"Does everyone have their props?"
"Emma has my fan, Stephanie."
"No I don't. This is mine. It was underneath my costume."
"No that's mine. I left it on the couch and you put your costume on top of it."
"Ladies," I shout reminding myself to use my teaching voice and not my directing voice, "Will everyone who uses a fan raise their hand." Five hands fly in the air. "And now will you raise your fans." Four fans wave in the air. Damn. I had spent two hours making those things. No matter. We've got five minutes til showtime.
"Okay, no fans. Repeat, no fans. You'll have to work without them."
I am met with a wave of whines in response to this and I quickly raise my hand and widen my eyes which I'm sure are wild with slight panic, "NO FANS! Now, places, please. Places for top of the show."
"Thank you, places," grumble my students as they quickly run backstage. The next three minutes are a mess as I frantically locate two costume pieces, three props, and one script, I find a plastic baggie for one lost tooth and thank god that no blood has gotten onto the white fabric of her costume and then, suddenly, it's time. I step out front of the curtain to address the audience of parents, relatives and children. They are here to see some Shakespeare and, by golly, that's what we're gonna give them. I smile, slightly nervous. Who knew there would be this many people here. Not I!
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. Your children have worked so very hard these last few weeks and I am very proud of their efforts. Now, without further ado, I present to you The Adventures of Pericles!" and with that I am offstage, shocked at the silence I find there and suddenly I take notice of the round scared wide eyed faces that surround me. They are nervous, too!
"Hey guys," I whisper, "Take a deep breath with me, okay? Breath into your bellies, good! Don't worry. You got this. You're so ready. So get out there and do old Billy Shakespeare proud! Break a leg!" And they smile, looking relieved, and we begin.
They are good, well, for the most part. They forget some lines and they say the ones they do remember staring out at the audience with ridiculous smiles on their faces. But then Georgia remembers to make a joke and the audience laughs and the kids start to relax and then they are actually having fun.
"Yet cease your ire, you angry stars of heaven!" cries little Emilio dropping all the r sounds and speaking in a high falsetto voice which makes no sense to his character but somehow that's how he speaks onstage and for now it is nothing but cute.
Then Henry enters. Sweet sweet Henry with his obsessive compulsive disorder and his ADHD which is assures me he "probably has, no doubt" and his gentle eyes. Henry and his sensitive nature, insisting that he should play the lead, "Don't you think?". And when I insisted he must play the King Simonedes for he was the more complex character and only Henry could possibly be able to handle the task, Henry agreed asking only for a moment to "compose himself". All this at age seven.
He takes the stage now bouncing with energy, his voice screeching as he rushes through his lines, crying out with happiness and joy. I've never seen him so free and I feel myself smiling hopefully that this is what his future can hold for him.
And then the mistakes. The First Knight running backstage in the middle of the scene to grab his goblet, the whispering of a line over and over until the actor remembers it's his, the use of one fan even after my reminders backstage that they were to be abandoned. All par for the course really.
And then they are bowing and their families are cheering and I'm standing backstage cheering right along with them, only a few tears escaping from my eyes. Because I know how this feels. I know how theatre, Shakespeare in particular, can change one's life. Can effect you. And I'm so privileged to be a part of that for these kids.
It feels great.