Two directors, high school teacher Carolyn Greer, and middle school teacher Jessica Stafford, share their experience working on the same show and seeing students come up with completely different character interpretations.
Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
Welcome to Episode 86! You can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode86.
So, today, we have two directors on the podcast. Two teacher directors – a high school teacher, Carolyn Greer, and a middle school teacher, Jessica Stafford – and they both put out productions of my play, Cobweb Dreams, at exactly the same time and we’re going to talk about how so many of the elements in both shows were similar — some identical, you know, the same set, for example. Of course, the same script, and yet the two shows that came out of their rehearsal process were so completely different. Character interpretation, okay? Where does it come from? How can you encourage your students to develop their own characters? Lots of great stuff, plus a little, you know, a looming tornado – that always adds some action.
Let’s get to it.
Lindsay: Hello, everybody! Welcome to the podcast.
Well, I have to tell you, I’m in a very unique situation right now. I don’t usually – well, actually, that’s a lie, too – that’s the one thing you’re not supposed to talk about in, like, podcasts is the weather because nobody cares about the weather where you are… except that we, I am currently in Owensboro, Kentucky, and I have Carolyn Greer here. Hello, Carolyn.
Lindsay: And I have Jessica Stafford here.
Lindsay: And we are in Jessica’s house because it has a basement because there is a tornado! There’s a tornado warning which is the better? Which is the worst one?
Respondent: We have a watch.
Lindsay: We have a watch.
Respondent: With a very good possibility of a warning.
Lindsay: Awesome. So, like…
Respondent: Week after snow’s melted.
Lindsay: We have the weather channel on as the red area is flashing and I’m here because Carolyn and Jessica – Carolyn at the high school and Jessica at the middle school – are premiering a play of mine, Cobweb Dreams. We have a high school version and a middle school version which I think is very exciting.
Respondent: It is.
Lindsay: And, when we first started this, you guys were going to combine and it was going to be a combined show. And what happened? Why do we get two shows?
Carolyn: We started out with the idea that I was going to direct, the high school teacher, me – Carolyn – so whatever. I was going to direct and Jessica was going to assistant direct and we were going to partner and she was going to do a lot of the tech. But, when we went into the audition process, there was a lot of talent.
Lindsay: When you emailed me about this, you said over a hundred kids had tried out.
Jessica: Probably 120?
Carolyn: In the beginning, yeah. And there was just a lot of talent on both sides and we knew that meant everybody was talking about it and saying, “We don’t want to understudy. We don’t want to do that sort of thing, but that’s turning away a lot of, really turning away a lot of middle school talent that deserve to be seen on that stage in those roles.”
Jessica: Because we talked about doing two ensembles, we talked about having a live forest using the kids as the forest, also that the forest really had those ears, but we realized there was no way to really showcase my kids that could also handle the roles and I looked at Carolyn and I just kind of took a deep breath and I said, “Okay. Well, here’s my deal. If you will handle the directing, once you’ve blocked it, I will direct my end of it,” and I think that stunned her, and then we said, “Okay.”
Lindsay: And then, you contacted me and I’m like, well, first of all, as a playwright, it’s like gold because, well, I get to see two versions and this is really the reason that I wanted to have this conversation with you guys which I think would be very useful for our listeners and that is the whole notion of interpretation. And this is a classic case because you guys have the same set.
Lindsay: High school and middle school is on the same set. They’re going to work on the same stage. They have the same costumes?
Respondent: Most of them. Most of them share costumes.
Lindsay: And they both have the same blocking because Carolyn, for the most part…
Respondent: Most part.
Lindsay: Did the big picture.
Respondent: We blocked them together.
Respondent: They shadowed.
Lindsay: And yet, you have two different, completely different shows.
So, what are some of the differences between the two shows?
Carolyn: I think the high schoolers understand the relationships much. The maturity of, especially to Titania and Oberon and they understand that maturity a lot more than my kids do.
Lindsay: And I’ll just say that Cobweb Dreams is sort of a parallel universe to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It takes place at the exact same time. it has some of the exact same characters, and yet focuses on a smaller fairy.
So, we have the characters like Titania and Oberon who are, you know, the king and queen of the fairies. And, in the high school version, what are they like?
Carolyn: In the high school version, it’s a little bit more, well, it’s more mature. There are moments of a little bit more fire and anger, especially, you know, in the scene that you created, the wonderful scene where we see Titania giving permission or asking Oberon if he would like to have the changeling boy which we don’t see which I love. That was one of my favorite things about this script is seeing that. But it’s a little bit more mature. It’s a little bit more flirty than it is with the younger kids. My older kids, he kisses her hand and, you know, there are things like that. And then, when you get to Bottom and Titania, you know, we have a little play on the sexuality of it all that you’re not going to get from two eighth graders.
