Today marks a first for my kids: Together with all of the kids of our Learning Centre, they'll be a part of four performances, over the next three days, of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Hundreds of tickets have been sold, costumes and sets are ready, and the play's looking pretty darn good! My kids have very small roles, and only Matthew has a few lines, but they've been a part of it from the beginning (in early January) until today.
The practice schedule has been growing in intensity over the past few months, and for the past two weeks we've been at rehearsal every day, for hours. Everyone's pretty tired and a little testy, and tempers are fraying around the edges. But the kids have done it and I'm so proud of all of them.
This morning, though, the kids and I are relaxed - we're hanging out in PJs at home and watching tv...just waiting for the day's activities to begin. We have to be at the theatre early afternoon, to do a last run-through, and then the opening night is tonight at 7:00. There are two performances tomorrow, and a final one on Thursday afternoon. Then there's the after-party for our Learning Centre families on Thursday evening. And on Friday morning, the kids and I will be back in pyjamas and will stay that way until at least noon!
It'll be nice to get back to our usual life in a few days - everything has been hijacked these last weeks, getting ready. Hijacked in a good, but all-consuming way. All of the moms have had big jobs to do, too: Play directors; costuming (my word we have skilled costumers and seamstresses in our group); props and sets; marketing; cooking for the masses so that the others can focus on the play jobs; program design; writing bios of each of the kids to put up with their pictures outside of the theatre; and so many other jobs that moms have just taken over and completed!
When we joined the Learning Centre in fall, I was anxious about these weeks - it was my biggest anxiety point, actually. I didn't know how the kids would respond, I didn't know how to juggle our usual other activities around this big one, I didn't know how much 'value' my kids would get out of it, I didn't know how any of us would handle any of it. It's been a seven-year tradition for our LC to put on a Shakespeare production in spring and so I knew that we would be involved...I just had no idea what that would look like for our family, and the impact it would have.
But the kids have learned and grown so much. I have two young children whose first language isn't English, one of whom still struggles with vocabulary and grammar and language retrieval - and although they don't have speaking parts this year, my two little Ethiopian-born children come home at the end of the day and recite other people's lines verbatim as they act out scene after scene, using Shakespearean language and loving it and understanding it! My oldest and most sensitive, with so few lines, has worked through huge anxiety about being on stage and so visible, and has come out excited and ready to go. They are all three fully, fully engaged with what's happening today and the rest of this week, and are totally pumped about it. They've learned about how theatre and rehearsals work; they've learned the painstaking progress that needs to be made line by line, movement by movement to get from the beginning to the end point of a run-through; they've learned how to stand/sit still as watchmen and how to move/think like servants; they've learned that once a run-through is complete, it needs to be done again...and again, and that they need to make adjustments along the way and to remember all of the changes and which exit/entrance they are to make that's different than the time before; they've learned about teamwork and have watched more experienced kids work at memorizing an incredible number of lines in their larger roles; they've watched as pretty much every kid (including themselves) have struggled through being sick with the flu and still coming to practice and croaking out their lines; they've had to work through conflicts with peers as tempers have frayed and energy has faltered; they've seen a group of moms working hard together to make this all come together; they've had the opportunity to be mentored by older, more experienced kids in the LC; they've had lots and lots of opportunity to be involved in our incredible in-house acting classes (led by moms who have more skill at this stuff in their pinkie fingers than I will ever have in my lifetime!); they've been interviewed and filmed on camera by two professional documentary guys who have been coming to rehearsals off and on for months because they're preparing a documentary about our acting troupe; they've gone through daily team-building and trust-building warm-up exercises; they've actively participated in seven or eight improv classes to get them used to performing; they've eaten lunches and snacks with their peers and parents every day for the past couple of weeks and twice a week for six weeks before that; they've have come home exhausted and energized and sometimes frustrated and always with a gazillion questions and comments; they've fitted costumes and experienced the rush of excitement that comes from being on stage in full dress; and on and on.
It's been a huge learning! Talk about school in action...life learning!
My role has been rather minimal, truth be told. I've occasionally felt a little on the side lines, being new both to the Learning Centre this year and to this whole Shakespeare production experience. I have no experience in theatre and am frankly in awe of the other other moms who do these things that seem so foreign to me and who are so amazing at bringing out the best in the kids. I've picked up odd jobs here and there (from errand running to ironing fabric and bits of marketing), and every day for the past two weeks another mom and I have shopped for, and prepared lunches and snacks for 38 people so that their entire focus could be on the play.
But it's been a learning experience for me, too, in so many ways, and mostly a relief, given my anxiety in fall about how this would all come together. It's been relationship-deepening with the kids and moms of the LC (and there's not really a better way to build attachment with a large group of kids than to have the opportunity to feed them good food for a couple of weeks!).
And mostly what I see is the solidifying of community. During the two years prior to joining the LC, those years when I had switched to a looser, unschooling approach towards educating the kids (what felt like a huge gamble at the time), I was really needing and seeking more of a community of like-minded people. I needed, and felt like the kids needed, a group of people that we could meet with regularly, really regularly, and get to know, and get to support and be supported by. Prior to that, we had developed wonderful friendships with other homeschooling families, and they are still wonderful friends. But it still somehow felt a little like we were all little silos, functioning independently of each other and getting together whenever we could. I needed community more regularly, if that makes sense; particularly given that I felt out on a limb with the change in direction to a more unschooly approach. I needed for us to feel like we had a place to go, a community to take part in on a consistent basis. It feels like that for us now. It feels like we have some roots dug in. And it's a good feeling.
So as we launch ourselves into three final days of Romeo and Juliet, as the kids and I get to do something entirely new to us, I'm excited. And so excited for my kids. These days the conversations around our house revolve around everything Shakespeare and theatre, and today anticipating the stage they'll be performing on, the kids can hardly wait to see what it means to be on a real stage, with wings and a green room in the back for waiting in between scenes, to experience what it's like to be under stage lighting, and to have an audience.
Break a leg, my darlings!
"For never was a story of more woe [t]han this of Juliet and her Romeo." (5.3.317-318)