a small non-speaking role. He’s good energy!”
“Vinny, that’s all very well, but everytime he gets on stage all he will do is simply burst out laughing and he’ll completely distract all the other characters!”
“True… but he’s just so damn funny! I love the kid!”

You get the idea. Now imagine 60 or so kids wanting trying out of for acting parts – not an easy process wildling it down. Now add another 40 or so interested in being a part of one of the teams including music, dance, media (documentary film & journalism) so eager that one of the ninth grade kids even trails around us the entire afternoon until the innocent question finally comes out “how can I become a movie star??”…. “Well Vahid… you’re on the right track. Just come out to the play auditions”

And now a moment to reflect on the big picture – where is all came from.

We’re truly privileged to have Andrew, a long time friend and mentor of mine, Founder of both the Youth Bridge Global Program and the Dartmouth Volunteer Teaching Program here in the Marshall Islands joining us for the first 10days of the project. Consider it the passing of the torch. Andrew has lit the flame here in the Marshalls and the light is indeed being passed on to this year’s team. Been having some wonderful discussions about who to involve in the project, how to involve them, how to develop the leadership program, and how and when every piece of the puzzle fits together. Zooey, an Education Professor from Dartmouth who came over with Andrew to run various workshops at schools and the College of the Marshall Islands has also been wonderful support to the team and it we are all sad that they will be taking off on Wednesday.


An Introduction: Youth Bridge Global 08 Marshall Islands

See the Project Trailer on Youtube:

Youth Bridge Global (YBG) is a non-profit organization that facilitates youth theatre productions in domestic and international developing communities. The organization grew from the Dartmouth College volunteer teaching program, which has successfully supported the struggling public education system of the Marshall Islands since 2000. Starting in 2004 with "A Midsummer Night's Dream", YBG began by producing an annual Shakespeare production in the Marshall Islands, providing a cast of up to 30 with a powerful educational and cultural experience, while generating overwhelming acclaim from the local community due to the quality of the theatre. In 2006 and 2007 the organization repeated the Shakespeare model in the Balkans in order to promote reconciliation and mutual understanding across the dangerous ethnic and religious divides that threaten the fragile peace in the region. The first production in Mostar, featuring a Muslim Romeo and a Croat Juliet, forged a number of inter-ethnic friendships and generated immense communal support in a city divided by deep-seated nationalism.

Building on the successes of these past experiences, YBG is now returning to the Marshalls Islands to stage "A Comedy of Errors," and developing a youth leadership program that will accompany the theatre production. The ultimate goal of this new combined program is to nurture creative and theatrical skills, alongside building long-term leadership capacities among the young generation in the hopes that we are planting the seed for a sustainable youth-led creative arts movement.

The Statement of NeedThe Marshall Islands are made up of 34 islands and atolls in theWestern Pacific Ocean. From 1946 to 1958 a number of locations were used as nuclear testing sites by the US government, killing many islanders and forcing others to relocate due to unexpectedly high levels of nuclear fallout. Today, US aid accounts for over 60% of the country's GDP, making the Marshall Islands, per capita, the largest recipient of foreign aid in the world. The legacy of destruction and aid has rendered the country one of the poorest in Micronesia, with GDP growth fixed at only 1% over the last decade and unemployment continuing to worsen to an estimated 35%.

School leavers face little opportunity in the work place. This disaffection, alongside the decline in traditional values, has created problems of alcohol abuse, drug abuse and suicide among the population, but especially among individuals under 30 years of age. The vast dispersal of islands presents challenges for the delivery of health care and messages of good practice, causing high birth rates and childhood mortality. The greatest hope for the Marshallese lies with the next generation, to recapture their traditional identity while moving the Islands forward towards a self-reliant and prosperous future.

Activities1. An international team of volunteers will facilitate the production of Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors" with a cast of 30 high-school students aged between 14 and 20 over an intensive 10 week casting, rehearsal and training program starting in early February 2008. The script will be translated into the local language, leaving major speeches in English. The play will be adapted and will integrate aspects of traditional Marshallese oral histories, music, and dance. Rehearsals will be held on five evenings a week at the High School of the Marshall Islands for two hours per session. Further rehearsals will held on three weekends nearer the performance date. In addition the cast 20-30 students will be engaged as members of the support crewand assigned to a respective team. These include: fundraising, media, costumes, props, sets, and make-up. The production will culminate in a tour in the Majuro, opening with 4 shows in the capital, Majuro, followed and a show in Laura village.

2. During the 10 weeks, Vincent, Jessica & Kristin will develop a youth leadership program for high-school graduates who have been involved in the plays in past years and they will serve the role of Assistant Directors. The leadership program will be structured as an internship and will be a commitment of about 10-15hrs / wk. It will introduce students to concepts such as goal setting & attainment, leadership & values, group dynamics, team-work, and problem solving. A primary focus of the program will be on developing directing skills, but in addition, the interns will also take on leadership roles within the support teams.

3. Along with a local NGO, "Waan Aelon in Majel" (WAM) (Canoes of the Marshall Islands), the volunteers, cast and crew will construct a re-useable wooden stage for the final performance in Majuro. WAM runs vocational training programmes using traditional Marshallese skill such as canoe building, sailing, navigation, woodworking and weaving as a medium to transfer life skills and capacity building to local young people.

4. The Media team will produce a series of short 5-10min documentary films over the 10-week program promotional project video which will be distributed on utube and linked to the project website. These will include in-depth interviews with the cast, crew and wider community. In partnership with the Marshall Islands Journal, the journalism team will also be publishing a project blog which will include a weekly update from the directors of the project and student articles and reflections as the project evolves. These short films will be compiled into a final version DVD and will be disseminated (free of charge) to Pacific Island researchers and cultural institutions around the world, as well as to donors and embassies of the Marshall Islands.

Program Objectives

1. To stage a high quality Shakespeare production.
2. To build skills in literature and English language among the youth.
3. To nurture a network of youth leaders, role models and volunteers.
4. To develop the skills and desire among the cast and crew to develop their own sustainable creative arts movement.
5. To revive an interest among the young in traditional Marshallese culture.
6. To raise international awareness about the Marshall Islands.
7. To forge partnerships and cooperation among the existing NGOs and organisations in the Marshall Islands.

How You Can Help:
1. Donate:Our Fundraising Goal is US$15,000
$30 will support costumes & props for 1 member of the cast
$100 will support the costs of enabling 1 member of the cast to go on tour, food, travel, & insurance
$1,500 will support the construction of a stage
$3,000 will support the travel and living costs of an international Director involved in the project
Please visit this link to make a creditcard tax-deductable donation. For Patron Sponsorship click here.
2. Media attention: please spread the news about the project to any media links / connections you may have. We want to raise as much international coverage about the project as possible!