The show must go on: An inside look as St. Paul Johnson cast rehearses multiple roles in Shakespeare tribute

Editor’s Note: This story was reported in September, before the school performed the play.

At St. Paul Johnson, five students will act out every character in a Shakespeare theater production this fall.

Those are the only students who stepped forward to act in the play. But the show must go on.

The cast and crew of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” are still willing to put on the production, despite a lack of participation and challenging schedules.

Students say they still enjoy the process. With a limited number of people willing to participate in theater, planning a production can become more technical and complex, according to Mark Fisher, a theater and English teacher at St. Paul Johnson.

“It’s hard to figure out where everything goes when you have only a small number of cast,” Fisher said after a September rehearsal.

Students at St. Paul Johnson High School rehearse in October for “The Complete Works of WIlliam Shakespeare (abridged).” The play, which was expected to have five actors play nearly 40 characters, was scheduled to open on Nov. 21. (Dang Her/ThreeSixty Journalism)

The student cast rehearsed after school two days a week. For this play, the script got cut down and actors took on multiple roles. Five people planned to take on a play with 38 characters.

The students say it’s difficult to figure out how everything is going to work out. Even though the process of putting on the show can be hectic, the outcome will be worth it, they say.

Theater has taught senior Gabriela Huerta to become more comfortable and open around others, she said.

“If it wasn’t for theater, I couldn’t be me,” Huerta said. “It makes me feel like I have a voice of my own.”

PaDee Thao, a junior in the production, said, “It taught me to not cover myself and to project myself.”

During an after-school rehearsal in September, students are on stage reading their lines. They’re trying to pronounce Shakespeare’s words correctly, but long, difficult words from the 16th century can be challenging for students.

Fisher sits in the front row, watching students rehearse lines and giving feedback. In between each scene, Fisher alters the play in some way to make it more modern. The cast also alters lines to make them easier to pronounce with a Scottish accent, a running joke in the play.

“We would change the wording of the lines to make it easier for me to pronounce,” said Thao.
As rehearsal continues, students memorize more lines from new characters. Each student actor plays several characters in the play.

When students seem uncomfortable on stage, Fisher stops everything and gives examples to help the students improve. Often, he uses movie references to make his point clear.

The cast rehearses a scene over and over again, until it’s close to perfection, before moving on to a new scene.

The students revise scripts during rehearsals to help them when practicing at home. The students spend anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours, they say, going over lines and getting the motions correct at home.

With so much acting taking place on stage, the tech crew is nowhere to be seen. It turns out the crew works on a different schedule than the cast.

“We just build the sets for the stage,” said Julie Cheng, a member of the all-female tech crew. “The only time we would communicate with the cast is during show time.”

Not only do members of the tech crew make sets, but they also run the soundtracks and lighting and work at the ticket stands, according to Cheng.

Through the student cast and crew’s experiences, they’ve learned more about themselves and learned many skills that will come in handy for the future, students say.

“I enjoy doing it because it’s fun and it’s creative,” Cheng said, “but it’s a lot of work.”

As of October, the play was set to open on Nov. 21 and run through Nov. 22.

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