Lindsay: So, what are Titania and Oberon? How do you see them in your version, Jessica?
Jessica: I almost, and I hate to say it’s almost like a teen angst, it’s almost like, “Well, you broke up with me,” or, “I’m not sure if you still like me,” – it’s your typical middle school kind of a love-hate relationship where you love to hate each other but, at the same time, there’s still that chemistry that kind of keeps you hanging out.
Lindsay: There’s still a little bit of innocence, isn’t there?
Jessica: There is. There’s a lot of innocence there.
Carolyn: Yes, yes.
Lindsay: And, in the high school version – oh, I find Oberon, he’s got a menace to him.
Lindsay: That I just don’t think that they have in middle school yet. They haven’t learned that yet.
Respondent: No, thank god.
Carolyn: And the boys, and Ben who is the middle school Oberon has created this really humorous, you had an oddity about his character where my high school boy is more, “I’m a man,” you know?
Carolyn: And he carries himself that way and he portrays it that way. I mean, he’s an eighteen-year-old; he’s not a man. You know, but he carries himself that way. And then, there’s young Ben who is an eighth grader who has created this almost goofy…
Jessica: Like a goofy bully
Carolyn: Yeah! I mean, but it works, that’s the cool thing is that it still works, it plays differently, the relationship with Titania is very different, but it works.
Lindsay: And that, to me, means that the play is working.
Lindsay: Where you can take a relationship and play it this way and it works, and you can take a relationship and play it in a completely other fashion and it works. I love that. I love that and I think it’s so important, particularly in high school and in the school environment, that there’s not just one way to play things.
Carolyn: Oh, yeah.
Lindsay: You know? And we also have a couple of differences, too, with gender because one of the characters, so there’s the main character and then she has a couple of best friends and one of them’s name is Thicket and in the high school version’s played by a boy and in the middle school version’s played by a girl. And how does that interpretation come to play?
Carolyn: I think it’s kind of cool. I mean, when we were casting the shows, we never sat down and said, “Oh, well, I think we need to have this gender difference.” It was just who was right for the role, you know, and in relationship in the show, it works out nicely because, for me, for the guy, it’s like that best pal because Cobweb, she is a tomboy. And, in Jessica’s, the girl playing Thicket is a tomboy.
Jessica: She is.
Carolyn: You know? So, the demeanor for each of them worked, but yet it’s a different relationship from my young man. He’s like the best friend guy pal with every teen, you know, every movie that has the sidekick best friend guy – that’s him. And then, that also changes the relationship with the other best friend, Willow, who, at the high school, they decided that, with their back story, that they’re siblings. So, her little high and mightiness really works well because he’s the brother and then they’re both best friends with Cobweb, your main character, and that’s different from the middle school.
Jessica: It is, and I think, in everyday life, the girls that play Willow and Thicket, they have time together in other classes – I think they’re in Math team together – but they’re not the buddy-buddy but they have somehow formed this incredible friendship through this role – these two roles – that my Thicket, she’s such a passionate girl in real life and she’s vibrant and she’s passionate and I believe her every time that she… she puts her honesty there and there’s that friendship of understanding why they love Cobweb so much. They both get it. It’s different how they love her but you see a difference in how they touch and how they look at her and at each other and I think, you know, I never saw Thicket as a boy, and I actually forgot…
Carolyn: I didn’t either and yet I like it!
Jessica: Yeah! I like it, too!
Lindsay: I love having that flexibility.
Jessica: For me, that came from the fact that it really is a female heavy lead show and which is great! Don’t get me wrong. We need those shows. But I had boys. I had some boys with some strength and one in particular who wasn’t an Oberon and he wasn’t really a Bottom. He’s a good guy. He plays good guy. He is a good guy, number one. John Thomas is a great kid. He’s got an exquisite voice. You know, he’s a good guy and he just played that well. So, when we held auditions, it just came out of that that he really handled the reading and the audition process really well and it was right for him. He got it. He understood Thicket. And the funny thing is he actually is very good friends with the girl that plays Cobweb. They’ve grown up, you know, they’ve been friends since, like, fifth grade. So, they are that friendship was has been nice to extend it so, when Thicket really gets on to Cobweb, towards the end of the show, my favorite scene of the show, there’s that passion that can come from that friendship that’s going to be different than your Thicket doing it because, you know, the middle school Thicket is an eighth grader.
Carolyn: And my Cobweb is a fifth grader.
Lindsay: It’s way different, isn’t it?
Carolyn: It’s extremely different because it feels not best friend-ish. It feels very protective and very, you know, “You are going to literally break my heart because you’re my sister.”
Lindsay: And another thing that we talked about before is that there is a very specific moment in the play where the two characters, Willow and Thicket, talking about Cobweb have this moment where they fear they’re going to lose her. And the two – the high school Willow and Thicket – respond very differently than the middle school Willow and Thicket. Jessica, how did they respond in that moment?
