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!