Directing

Directing the Large Cast Middle School Play

Written by Lindsay Price

Episode 111: Directing the Large Cast Middle School Play

 

It’s one thing to want to put every middle schooler who auditions on stage. It’s another thing to pull off a successful production. How do you actually direct a large cast middle school play without feeling like a traffic cop?

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, and theatre educators everywhere.

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 111 – one one one. So, you can find all the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode111. Three ones make a… I don’t know what they make. They make three? Three ones… Three ones make a… Ah, that’s not going anywhere.

So, how are you this week? Are the days flying by? Usually, around this time I am, oh, I am so grateful for the creeping fall. But, this year, our summer hasn’t been that bad. It hasn’t been that humid at all. The sweeping has been gorgeous. You know, when the leaves start to burn orange, yellow, and red. Ah, it’s my favorite time of year. And the air turns just a shade colder. Ah!

I like living in a place that has seasons. I like visiting places that are warm all year round, but I like calling home a place that goes through all of them – yes, even winter, although last winter was not good, but there’s always next winter.

So, middle school, we’re going to talk about directing the large cast middle school play. I’ve talked to two middle school teachers who have both said that directing middle school students is like herding cats which sounds a little bit frustrating to me, you know? I have a lot of appreciation for teachers who can do that – who can take all those students and mold something, and everybody wants to be on-stage and I think that’s the thing about the middle school play is that there’s more of an impetus, I think, to put as many students on-stage as you can.

But it’s one thing to put every middle schooler who auditions on-stage and it’s another thing to pull off a successful production. How do you actually do it without feeling like a traffic cop? So, that’s what we’re talking about today. We’re going to talk to Holly Beardsley who directed the first production of her play, The Pauper Princess, with a large cast of middle school students. Let’s find out how she did it.

Lindsay: All right. So, today, I am talking to Holly Beardsley. Hello, Holly!

Holly: Hello.

Lindsay: Tell everybody where in the world you are.

Holly: Well, right now, I am in Champaign, Illinois, which is about two hours south of Chicago, Illinois, which is what most people know us for.

Lindsay: Right. So, Holly has written a play that we have in our catalogue. It’s called The Pauper Princess and it is – as you might guess – a retelling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. A pretty amazing, wonderful comedy.

Holly, when you directed the first production of this show, you had – you were telling me – first of all, you did this with middle school.

Holly: Yes.

Lindsay: Secondly, you had over fifty students in the play.

Holly: That is correct. Maybe under eighty, over fifty.

Lindsay: Who knows how many got in there somewhere, right?

Holly: There was quite a bit of them, you know? And they’re very small. They fit into large places.

Lindsay: But that’s what we’re going to talk about first. We’re going to talk about not only directing middle school students but directing a large cast middle school show. it must be sort of a pre-requisite that, when you do a middle school show, everyone gets cast.

Holly: Sometimes, you know, you do have to draw the line occasionally. But my idea was always that there’s going to be enough heartache later on in life. You want them to get that moment of success of getting into the show and finding their place in theatre because that’s such a wonderful moment. And then, the kids that, you know, don’t really want to be in theatre realize it very quickly and I let them reject us which is kind of how it’s worked for me pretty well.

Lindsay: Did you do auditions for this show?

Holly: Yes. Oh, you have to audition. That way, you can see that little germ of talent that you’re going to have to try and build up as it is. So, yes, we did audition.

Lindsay: What works best, do you think, in middle school? At the middle school level, what kind of audition works best?

Holly: You know, often, we would do group auditions because there would be, like, about a thousand of them auditioning at the same time. So, we would give group scenes previously and let them practice and then they could choose to do it together or we would give a very small monologue and let them choose which one they would like to do – if they’d like to do it alone or as a group. The biggest issue is actually that they’d want to do both and I’d be like, “No, we don’t have time.”

Lindsay: And, also, if you give a group scene and have them practice it, you’re going to see pretty quickly who can work well together.

Holly: Exactly. You could see who wants to listen and who is actually acting as opposed to just reading. It’s very interesting what you see in an audition.

Lindsay: I agree. And how do you deal at the middle school level with disappointment when that cast list goes up?

