Monday, March 10, 2008

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

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