Jessica: They respond with an understanding, but my Thicket reaches out to Willow and takes her hand.
Lindsay: And they hold hands and they walk away…
Jessica: And they walk off.
Lindsay: …which is such a strong visual connection between those two.
Carolyn: So sweet.
Lindsay: And, Carolyn, they don’t do that in the high school.
Carolyn: Oh, you know, my thing is, originally, we blocked it that way as well and it was my Thicket who said, “It doesn’t feel natural because I’m thinking of her as my sister and it’s a sad moment for my sister and I touch her on the shoulder but it doesn’t, that walking off together that way doesn’t feel natural for my character,” and that’s when you, as a director, go, “Okay.” When an actor feels that strongly about what their character would do and the path of their character then you really support that and I love that he was honest and said, “That doesn’t feel natural. It doesn’t feel comfortable,” and they’re older and it’s not that they’re not comfortable touching each other – they’re good friends and all that – but, in the moment, he said, “I just feel like I need to follow her out.”
Lindsay: And to give her her space.
Carolyn: And let Willow, who’s really the saddest of all in that moment, let Willow go and I follow. You know, it’s not the cute, sweet ending that you get by the hand holding which is so lovely, but it has its own merits.
Carolyn: So, that’s, again, it goes back to using different kids and they’re going to have different unique interpretations and that’s what’s so great about the show. Now, I go in and I watch the middle school show. You know, when I watch the middle school show now, I watch it as a mom which is totally different because my son is in the show, and I can sit back and I can enjoy it and not think of it as, “Okay. Well, they’re not doing it the way my kids do it,” and I love that they don’t. You know, when we’ve helped each other, we’ve covered for each other in the rehearsals when we’ve had conflicts and it’s never been about forcing our ideas on each other’s shows. It’s been about supporting the ideas that were already developed.
Lindsay: And it certainly could be because, like, you know, the partners – like, the Bottom and the Bottom work together, the Oberon and Titania and the Oberon and Titania – two shows work together and I think what a great thing to have that support instead of, “No, you should do it like this.”
Carolyn: Oh, no, yeah.
Jessica: Well, I think, what’s interesting for me is I’ve never really worked in a school where the community, the kids have grown up together. I’ve always worked in schools where it was very transient. And so, these kids have relationships with each other in real life and I say that that is the best and the worst thing about teaching in a community like this because they know each other and they get along. They’re such a tight-knit group. And the worst thing is they never shut up. So, not only are you herding cats, you’re herding cats in middle school with these kids up on stage. You’re herding cats who won’t shut up.
Carolyn: Because of that history! That history keeps coming out.
Jessica: And it’s the good history and it’s the bad history. But I’ll tell you what. When you have a group like that, it’s a tight show because there’s trust. You don’t have to build that trust because that trust is there and I’m grateful for that. It’s one of the reasons I moved to the community.
Lindsay: Do you think that that’s why the middle schoolers feel comfortable making their own choices?
Lindsay: Isn’t that amazing?
Jessica: Because the trust each other.
Lindsay: It’s just sort of, you can be like, they’re looking to each other. They’re not looking to the, you know, to the high school – they look to them for, like, respect and maybe some guidance but not to copy their choices.
Lindsay: You know what? That’s not happening at all.
Carolyn: No, they’re not at all. They’re not.
Jessica: My Titania, I wanted her to go and see what Carolyn’s Titania was doing because I just wanted her to see the regal, the presence, just to kind of give her some of that confidence because, like many of us, she’s kind of a sloucher – and she’s not a sloucher in like she doesn’t work; I mean, like, she slumps. And a lot of kids – and I’m a slumper – and I don’t think she understood that when I said that to her. “I want you to see how Titania’s carrying herself at the high school,” and she came to me after rehearsal and she said, “I’m really not comfortable doing that because I’m nothing like Navji,” and I said, “You’re right, Kennedy. You’re nothing like Navji and that’s okay. I just wanted you to understand the presence,” I said. “But, you know, you’ll get the opportunity and let’s work with where we are and I think you’re going to understand where we’re going.” And the fact that she, as an eighth grader, had the courage to come up and tell her director, “I’m really okay with not doing that.”
Lindsay: My choices.
Carolyn: My choices are fabulous.
Jessica: She’s making very fine choices.
Carolyn: You know, my Titania and her Titania are very, very different. One, they’re very different types. Their physical types are very, very different. I have a very voluptuous, you know, Titania.
Lindsay: And she plays with that.
Carolyn: Oh, she’s plays with it. She uses her body. But she’s also already played the big, bold – my Navji was also my Ursula last year.
Carolyn: So, she’s played that. So, you know, there are times where I think I want my Titania to be this or to be this, but I trust her to take a route that she wants to take because it is educational theatre.