Holly: Oh, it’s always there.

Lindsay: I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it because you may give someone a part and you think that they’re so wonderful for it and they’re like, “Oh, but I wanted such and such.”

Holly: Oh, definitely. I mean, well, we always dubbed the wall where we put the cast list as “The Crying Wall” or “The Wailing Wall” because, invariably, someone is totally destroyed that they did not get the lead, you know?

Even if they were the youngest kid, has never tried out for anything but they’d just have these ideas of grandeur, you know? So, they would cry and you just kind of have to let them cry. That’s their moment that they also need to have – that moment of disappointment – that’s growing right there.

But then, we also have the ones that were like, you know, “I was supposed to be the star,” and that’s also growing because you kind of, I guess, shoot them down a little bit – bring them down just a touch. That’s important.

Lindsay: Learning and growing in those moments are important for the grander scheme of their lives and, if you just say, “Oh, no! Well, you can have the part,” or, “Oh, no! We’ll make a change,” that doesn’t help them either, does it?

Holly: Exactly, exactly. You know, I worked with my mother in this same show and she’s so funny because she’d be like, “Oh, but they’re such a nice kid.” I’m like, “Of course, they’re a nice kid! I’m not destroying them right now, you know. They got a part. That’s good. So, they’re in.” If it were up to my mother, they would have all been leads.

Lindsay: The show would have been seven hours long because everybody had a part – big part.

Holly: Exactly, that’s what I said. She’s like, “Well, can’t they just have one line?” I’m like, “Mother, we only have two hours or less here.”

Lindsay: What about dealing with parents? I’m sure you’ve had to come across some stage parents. They’re the ones who say, “My kid should have had the lead.”

Holly: Oh, yes! Oh, we love the stage parents. I’ve had parents that are incredible, that volunteer so much of their time and they’re there. They become like family. And then, I have parents that really just come in at the last minute to complain that their child wasn’t the star. You get it all, especially with a cast of, like, you know, eighty kids. You have almost like the sports dad on the side who doesn’t actually understand theatre at all but he’s just rooting for his kid to win and you’re like, “You know, there’s no real winning right here. We’re just making a show. You know, we’re not going to state or anything. We’re doing a show.”

So, yes, parents. You know, honestly, especially with middle school – I shouldn’t say this but – if I just dealt with the kids, it would have been a beautiful, beautiful time always because the kids were always open to it. I mean, you had moments – because kids have moments – but the real tantrums actually came from the parents most of the time which is terrible but it’s true.

Lindsay: I think that is one of the cool thing about dealing with that particular age. They’re pretty open, aren’t they? They’re still okay with being a little silly.

Holly: Exactly. I love that about that age. They’re just getting old enough to start really understanding your jokes but they’re not too cool yet. Like, when they get into high school, sometimes they think they’re cooler than you – actually, they know they’re cooler than you.

Lindsay: They are cooler than you.

Holly: Yeah, they are cooler than you. But, in middle school, they’re still not sure about that yet and they just are excited to be with you there doing theatre. I love that about them.

Lindsay: Okay. So, with those parents though, do you just let them rant? Obviously, you have to stand your ground. What do you do?

Holly: Oh, of course. It’s all about perspective because, I mean, this is their kid, this is their world. And so, it hurts them when their kid is hurt. And so, you just have to let them be hurt, too. It’s the same principle of the kid, you know, at The Wailing Wall. They have to be hurt for a moment and then you go in and you just start telling them the facts. And most parents will totally become rational after a moment. They just have to have that little tantrum and then they’re like, “Oh, yes, I am a rational human being. I can listen to you and we can have a conversation.”

So, usually, it’s just letting them have a moment and then just speaking like a normal person. Really, it comes down to, like, we’re not going to change parents. There’s no way that we’re going to change parents and that they’re not going to automatically be hurt when their child is hurt. But we can change how we respond to parents. Like, you know, we can change how they see us if we let them have their moment and then just act like a normal person.

And, also, we have to have, as directors, a thicker skin, I think, because they will totally lash out at you because they are hurt. You know, they are hurt so they will lash out and they will say terrible things. But then, at a certain point, you just have to pull back and let them have that moment.

