November-December 2007 Selected Content
Directing a Homeschool Play - Nathan Colpitts
Direct: to request or instruct with authority; to show or point out the way.
That's the Merriam-Webster definition. It looks easy when it's written out like that and I've had my share of direction. That's why, when the mothers of our homeschool group found a script online, they asked me to direct a homeschool group production. I thought, Why not? I know what a play should look like on stage and I know these kids, almost as though I'm a big brother to them. So I took the project on.
Before we began rehearsals, the moms asked whether I'd want help. Not to diss parents or anything, but homeschool moms tend to take control, and because I'm "rebellious," I decided I didn't need or want any help. I could do this on my own. The kids would take my direction. I knew what I was doing, and we could pull together everything we needed on our own.
We began rehearsals in mid-October with high hopes of a performance in mid-December. Since we'd had the script all summer, everyone knew what parts they wanted, but we were still missing some principal characters. I volunteered to be one, and we managed to double up roles until we filled all the parts. We were off.
I quickly realized it would be nearly impossible to direct this by myself. I enlisted the older kids and those who had acted before to help me with the younger, less experienced kids. Ages ranged from seven all the way up to me, seventeen. For the younger, ones, as I look back, it was quite a burden to give them. They had mostly never acted before and a few of them couldn't even read.
I stressed the fact that lines needed to be memorized, and by the fourth rehearsal everyone had learned them reasonably well with little or no goading from me. Even those who couldn't read, with the aid of their parents, learned the lines well. I was surprised.
We rehearsed on the day our homeschool group normally met, and the kids, far from seeming excited about doing the play, as they had been when the idea had first been put forth, now seemed to want to do anything but rehearse. It took me at least fifteen minutes to get everyone together. Once I had them together we could start and, after only an hour, people were bored with working on the scenes I had set to be worked on.
This trend continued into November. Our show was scheduled for December. Everyone knew their lines, but no one knew where they needed to be on stage. The situation was not made easier by the fact that a few of our actors were younger and weren't exactly great at paying attention. When we reached mid-November, I asked some of the kids who had acted before if they thought we could put on the full play in December. "No way!" Most everyone knew their lines, but we had no props and we'd never even set foot on stage. On top of that no one could remember their blocking (where they needed to be on stage).
The parents questioned my judgment; they wondered whether we'd be able to do it on our own. I reminded them that these were their kids and if I was sure they could do it, the parents should be too. They questioned whether we should scrap the project, and although I considered it many times, I held fast.
We scrubbed a December performance. Despite my promise to the moms, I knew we needed more time. January 26 was set as the date. We hadn't rehearsed on stage, we had next to none of the props and costumes were lacking. I began to push the kids, stressing things that needed work. They really began to come together. I wasn't sure if it would be a great production, but it might be passable.
I enlisted the help of a couple non-actors in the group to begin assembling the needed props. Most of this was done with minimal help from the mothers of the group, a fact which I'm not sure they enjoyed. You see, homeschool mothers like to be involved in all aspects of their children's lives, but I wanted the kids to do it on their own so I put my foot down.
December went by fast, what with not having rehearsals during Christmas break. January jumped upon us like a merciless predator. We still hadn't touched a stage and it looked as though we wouldn't until three days before the performance.
All through January we rehearsed in people's houses and in the gym where the homeschool group met. These were trying times for the whole cast. They were getting better but beautiful weather and new snow made it hard to concentrate.
Finally we had the stage and lights. The props had only just come together and I still had to train a stage crew. We were cutting it close.
The first two days rehearsals lasted only long enough for us to run the play once. The actors were getting used to the stage, and all the time I had to stop the actors to help the stage crew.
Performance day arrived. We were going to rehearse for five hours or so, but I wasn't so sure that would be enough. Everything was rough. The kids, being kids, were rambunctious and I doubted they could concentrate for five hours. There were far better things to do, like play hide 'n seek.
We worked hard, and we pulled together--slow but sure. I still had to shout to get people on stage, or spend five minutes looking for someone, but as far as acting went it was much better. Good enough to go on that night?
As the audience took their seats I gave a quick speech and started the show. When the first few scenes went off without a hitch everyone relaxed a little. The stage crew was on top of things and actors entered and exited on time. It all worked out. Then it was over.
I went out to talk to the audience. They all liked it! I was amazed, we really had done well.
As the after-party ended and we began to clear the building of all the accoutrements of acting, one of the mothers came up to me. She was amazed I'd pulled it all together, and she wanted me to write a piece to show that a bunch of homeschoolers, just the kids, could put on a show and a darn good one at that.
So that's the moral of the story. We went, in a few months, from a rag tag group of kids not really wanting to do a play, many with no acting experience, without a stage or props or costumes, to a play that went as well as I could have hoped.
If we can do it, anyone can. In fact, I recommend it. Everyone involved (including the parents) learned something. That's what homeschooling is all about.
© 2007, Nathan Colpitts