Carolyn: And we have to step back some time and allow them to take their interpretation. Just like you did with Kennedy. Kennedy came to you and said, “I’m not comfortable doing it this way.” Well, we have to hear that and I think that that leads to why our shows are so different because, in that educational setting, yes, we are guiding and kids always hate hearing it but it’s the director’s vision. It is, but we both make sure that we give them leeway to try. So, John Thomas can come to me and say, “I’m not going to hold her hand because that moment doesn’t work,” you know? Or your Bottom and your Titania can look at me and go, “I’m not holding her hand,” you know? You don’t have to!
Jessica: Yes. I mean, they’re horrified that, right now, they’re doing a micro-slow dance on the stage.
Carolyn: Oh, they nearly died the other day, yeah.
Jessica: I mean, you know, and I think one thing they’re grateful for is they know that I say, “You don’t have to kiss on my stage. You have plenty of time to do that in high school. I’m extremely conservative with my middle schoolers.” And so, I think they know they can trust that, too, that I’m not going to put them in a situation that is ridiculously uncomfortable to the point, but I think slow dancing with someone that you were boyfriend-girlfriend with in second grade is okay.
Carolyn: I’m going to die!
Jessica: First grade.
Lindsay: One other character who has pretty different interpretations is Puck. Again, we have Puck played in both ways because, one, they’re both played by different genders. We have a girl in the middle school and a boy in the high school, and I also think that, beyond that, they’re different interpretations. Your Puck is mean, you know? Does she wear the same outfit?
Lindsay: Okay. I was wondering about that.
Jessica: No, not at all.
Lindsay: Okay. That’s funny. That would be interesting.
Carolyn: He’s, like, that big. He’s a tiny little thing. Again, that comes from a female mean and a male mean.
Lindsay: It’s different.
Carolyn: Very different, and he’s young. He’s a freshman, she’s an eighth grader. They’re only a year apart.
Lindsay: He’s pretty playful though.
Carolyn: Yeah, they’ve acted together.
Respondent: They’ve worked together but they, you know, he takes sneaky and mean to mean something very, very different than what, I mean, Carter does his thing and Gracie she does her thing and they’re very different. But, again, you know, it plays. You know, he’s with an Oberon who is a head taller than him.
Respondent: Actually, you know what? That makes a really good point about how you have to balance relationships. It wouldn’t work if Carter was mean because then you’d have mean-mean.
Carolyn: Right, because Oberon handles the mean and the presence, the mean presence, because, you know, Will is a senior, he’s a foot taller than Carter who plays our Puck. You know, he’s a broader guy. Carter’s a skinny thing. I mean, he’s athletic but he’s slim and it just has a balance whereas I think Gracie’s almost Ben’s height in your production of it and Gracie can go the mean girl route.
Lindsay: And she does.
Jessica: And Ben does the, “Aha!” and that was a tough thing with Gracie because she also dances and so she was thinking, you know, we were starting off, like, with the whole punk thing, saying it was kind of a punk feel. Well, then all of a sudden, I had like this hip-hop look and, for me, it looked awkward and she didn’t look comfortable and she felt a little lost. I finally just sat down – and it was just this week, too – I finally sat down with her and I said, “I need you to be more like the girl who’s telling you, ‘It’s okay if you do it,’ you’re not going to get caught,” you know? Where you build up that trust in a sweet way but then, every now and then, you see that little evil child come out and say, “Come on!” and that’s when Gracie’s role as Puck, I think, really took off this week.
Carolyn: I agree.
Jessica: All of a sudden, she looked like, “Okay! I’m good now,” and she looks comfortable on the stage again and it was nice.
Lindsay: She looks like one of the punks. She looks like one of the punk fairies whereas Carter doesn’t necessarily.
Carolyn: He does not.
Lindsay: But there’s a great thing of interpretation. We have one Puck who is very much in… Oberon is kind of the one that’s very separate in the middle school.
Lindsay: He’s very separate in his behavior and his tone and the rest of the fairies are like, when they go, “Shame, shame, Cobweb,” on her, all of them look like they were going to tear her to pieces. It’s a really great moment. And, in yours, it’s like Oberon and his underlings – and your underlings are a little bit more foolish and Puck fits in and that’s where Puck comes up.
Carolyn: He’s somewhere in the middle.
Lindsay: Yeah, he’s in-between.
Carolyn: He’s in the middle, yeah.
Jessica: And I think that I am one of those people that I like to kind of dig in the creepy, you know? I do. I like things that are a little bit creepy. I like to kind of feel a little uncomfortable and that’s why I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable in a romantic situation.
Lindsay: Because maybe we can get a little uncomfortable in a different way.
Carolyn: And that works too for you because your…
Jessica: Sick sense of humor.