Lindsay: I think that’s a lovely way of looking at it actually – that their child is hurt so they are hurt. In that context, it’s a bit easier to not meet their anger, I think.

Holly: Yes, that is sometimes the only way. And then, of course, you have the extra, above, and beyond person and then it’s like, you know, “Bring in the administrator.”

Lindsay: Yes.

Holly: If you have a good principal, they will be behind you, and I’ve always had that situation.

Lindsay: Okay. So, now let’s get into the rehearsal proper. How do you rehearse with fifty-plus middle school students running left, right, and center? What were some of your tactics?

Holly: The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.

Lindsay: You are not the first middle school teacher who has used that phrase.

Holly: Yeah, yeah, you know, we’re all cat-lovers so, you know, it’s a good thing. Honestly, when you have a large cast like that, the best part is just getting them into groups. That’s why, sometimes, when you see – at least in my plays that I have written – you will see these groups, these natural groupings, so that you can work with maybe, like, the villagers one moment or the leads the next or the ladies in waiting so that you can have other groups doing other things and that also comes down to your assistant directors. If you have good assistant directors who can work with the other groups, it becomes much more manageable.

Lindsay: Were your assistant directors other teachers? Were they parents? Were they older students? Where did you pull your assistant directors from?

Holly: Entirely depends on what year. But, that precise one, the first time that we did Pauper, it was, I believe, another teacher and then, also, I had I think it was two other students who were now in high school. So, they came back, actually, to help with the middle school production which they love to do because they’re so much wiser now in high school. They know everything! But they’re also very loyal, sweet kids that will help you.

Lindsay: Well, I think having those high school students around, I think, that could only be in your benefit, if they’re good workers. I think that the biggest mistake must be trying to do it all alone.

Holly: Yes, and, you know, there are times where you have to be the main person. Like, on big group scenes where all of your groups are together. I mean, what are you going to do? They’re all there. So, in that case, usually, I resorted to something called Sparkly where I would just do jazz hands and I’d be like, “Sparkly! Look at me! Look at me!” and then, eventually, they would all look at me. But that’s only in group scenes when you resort to sparkle hands.

Lindsay: Yeah, and it’s only when you start getting the laser pointer out, that’s when you know things are bad.

Holly: Oh, yes. I believe one year I had a whistle but then the whistle didn’t quite work out because then they would all talk about how loud the whistle was, you know? I don’t know why but sparkly fingers always worked. It just goes, “Sparkle! Sparkle! Look at me!” and I think you have to buffoon sometimes. You have to be the jester and then they’re so amused at you and watching you, you know, they are quiet for a moment.

Lindsay: So, how do you balance that? Being the buffoon and the jester just to get their attention and then also being the authority of “I’m the director. I know what I’m doing. Listen to me so we can do it that way.” Where is that balance for you?

Holly: Oh, it is a balancing act. I think that, when they see you in the smaller groups and it’s pure authority director and it’s all about the product of what we are making, they see that and so they know that there’s going to be moments of the jester and that’s really just about getting attention. And then, as soon as you have their attention, go right into that director mode as well.

Lindsay: So, you start with one and then just sort of really segue quickly into the other?

Holly: Exactly. I mean, it’s just an attention-getter. It’s just, you know, a big bang wow. Honestly, also, that means that you do need to have those small groups. You need to see each small group. You can’t just be with the leads only. You have to occasionally make your way over to the other side of the room that’s with the villagers and, you know, really help the villagers.

Lindsay: Do you have some character stuff that you give those groups that are sort of like villager one, citizen, here’s the group of citizens, the group of courtiers, you know, the group of servants? Do you ever give them any character stuff that they can work on so they don’t feel like villagers so much?

Holly: Definitely. Most times, I actually try to give every single character a name.

Lindsay: Ah!

