Behind the Scenes: Shakespeare Students Film Twelfth Night

Upper School English Teacher Tex Tourais wrote the following reflection that speaks to the ways our School community comes together in support of students.

The idea for the project is really the simplest thing: film the Fine Arts department’s production of Twelfth Night, or What You Will, so that the each senior in the Shakespeare’s Plays English elective can edit a significant scene in a way that articulates his/her perspective on that scene and how it fits into the play as a whole. This would not only provide an excellent learning
opportunity for the English class but provide a historical document of the production.

To pull this off, however, required the support of four different groups and highlights the collaborative spirit of the faculty and staff. The first thing that has to happen is that a school needs to have a drama department that is producing plays of value and that has the technical capability to mic 16 cast members and provide clean audio. You also need to have a director who is willing to open the doors to his final dress rehearsal and have around 14 additional students and teachers in the house the night before the play goes up. Luckily, Patrick Huber is that kind of director and MICDS is the kind of school that was willing to put substantial investment into renovating Orthwein two years ago and putting in a new wireless sound system. The question then becomes, do we have the resources to pair that audio with hi-def video from multiple angles to provide the students something to work with?

To answer that question, we put in a tech request. From there, Tom Wyman, head of the tech department, began assembling his team and the necessary resources. Dan Sadicario, advisor forthe Ram Report, the student video journalism club, also became involved. As it turned out, the tech department already had a professional-grade camera that it could hook up to the portable sound board the drama department had to provide the foundation for the project: a wide angle master shot of the entire stage with high grade audio. The Ram Report came through with five more hi-def cameras and four tripods in order to record two mid-range angles, from stage right and stage left, and three close-up angles.

With the resources in place, it then became an issue of facilitating student involvement. The one thing I can say about the students at MICDS is that they are very invested in supporting each other. Whereas a student might not care about Orsino’s motivations when reading his lines on the page, the second Alex Bush ’15 steps out as Orsino and dressed as a Sgt. Pepper’s-era John Lennon by Carolyne Hood, they instantly recognize the significance of Alex’s courage in taking on that role, and it gives value to the text. As a result, when I informed the class that I wanted some students available to film the final full dress rehearsal from 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break—a task that was not mandatory and would not be graded in any way—all 14 students became invested. Of those kids, three were already in the play, and the other 11 committed without question or complaint. We met in Orthwein during class on Tuesday to set up, and Anne Brown from the Admissions department happened to poke her head in with two prospective parents she was leading on a tour. This is what was happening on that day:

On a beautifully psychedelic, 60s-era stage Patrick Huber is walking Arielle Waks ’13, Rachel Martin ’13 and Tally Portnoi ’13 through his perspective on Twelfth Night to facilitate their ability to anticipate key moments while filming. Dan Sadicario squats in front of a jumble of video equipment, surrounded by George Reynolds ’13, Olivia Gacka ’13, Elise Elliott ’13, Tori Peacock ’13, Madi Hovis ’13 and Emily Ruskey ’13 who are being trained in the finer aspects of shot selection. The head of the tech department, Tom Wyman, and Adam Cain are at the master camera and sound board prepping Girija Hariprasad ’13 for her oversight of the master shot. Meanwhile, I’m passing a tripod and stool up to Dennis Shultz ’13 and Natalie Newman ’13 who are in one of the coves (holes in the side walls of the stage about a story typically used for lighting) preparing their shot.

After that was completed, Katie Voss and Colleen Williamson, who sponsor the yearbook, found out about the project and alerted their photo editor, Delaney Edison ’14, who committed to showing up at 7:00 p.m. to document the event.

During the actual filming, everything went off without a hitch. Girija knew what she need to do, the tech components did what they were supposed to, and Dan Sadicario was on the ground trouble-shooting and filming the sixth angle himself. This was good because I had to be up in the booth man the sound board. Actors talk backstage, and we couldn’t have that chatter on the audio, so we needed someone with knowledge of the play to bring the mics up and pull them back down as actors entered and exited. This was the first time I had ever worked a board, but with some instruction from Patrick Huber and the help of cues from stage manager Nicki Werner ’14 who was working with Katherine Bush ’13 on lighting, I was able to get the job done. I also was allowed to listen in on the communication that occurs between director, assistant director and lighting during the production, and that was an eye-opener. These two young women, who had never studied the play in an English classroom, knew Twelfth Night backward and forward and brought an academic playfulness to the proceedings. They called out their cues while commenting on the action and singing along to some of Feste’s songs: I never would have guessed that working backstage would produce that kind of understanding and engagement with the text, itself. It was a real testament to how much, both in terms of skills and content, the kids get out of working with Patrick Huber and Carolyne Hood.

Another great student interaction came after the production when we were breaking down the cameras and getting them put away. Rachel Martin ’12 who had been filming from the cove on stage left, asked about the significance of Malvolio, played by Sam Archie ’14 who doesn’t have that many scenes in the play but who looms larger over the production, and that lead to great discussion between myself and four other students on the nature of Renaissance comedy, the Lord of Misrule and the dynamic between Malvolio and Feste, played by Madi Cupp-Enyard ’16. Note that my class is currently studying The Merchant of Venice. We don’t even begin Twelfth Night for a month, and the class is already question critical elements of the play and preparing themselves for the final assessment. The amount of knowledge that the students will already have about plot and character before we even start to read the play will mean that no class time will be wasted on foundational elements, and we can jump straight to theme, performative aspects and historical significance.

Now that the film is shot, Elizabeth Helfant will step to the fore to support the transfer from film to digital as we upload the tapes to three different Macs in the computer lab and set-up the editing software which is the same software used in the industry.

So: what, then, was required of the community to pull of the simple task of filming a performance of Twelfth Night? I needed the commitment of four members of the tech department to put in some extra time the day before Thanksgiving break and to support the editing process. I also needed that department to already possess some relatively substantial pieces of hardware. I needed the drama department to also commitment their time and their sound equipment to the project. I had to have the backing of English department chair and the support of both the Ram Report and Yearbook. Finally, I needed the students to be willing to give up a night of their vacation to try something they had never done before. All told, that’s 9 adults, who were asked to contribute to a class that had limited to no responsibility toward 14 students.