Carolyn: Well, that too, but your flower fairies, you know, when you’re looking at the different kinds – your water fairies, your flower fairies, and your woodland fairies – you called them Oberon fairies, Oberon’s fairies, and we started referring to them as the punk fairies because they just made sense, you know?
Lindsay: They have their own.
Carolyn: Their own identity and the kids speak to that. But, you know, my punk fairies are more sneaky and playful and manipulative and the mean, mean, means for mine are the flower fairies.
Carolyn: Your flower fairies and your punk fairies have a different kind of mean. But that makes sense for a middle school group to have that kind of mean because it’s going to translate differently in their own personality, in their own world.
Carolyn: You know, where our flower fairies are, you know, I kept telling the girls with the flower fairies – and boy because, you know, we have at least one boy in every group and I did that consciously because I didn’t want it to have a stigma of, “Oh, if you’re a flower fairy, you must be a girl,” you know, “If you’re a water fairy, because you’re ditzy, you have to be a girl,” and I think the two boys that I have in each of those are doing really well of keeping that attitude. But I kept telling the girls of the flower fairies, “Think of the movie Mean Girls,” which is funny because I have never seen that movie.
Lindsay: But you know what they are.
Carolyn: But I know it and, you know, and the girls are like, “You’ve never seen it!” but the minute you can give them that clear image then they, you know, they take to it and we used that kind of imagery when they auditioned. You know, I had them in rows walking across the stage as the different types of fairies and we talked about, you know, the sounds or the attitude or the thought process that, you know, I remember saying to them, “If you’re with Oberon, it’s sort of a dum-dee, dum-dee, dum-dee kind of movement.” You know, it’s a heavy, thuddy kind of movement where the water fairies aren’t and the flower fairies are different, you know, and it was really cool to see that even the middle school kids and the high schools kids how they would interpret each type of fairy.
Lindsay: What that meant.
Carolyn: And it was cool to see how they interpreted it because you’d say a water fairy’s kind of clueless and innocent and sort of lost. What does that mean? And you would get, you know, fifty different interpretations of that which was really awesome.
Lindsay: I even think the water fairies are, you know, they’re your ditzy group.
Carolyn: I love them. I love them!
Jessica: They’re fabulous.
Lindsay: They’re my favorite. But the Sparkles are even, like, at their core, they’re the same characters in the middle school and the high school, yet the variances are very interesting and I know your Sparkle is new to the role and yet she’s a little bit, like, the high school water fairy, she’s a very – because she’s a bit of a dancer – she’s up on her toes.
Lindsay: And your middle school fairy’s a bit more flat out.
Jessica: Like, she could almost be a woodland fairy because she’s on the verge of clumsy.
Lindsay: She is on the verge of clumsy.
Jessica: Because she’s so tall already at sixth grade.
Lindsay: But she’s like, it’s enthusiasm clumsy.
Jessica: Yes, yes!
Lindsay: It’s a different type.
Jessica: It’s big puppy clumsy.
Lindsay: It’s big puppy clumsy! And it’s perfect for water fairies and yet, you know, a little bit delicate twirly-twirly.
Carolyn: Yeah, Erin’s more like a butterfly.
Carolyn: Water fairy. You know, I mean, and I love that for Erin because Erin is not like that as a human being. Erin is very…
Jessica: Very serious.
Carolyn: Very serious, just straight-laced stern. She doesn’t like to be touched and that we just laugh about that because we’re like, “We’re going to hug you, Erin,” “No.” You know, I mean, he’s that kind of and she’s a very intelligent young woman and she’s a very talented young woman. When I cast her as Sparkle, everybody was like, “Are you kidding?” I think they were really surprised though they saw how well she did in auditions but, if you know her, and then to see what she’s doing on stage and she’s only a sophomore and to see the physical that she created. At no time did I ever say to her, “I need you to do this as a water fairy.” And she immediately took to it and ran with it and that’s one thing that’s been really, really wonderful about this play is that each type of fairy is so clearly identified that you don’t have to give them every single thing. I mean, we’re talking about interpretation but yet so much of it is what the kids interpret.
Carolyn: And what they choose in terms of their flower fairy or their water fairy or their woodland fairy. It’s written there for them and so we can just guide and then we can look at the big picture and pull things together, or we can look at the minute details and put it together because the fairy types are written so clearly. I mean, I think the only ones that I feel like we put a real stamp on, so to say, is really the fairies in waiting and making their look or their thing butterflies as opposed to flowers and water and you know because they’ve matured , they’ve aged up into the senior things and that was the only place where, you know, we discussed, “What kind of fairies are they?” and that was really cool though because, you know, the girls had theories. You know, my high school girls sat down and had theories but based on what their character did or what their character said.
Lindsay: And we had to have a big conversation about that and how I interpret the fairies just in my own head and on the page and then to have that come back and they’re like, “Well, we think so and so was a water fairy,” and me to go, “Oh, no, no.”