Holly: Because, at a certain point, like I said, when we’re the fifty-plus going to eighty, that does get a little ridiculous. But, when I can’t give them a name, I have them give themselves a name and I have them give themselves a full-on history and there’ll be full rehearsals where they’re just working on their histories so that, when I say, “Why are you going over there?” then they say, “Well, my name is Bob – Sir Bob – and Sir Bob is going across the stage because he needs to get to the market.” You know, they’ve thought about this. One, that’s great because then they’ve gone into characterization and, two, as a teacher, that’s great because they spent an hour on that and you get to work with someone else for an hour. So, it’s great for time management and for characterization and for theatre in general.

Lindsay: I don’t think you can ever go wrong with those kinds of exercises, particularly when you have large groups – here are your villagers, here are your this, here are your that – it makes them feel a part of it.

Holly: Kids are smart. They will figure out if you just shove them in the corner, you know what I mean? They will understand if they’re just like the tree in the background and there’s nothing wrong being the tree in the background. It serves its purpose. But they’re smart kids and they have an ego of their own so you want to make sure that they are still learning and that this is still worth their time.

Lindsay: Well, it’s one thing to say, “We are all part of an ensemble. We are all a community. Okay. Now, go be a tree.” You can’t be contradictory like that, can you?

Holly: Exactly, yeah.

Lindsay: Okay. So, how do you block fifty-plus students? When you have those large groups where everybody’s on-stage all at once, what is that process like?

Holly: You know, honestly, I think sometimes, as a director, you have to be very visual and you have to see it as you’re doing it because, as much as you could plan out in advance, when you’re looking at these kids, you have to be able to move them and make it look right when you’re right there.

Lindsay: Do you use floor plans? Do you draw it out? What do you do?

Holly: I personally don’t, but that’s because I think I have the luck of having written the show.

Lindsay: You can visualize it in your head.

Holly: Yes, I visualized it from that first keystroke at my laptop so I have that luck. It really is just luck that I have the ability to do that because I’ve worked with other directors who will just stare at me and go, “How did you do that?” and I say, “Well, you know, I wrote the thing so I know where I thought they were going to be.” It makes it a little easier on me. But I’ve also seen other directors do wonderful jobs with writing it out, having visual aids of either a previous production of it and then taking that and doing something with it themselves. I’ve seen all kinds of things. But, myself, I just do it.

Lindsay: I like to draw, when I directed, pictures were always helpful for me so that I could just, “Here’s the picture. Here’s the set. All right, now, you’re going to move this way,” just the pattern of it.

Holly: Definitely.

Lindsay: I think that helps, too.

And then, have you ever gotten in that situation though when you have everybody on stage and you can visualize it and they start moving and it just looks like chaos? It’s like a stampede?

Holly: Oh, yes, I’ve definitely had that moment. The kids were always funny because, occasionally, I would just stop moving and I would be absolutely frozen because I was trying to figure out what was happening and, usually, I would say to the kids, “I need just a minute.” Just one moment to think and I’ll just be staring. What’s funny about kids is that they’ll sometimes replicate what you’re doing. So, they’ll all stop and stare. So, I’ve got, you know, eighty-plus kids – well, no – fifty-plus kids staring at me while I’m staring at them. But, usually, thank goodness, it usually kicks in and I figure out what needs to be moved.

You know, often actually – I’ll take that back – because, yes, often it kicks in for me, but that’s where those wonderful assistant directors come in because, occasionally, I will just turn to one of them and I would say, “Jake” or whomever, “What am I doing wrong here? What needs to be fixed?” and he would say, “This kid needs to move over there,” and then there’s an empty space there for them to go and I’d be like, “You’re right1 Move that kid.” So, having that extra person there is invaluable. You have to have. You can’t do it alone, especially with a large cast like that. Maybe with a small cast, you could take that moment and it’s easier to see. But, when you have a big large cast, you need other people.

Lindsay: And I don’t think it’s a bad thing for your students to see, “Hey! This isn’t perfect all the time. You know, we need to make mistakes. We need to ask for help and just sort of everyone’s working together to make it happen.”

Holly: Exactly. Yes, very much so.

Lindsay: Yeah. What do you do when you’re in the middle, you know, you’ve started rehearsals, you’ve got blocking, students are maybe getting their lines down, and you sort of hit that mid-rehearsal rut where maybe lines are being lost or the energy just kind of goes out of a show? How do you deal with that?

