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!