Carolyn: Which was interesting because, after that conversation that we had on Facebook.
Lindsay: Who was it? Moth? It was Moth.
Carolyn: It was Moth.
Jessica: It was the high school Moth and I said something after because my Moth and I were always like, “Well, she’s a woodland fairy,” and so I asked Adalei who’s my Moth, I said, “Hey, Adalei,” I said, “What kind of fairy do you think you are?” She said, “Well, really, Miss Stafford?” I said, “Yeah, I just want to know what you think.” She said, “I’m a woodland fairy. Don’t you see how I connect with Cobweb?” and I went, “Well, okay, eighth grader. Good for you!” You know, but I could see how water fairy could also come to mind because I think it’s just the kindness. I’ve always felt that people who are very, it’s almost like a down-to-earth person. Woodland is the down-to-earth and you see that.
Carolyn: The water, it was really cool because they sat down, the three of them sat down together and they made the determination and they knew that the mean one, that she’s definitely a flower. There was no question about that. And then, that Peas Blossom, originally, their thought was that Peas Blossom was a woodland fairy who had matured and just didn’t see it anymore and then that made Moth a water fairy because she’s sweet and she tries to help, you know? But then, when I went back to them and said, “Okay. I talked to Lindsay and this is where she feels,” and they went, “Oh, okay!” and it wasn’t an argument, it wasn’t an issue. It was like a, “Okay. Well, I can get there. I understand that,” and then that made some interpretation changes, too. Again, choices made by the kid to take what you wrote and go with it which is really nice to see and, when you’re looking at an established program and you’re bringing in a lot of new kids and quite a few of the cast members have very little theatre experience, you know, my Moth and by Peas Blossom both don’t have a ton of theatre experience, you know. So, for them to come in and sit down and find their own way and work at it is really nice.
Lindsay: When you have your students who don’t have a lot of experience, do they look and see what the others are doing and they see that they’re making choices? Or is it just because the environment is good?
Carolyn: I think that, you know, I’m the queen of backstory. I think that you don’t go on stage, you don’t work until you start to know who you are. So, I’m very demanding about creating backstory and they were given time in the rehearsal process to just sit down and they actually sat down with their younger counterpart and talked to them and discussed and I gave them a series of questions and they answered those questions and, you know, we talked about, even to the point of, “What kind of fairy are you? What kind of fairy do you not like? What kind of fairy do you bond with? How do you feel about Titania? How do you feel about Cobweb?” You know, really made them ask themselves questions, kind of like we were talking about in the writing workshop. You know, asking these series of questions and I think that’s the starting point. And then, when these younger actors or these newer actors see those kids digging deep and knowing how to answer questions in character, I think that leads them to that.
Lindsay: When I was in one of your classes today, Jessica, it was really interesting because they were asking about character development and I said a really great exercise is to “What is your bedroom like?” and you could see them all kind of like, “Oh! Oh, that’s really neat!” and then, you know, and I said, “To those of you who are in Cobweb Dreams, what would the bedroom of your fairy be like? You know, what would it look like?”
Carolyn: And, you know, I’ve actually randomly found scripts – as it often happens – that they just get left on the stage and they had all their questions that we originally asked and I saw most of them are half done and the answers, some of them didn’t understand the answers are first person. It’s, “How do I feel about them?” and I think that, tomorrow, before we start rehearsal, I think we’re going to answer those questions again because, by now…
Lindsay: They should know.
Jessica: Because they don’t have that ability, even if they try, because they’re in such – and I hate to say – there’s such a box in a classroom with how to write stuff but they don’t know how to create character from nothing. They don’t realize that they do it on a regular basis because, well, as soon as you make up a rumor about someone, you’re creating this character from nothing. But they struggle with that. Me, if I said, “Okay, well, you know, let’s take Toy Story and start with, you know, Buzz Lightyear,” they can give me a backstory because they know the story. I think, by now, two days before our show, we should go sit down and have a quick discussion about that which should lead to them having longer discussions before the show. But that’s helped. I think, actually, that’s something that we need to do with middle school more often – I need to do in middle school more often – is give them the questions in the beginning, have them answer the first time, and then, halfway through rehearsal, revisit it. And then, a week before we go on stage, we need to revisit again.
Carolyn: We’ve mentioned one day we talked about one of the things that I wish we had done, you know, when you lose ten days of school, you run out of time.
Lindsay: So, the weather here in Owensboro has been freaky dee.
Lindsay: They lost so many days to snow and so we’re here and we’re like, “Hey, the snow is gone!” and now, you know, we’re sort of looking out the window right now.
Carolyn: Instead of being at the theatre because we should be opening house in twenty minutes.
Lindsay: Yes, it’s supposed to be opening night tonight! And, you know, they want people to be safe, you know.
Carolyn: What’s up with that?
Lindsay: What’s up?