Holly: I have a trick! I have a trick for that because everyone has experienced that where it just suddenly is “wonk wonk wah!” and you’ve said these lines over and over again, it’s no longer funny and now it’s just blech.

What we do – and this is a terrible name for it – we do it on Crack Speed which means that we do a run-through where it is just as fast as humanly possible, like words are coming out, you know, they’re not even words coming out but they’re just running through it, running through it, running through it. That usually kind of jars their system and, also, they just get so hilarious, you know, so they just love it. You just try and keep the chaos contained to make sure nothing goes flying one way or the other and you just run through the whole thing on crack speed, as they like to say, and I think it was the kids that came up with that name but it works. It works because they’re going so fast that they’re not even thinking about it anymore. They’re flying and it really is really funny, to be honest. Even as a teacher, it’s nice to have that moment where you just get to laugh because you’re tired of the same lines, too. It always helps.

Lindsay: And it’s important for everyone to remember that, you know, it’s play. It’s supposed to be fun.

Holly: Exactly.

Lindsay: It can get pretty much to drudgery if you don’t watch out, can’t it?

Holly: Oh, yeah, it can get snake-bit very fast where suddenly everything is just ugh. Sorry, I speak in sound effects – sounds.

Lindsay: That’s all right. I’ll say sometimes I go ping! So, it’s all good.

And I think too that, going really fast like that, you’re going to see pretty quickly who’s having trouble with their lines and who’s not.

Holly: Yeah.

Lindsay: Because it’s in those out-of-step sort of rehearsals where you’re not sort of in the same routine – even in the movement too – that things get ajar. How do you handle students who have trouble with lines?

Holly: Well, it depends on the kid. The kid that is very studious, you have them just literally write them many times and that helps them. The kid that just needs extra work, just needs extra help, you just run them – when he’s not on stage, he’s running, he’s running his lines. Sometimes, you have to just tell them the importance of this kind of thing.

And I may have been more of a stickler because I did write the lines so I’m like, “Hey, no, no, no! I know that line. You know, that is incorrect and we don’t do paraphrasing because the writer wrote them for a reason.” So, I think it just depends on the kid. But the most important thing is just that they understand how important this is – that other people are relying on them and that they have to know their lines to act their lines. Until they know their lines, they are just reciting from memory. They’re trying to pull back from their memory. They’re not acting yet even. They may have never been acting until they know their lines.

Lindsay: When you do that, you are instilling in a student, at a young age, respect, aren’t you? Respect for the theatre. Respect for your peers. Respect for the process. You know, whether or not they’re a great actor is moot when you can instil that in a young actor, isn’t it?

Holly: Yes, you can’t see it but I’m nodding the whole time you were saying that. Very much so. Sometimes, I would forget how young they are because they’re doing such a big thing and I think that it’s important to do such a big thing at that age so that no one underestimates them.

Lindsay: Again, it’s that balance because you can’t forget they’re kids but why not give them something big to handle?

Holly: Exactly. I never dumb down with those kids because they’re at such an important age. Middle school is a huge deal. They’re at the beginning of abstract thought. They’re deciding who they’re going to be. I’ve got to tell you, by the time they get into high school, they often have already decided who they are going to be – at least for high school – and it’s a moment to get in there and make really great human beings. I mean, that’s a big calling but that’s what it is.

Lindsay: It’s a big responsibility. It’s one not to be taken lightly, I think.

Holly: No, no.

Lindsay: Awesome. All right. Oh, that gave me just a little chill. I like that. Love that!

All right, let’s just end on getting ready for the show. You know, it must be quite the feat to put fifty-plus kids through a dress rehearsal, get them all ready for that performance moment. How is that herding? How do you get them ready?

Holly: It’s a madhouse. It’s an utter madhouse. Sometimes, it comes down to just the faith that you know it’s going to happen. You know, the show will go on because it does. So, you just have to get it through.

I said earlier that I worked with my mother. My mother is actually the costumer and producer of all the productions that I’ve ever done so that’s an extra interesting little layer on top of that. And, as the costumer, she was always dealing with that craziness and there’s nothing funnier than to see one of your young actors put on literally every costume they have. Like, they have three costumes but they put them all at once so they’ve got, like, six vests on, all these other weird things, and you’re like, “No, no, just this costume.” It is an utter madhouse but you just have to have faith that all that rehearsal that you did beforehand will kick in and you just have to get the logistics in. You have to just get through it. Get to the actual performance. It just takes a couple of shows to know that it will always work out.

Lindsay: Yeah, for sure.

Holly: Borrowing some, like, act of God, it will always work out.

Lindsay: What’s your number one tip for a middle school teacher who is faced with a plus-fifty cast?

Holly: Go with the flow. I would say go with the flow and adapt because, with fifty-plus kids, it’s never going to go as you planned but oftentimes it will be better than you planned because those kids will bring new things to the characters that you had no idea were even in there and that’s coming from a director who wrote her shows. I had no idea a character was a certain way until a kid played it.

So, the show will go on and adapt.

Lindsay: Awesome. So, on that note, let’s talk about The Pauper Princess a little bit.

So, this is a retelling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper. But this time I think it’s pretty clear we have two girls in the two original boys’ parts and I think that’s pretty obvious. There’s always more girls than guys, aren’t there?

Holly: Yes.

Lindsay: Absolutely. Also, you’ve added a nice little spin too because it takes place in Shakespearean time. Why that?

Holly: Yes. Well, when I was first reading The Prince and The Pauper – and I love Mark Twain, he is so funny – there was, like, one line about the Prince’s sister, Elizabeth, and I was sitting there going, “Wait a minute. Does he mean Queen Elizabeth?” You know, the mother of Shakespearean theatre? The patron of Shakespeare? And there’s even those conspiracy theories that she wrote Shakespeare’s works herself.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Holly: You know, just kind of took that and ran with it because it was, frankly, it was just fun to go into Shakespeare. I mean, who doesn’t love Shakespeare in theatre? It’s the origin, you know. It was fun to have that kind of reference humor with Shakespeare and to bring up the Tudors which is always a lot of drama.

Lindsay: There’s never a dull moment.

Holly: Yeah, never a dull moment and it all kind of came together. It was also, I will say though, that there was a need to do The Prince and The Pauper with the female character because there are so many girls that try out for these shows so I wanted to do that twist but I also wanted it to have a purpose.

Lindsay: Well, what I like about it too is that we always get to see Queen Elizabeth, right? We always get to see her after she’s on the throne and she looks a very specific way.

Holly: Very scary.

Lindsay: Yeah! Here, it’s like teenage Elizabeth.

Holly: Exactly.

Lindsay: And she’s a young girl and that is so, you know, it’s very relevant. So, that, obviously, if you haven’t caught on, guys, the princess in The Prince and The Pauper, The Princess and the Pauper is Queen Elizabeth as a young girl dealing with the fact that people keep trying to marry her off and that she would rather not have all the constraints of being a princess and everything that’s happening around her in her own life with her dad and Henry VIII and her brother and seals and then switching parts, you know, switching identities with a young pauper who’s just trying to get ahead who, you know, was willing to resort to pretending to be a boy and being in a play because that’s the worst thing that could happen to a person.

Holly: That’s right.

Lindsay: So, what was your students’ response to this scenario?

Holly: Well, some of them – like, the gifted kids – caught on very quickly because they were learning it in History and they’re like, “Wait a minute. These are real people, aren’t they?” and I was like, “Yes, they are. They are real people.” Some of the other kids who were really sweet, we were on the eve of performance and they’re like, “Wait a second. Queen Elizabeth’s a real person?” I’m like, “Yeah!”

Lindsay: Oh, dear.

Holly: It was lots of fun for both kids because they would suddenly realize that they were a part of something bigger because then they learned the history and that was big for me as a history buff. I love putting real bits, you know, real bits of history into something more fanciful. I would say that was really the most fun of it – those kids that suddenly had that moment. One kid – I’m trying to remember which one – she later did a history report on her character specifically. So, I think that’s fun to put that love of history in the kids, too.