Carolyn: But we had talked about, there’s a wonderful moment in Cobweb Dreams when Cobweb says, “When Titania calls my name, to be in the train, I should have said, ‘No, thanks,” and I’m just going to go wander around on my puddle” or something like that. And I said to Jessica, “It would be a really good exercise if you had a scene,” we just did a rehearsal of Titania calling forth her newer fairies and waving, and seeing how Cobweb would respond. Would, you know, “Oh, my gosh,” you know? The fear or the anxiety or the anger or whatever it was to then step up to the plate and take that job on. Or how Mustard Seed who wanted so bad as a flower fairy, you know, that sort of thing, had we had time, that would have been a really great exercise and something that I would have loved to do. We just ran out of time.
Lindsay: It’s always such a great idea to all those, any scene that’s in a play which is not mentioned, or informs a character to stage it so that, when an actor is talking about it, it’s actually informing them because they lived through it.
Lindsay: Yeah. Did you think that the two shows would be so different when you started?
Jessica: I knew they would have to be.
Carolyn: I mean, there’s language, there’s dialogue that’s different for the ages.
Jessica: Well, I just knew that my kids would just read things differently. That they would carry themselves differently. That they would, gosh, we spent a week on a stage where they didn’t even touch each other in friendship. It was like, “You know, you guys have known each other for, you know, you’re twelve, you’ve known each other for eleven years, you can put your hand on their shoulder,” and I think they’re scared to try some of their things on their own because they don’t want to look stupid in front of each other. That’s just middle school. You don’t want to look dumb. You don’t want to be laughed at. It’s the fear of the middle school age and, sometimes, when you pull together fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and they’re not on a class together with that connection, it’s new people, you do have that fear all over again so you go from that safe zone that we talked about earlier because you’ve known each other for years, but that’s in your grade, or maybe in those two grades, when you spend four grades.
Lindsay: That’s a lot to get over.
Carolyn: But the high school, too.
Jessica: But, I think, in high school there’s a new…
Carolyn: You’re spending those four years, too.
Jessica: But you’re more comfortable with who you are, I think, a little bit more.
Carolyn: I think, yeah, to some degree. But then, you have the high school rock stars.
Carolyn: You know, you have those kids that people admire or look up to or respect or you don’t want to, you know, you don’t want to let that group down. You know, if you have a scene with Cobweb, you don’t want to not be ready, you know, or, if you’re in a scene with Titania or you’re in a scene with, you know, whomever, there is that pressure of “I’m a freshman, I’m playing Puck and Oberon’s a senior,” you know, Cobweb’s a junior and they have all this experience and they have all this, you know, background. But when it goes back to the idea of the shows being different, I think we knew it would be. I don’t know if we knew how and how uniquely different. I mean, those middle school kids are strong. She has a strong established group of kids and it’s a joy to go and watch their work. I mean, I absolutely love it and I, you know, being the mom of a kid in the program, I have watched all those kids grow up, too. So, it’s really cool for me to see it. But then, to step in and see it as a theatre teacher coming in, and I know that that’s what I’ve got coming to me, it’s really cool. So, seeing them do the same show, it’s different and it’s awesome that it’s different because there would be nothing worse than having one of the middle school students sit and watch my high school kids’ production and be able to put every single moment together because it was the exact same thing.
Jessica: And copy it.
Carolyn: That’s just no fun.
Lindsay: No, and I think that’s really the remarkable, remarkable thing. I think that’s the same thing. I mean, I thought, “Oh, this is so great. I just get to see two different age groups tackle it and what are the challenges of the age groups,” and I don’t know if I ever thought about how nuanced the two different shows would be and what a joy that is to see the same script tackle them one way and then tackled, you know, completely in the other and that they both worked equally well. It just makes my day.
Carolyn: It makes ours, too!
Jessica: What was really cool too was noticing you laughing at things that were funny with middle school that high school didn’t make funny. It was just funny because of delivery or a look on a kid’s face, you know, or the timing. I think, to me, that’s really cool.
Jessica: And I work really hard to make sure that our shows aren’t considered cute. I like our shows to be good – good, solid shows, clean shows – and, if they happen to be cute as well, that’s great. But, you know, this is a fun show. It’s a funny piece. We love the show. But I watch the highs school version and I think, it’s a really good show. And then, I go watch mine and I think, “That’s a really cute version of that show.”
Lindsay: Man, you know what? I think you’re selling yourself short.
Jessica: I think it’s cute.
Lindsay: I think it’s a good show.
Jessica: It’s a good show.
Lindsay: I think it is.
Respondent: But the kids are cute because…
Jessica: It’s their costumes and their head pieces and they’re just cute kids.
Lindsay: You know what? They’re being themselves.
Lindsay: They’re not trying to be high school.
Lindsay: They are…
Carolyn: They know who they are.
Lindsay: They know who they are and they’re being themselves.