Lindsay: Well, this way, they’re participating in it as opposed to reading about something that happened a long time ago. They’re actually in the middle of it.

Holly: Yeah, talk about immersing yourself into the history.

Lindsay: I love plays that do that naturally, you know, because the thing to always remember is that this is not a history brochure or a textbook. It’s a play and play has to be the main focus and the main fun.

Holly: They can tell when they’re being taught to.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Holly: They could see that moment and they’re like, “Wait a minute.”

Lindsay: Well, I see plays like that all the time. You know, it’s like, “Oh, here it is. Here’s the teaching moment.”

Holly: Yeah, you can even almost hear the music in the background going to the teaching moment.

Lindsay: And, somehow, they never end up in our catalogue. I don’t know what it is.

So, in this play, what’s really wonderful too is that you have a whole notion about how, look, you could do the costuming period, right? But you can also do it with modern themes, you know? Like anachronistic choices like, you know, Converse sneakers or sunglasses that make it an obvious comedy, and I think that that kind of choice is really good for a lot of middle school teachers who might not have any background. Maybe they’re actors. Maybe they have a little bit of directing.

But many of them have no of that other stuff that goes into making the play and, you know, sure, you can do it with all the bangs and whistles. But you know what? You can just sort of put this play on and you obviously had some costuming. You had a mom. But what about all that other stuff about getting your sets put together?

Holly: Well, I think I was very lucky. I actually come from a visual arts background before I even went into writing so I was able to do the sets and my mother did the costuming – she is the queen of costuming. It was actually quite funny to try and get her to put some of those anachronistic things in there. I said, “Why don’t we put some Converse on them?” She’s like, “What? No! You must be wearing boots! That is not of the period!”

Lindsay: Well, the picture of the two girls that you sent us, well, the costumes are beautiful.

Holly: She’s very good.

Lindsay: What would you say to that teacher who doesn’t have anything, you know? What’s really important here?

Holly: Well, I’ll say what I’ve always said to my mother, actually, and that is that the story comes first and the plot comes first because, of course, when I was saying that to my mother, it’s usually because she’s like, “Well, they can’t sit on the ground because they’re wearing white pants,” or something. I’d be like, “You know what, Mom? The story comes first. They have to sit on the ground.” So, if the story isn’t acted properly. It doesn’t matter what they’re wearing. They could be wearing pure gold but, if it’s not acted right, it’s not worth it.

So, yes, the costuming is wonderful and fun and the kids love it. But, if you don’t have that at your disposal, just have fun and add a little fun touches that you can in the accessories and things like that that make them feel like the character. But, really, it comes down to the acting. Technically, this whole thing could be done in a black box situation which is just, you know, nothing. It’s all about the imagination because technically that’s how Shakespeare did it.

I mean, Shakespeare did it with basically no costumes. They used hand-me-downs from people that were higher up. There wasn’t costuming. It was all about what they were saying and that’s way more important than the costuming. Don’t tell my mother that I said that.

Lindsay: And, Holly, you can’t see me either but I’m sitting here nodding. I’m like, “No one can see me but I’m totally agreeing,” and that’s a perfect note to end on here.

So, this is Holly Beardsley who has written a wonderful, wonderful play called The Pauper Princess. Check it out.

Thank you so much for talking to me today!

Holly: Thank you! That was fun!

Thank you, Holly!

So, the links for this episode can be found at theatrefolk.com/episode111.

Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS!

It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!

So, we heard Holly talk about her play, The Pauper Princess. So, let’s hear something from it!

What I love about this script so much is the humor. It is light but it’s smart. It’s fun and, yes, there is a cast of thousands.

So, to recap, the play is based on Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper and is set in Elizabethan England. In fact, Elizabeth is the princess in the title. So, I’m going to read a scene between the two of them – Elizabeth and Theresa who is the pauper – and when they first meet. Elizabth has gone to see a show and Theresa is pretending to be a man just so that she can get a job. That’s what it takes to get a job in this place, you need to pretend to be a guy. So, that’s where Theresa is coming from.

THERESA: Your highness! Princess Elizabeth!

ELIZABETH: Arise, arise! I know you, do I not?

THERESA: No, no – I am nothing but a lowly player.

ELIZABETH: You’re the girl in the square, aren’t you?

THERESA: No. a young man performer, your highness. Don’t let the dress fool you, your majesty. Don’t let the eye patch fool you either… two eyes! Two eyes to see the ladies with… because I’m a man… who likes ladies… Oh, yes, it’s true! I am the girl in the square! I am so, so, so sorry, Princess! Please forgive me! Please don’t hang me all ‘cause I wore pants! They were completely uncomfortable – not worth it! I am so sorry! Forgive me!

ELIZABETH: Oh, calm yourself, girl. I have no intention of hanging you. Calm yourself! Arise, arise! Why did you wave to me this morning? Do we know each other?

THERESA: I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to wave! I’m always doing that! Waving to people I don’t know. Father Andrew always chastised me for waving to people above my station! Mercy, forgive me! Please don’t hang me for waving!

ELIZABETH: Calm yourself! I’m not going to hang you! Stand up for goodness sake! You did wave to me, yes? Not that again! Stand up nice and tall – don’t speak. Nod or shake your head, got it? You were the girl in the square, yes? You live in London then? Near the palace? You work in Asinus’ troupe as a play? But they don’t know that you are a girl? But how do you do it? How do you escape without your servants noticing?

THERESA: Servants? I don’t have any servants.

ELIZABETH: No servants? But who brings you food? Who dresses and undresses you?

THERESA: I bring myself food. Whenever there is any food to be had. As for dressing and undressing, Father Andrew taught me well. I’m a good religious girl. Nobody’s undressing me.

ELIZABETH: No, no, no! Not that kind of undressing. Who helps you change your attire from day to evening or when you go to sleep? Who helps you into your sleeping gown?

THERESA: I only really have the one dress. Then there’s the vest and the trousers I stole – borrowed – from the Dandelion theatre. My sisters, Bet and Nan, helped me into those.

ELIZABETH: Only one dress? But what do you wear to see suitors?

THERESA: I don’t have any suitors.

ELIZABETH: No candidates for marriage?

THERESA: There is this one boy who delivers firewood – he cuts firewood all day so he has big arms like tree trunks. But also a pretty face with big blue eyes. Sometimes I let him sit with me. Sometimes he brings me an apple.

ELIZABETH: And this boy, he is an important political connection to your father?

THERESA: No, I just like him. I never knew my father.

ELIZABETH: You like him? Because of his big arms?

THERESA: No, I’d say more because of his eyes, and the apples he brings me.

ELIZABETH: No one picked him for you?

THERESA: Nope.

ELIZABETH: And you can go anywhere you like? I suppose you go on many adventures.

THERESA: All my adventures involve finding food. I’m sure you have much more fun here, princess! All the music and dress and food! It’s like a dream!

ELIZABETH: A dream you can’t wake up from.

THERESA: Beg your pardon, princess.

ELIZABETH: Nothing. You are quite lucky, my dear. What is your real name?

THERESA: Theresa Canty. Thomas Canty is my stage name.

ELIZABETH: Miss Canty, you are luckier than you know. Theresa, are you sure we do not know each other? You seem so familiar to me… I don’t… believe it…

THERESA: What?

ELIZABETH: Come, I want to try something!

That’s The Pauper Princess by Holly Beardsley. So, go to the show notes, click on the link, and read more.

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, and you can find us on the Stitcher app and you can also subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you’ve got to do is search on the word “Theatrefolk.”

That’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

About the author

Lindsay Price

2 Comments

  • Thank you for this. I’m directing two 30 minutes plays at the moment with 50 4th-8th graders…….I could relate to every aspect of what you had to say. I feel so much better now knowing that I’m not the only one who thinks and acts the way I do. This was an awesome podcast for me to read-though.

  • ah yes. Now in 9th year of doing this — but with 2nd – 7th graders.
    Current show, Little Mermaid Jr. — cast of 80.
    Previous show, Lion King Jr. — cast of 98.
    previous year – both shows casts of 60+.

    done with much help from many people, but so much joy to see them realize they can do it.

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