Lindsay: And I think that’s wonderful.
Jessica: I love the slight awkwardness that sometimes appears from the middle school world, and it appears on the stage, you know? You watch kids fall over nothing and it’s just how many Cobwebs are on the stage at a time?
Carolyn: And even when it’s not a fairy.
Carolyn: You know, and it’s a human. I think the cool thing is that there’s that youthfulness – I mean, we’re talking about teenagers, teenagers are babies, they’re young but there is an innocence and a youthfulness that those children can’t help but bring out on a middle school stage.
Jessica: Maybe it’s not cute that I’m looking for. It’s sweet.
Carolyn: It’s sweet, yes, yes.
Jessica: It’s the sweetness.
Carolyn: It’s adorable!
Lindsay: The perfect example of that is the Cobwebs.
Lindsay: Because your Cobweb, middle school Cobweb.
Carolyn: Avery, fifth grade.
Lindsay: Avery is just a sprite. They’re both spritely but it’s so different. Like, the high school.
Carolyn: Kelsey, yeah.
Lindsay: Kelsey is a little bit that sneaky, what-can-we-get-away-with?
Lindsay: And it’s just that kid, she’s so true to her age, and how that just, again, it’s the same character and it’s just two sides of the same coin, and it’s delightful. It’s delightful if I do say so myself.
Carolyn: Well, you know…
Jessica: And she’s feisty!
Carolyn: And, you know, it’s so funny because they are very different portrayals.
Carolyn: But they both work.
Jessica: They do.
Carolyn: And I just look at Avery and I think, “You’re just the cutest little thing.” I mean, she is; she’s this tiny little thing.
Jessica: She’s tiny.
Carolyn: You know, a little short little thing and such a fireball of energy and, you know, I remember Kelsey – who’s mine – that age. Kelsey was like that. You know, Kelsey had that fire to her and that energy, and now Kelsey’s, you know, a junior in high school and there’s a maturity to her. But yet, you put her on stage and she brings back the clumsy and she’s the mischievous one but she’s really clumsy and I love that about Cobweb, that she’s such a clumsy little fairy. But, you know, Kelsey brings that and it’s so much fun to see Kelsey do that because it brings a nuance that’s different than Avery who is just so sweet and so innocent and adorable and just, you know?
Lindsay: It’s pretty much the epitome, I think, of the two, of what you get in a middle school and what you get in high school.
Carolyn: And they work. They both work.
Jessica: And it’s cool that it works.
Carolyn: Yeah, very.
Lindsay: This has been so awesome. Thank you so much for talking to me. It’s so funny, guys. We are literally, like, we just keep looking out the window.
Jessica: Literally watching the red dot.
Lindsay: I just turned around and looked at the TV, the red dot approaches. Okay. We promise, we’ll be safe. Thank you, ladies.
Carolyn: Thank you!
Jessica: Thanks, Lindsay!
Thank you, Carolyn and Jessica. I have to say, as a playwright, I love conversations like this. I love experiences like this where, you know, schools take my work and they bring it to life, and I love knowing that a script of mine put in two different hands can have two completely different results. That’s very satisfying and it kind of means that that play can, you know, it can be released into the world and I can feel very satisfied in knowing that there are many different ways to play a character. Character interpretation, I love it and I think it’s the backbone of plays. I’ve said it before. If character is the only thing you focus on, you cannot help but have an interesting theatre experience for your audience.
So, make sure you check out the show notes for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode86.
And, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
So, we have another drama teacher hangout this week, Saturday, April 5th at 3:00 pm. I adore these. I love sitting down and having a conversation about topics which I know are helpful for our teachers because we get feedback. You know, we get feedback that, “I thought I was alone. I thought I was the only one who had this problem. It was so great to get some new tips.” So, we’re going to keep on doing them until the masses revolt which I hope they don’t revolt. That would be an interesting thing.
And our topic for this week’s hangout is: monologues, monologues, monologues. Finding, choosing, and performing the monologue. Sometimes, it can be the bane of a student’s existence to choose and rehearse and monologue. Like, where do I find a good one? What do I do with it? It can be overwhelming and it can certainly be the bane of a teacher’s existence to have to sit through monologues – poorly prepared monologues, poorly developed, poorly presented monologues. I’m not sure – actually, I do know because I have sat through adjudication of monologues where it’s basically from 8:00 am in the morning until 5:00 pm at night. I have experienced the – well, I’m not going to say “the horror” but – the interesting day of watching monologues over and over and over again. And you want good ones. We want good ones!
So, let’s talk about it! Let’s get some tips. You know, let’s get some good information out there, right? So, check the show notes: theatrefolk.com/episode86 for the register link. Join us, share your tips, or get some new ones for yourself.
Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.” Find us, listen to something, tell us what you think about it, give us some feedback – that would be awesome.
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.