Bunkasai (文化祭 – Culture Festival) is now just 2 days away. The main thing the ALTs at this school have to work on for this day is English Play, which is put on by the English Course. The goal is to do a 40-minute play entirely in English. In the past they’ve done things like The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. Last year, they did High School Musical 2, after having done the first one the previous year.

Now, it seems to me that the ALT’s role in “helping” has never been clearly defined. I know we’re supposed to help them read their lines, telling them how to pronounce difficult words, or explain to them difficult culture points, such as the meaning of sarcastic lines like “Her Highness awaits.” At the end of rehearsals, we’re asked to give comments. But beyond that, are we expected to stay hands-off so it’s a greater learning experience for the kids, since they pretty much do everything themselves? When they give totally flat readings and the director doesn’t make them do a scene over, are we supposed to stay mum? Or are we expected to guide them, since for the most part, the teachers who are “in charge” of the kids after school are hardly ever at rehearsal and the kids don’t actually know what they’re doing? When I ask the directors, they pretty much always say “yes” to any offers of help I make, yet they never tell me when they’re going to have rehearsal, where, or their overall progress in the play.

So I was mostly hands-off last year. I only intervened when things were getting too out of hand and the directors were obviously not doing anything about it. Considering the super massive amount or rehearsal time that was wasted in private conversations and dawdling, the play wasn’t the hot mess I had feared it would be. Even so, it could have been much better.

The Beginnings: Choosing & Casting

Planning starts, as far as I know, at the end of English Course’s first year. By mid-March, they’ve decided on a play and assigned roles.

I sort of regret secretly telling some of my kids not to do High School Musical 3 for English Play, because they instead picked Camp Rock, a low-budget, made for the Disney Channel movie whose script must’ve been written simply by using find-and-replace on the script of HSM2 to change the names of the characters. Well, I don’t know if it really was my meddling that made them ditch their teacher’s suggestion that they do HSM3. Either way, my main concern is that the audience will think it actually is the same play from last year.

Something I really don’t understand is the casting choices. None of the kids who speak English really well are in the main cast. @_@!?!?! I think the kids decide who they want to play, and there’s only an audition if two or more people want the same role. Everyone else becomes a dancer, stagehand, lighting operator, or audio operator. There’s also 3 directors, but this year, one of the directors is also the leading man. Last year, I remember that we had to have auditions for both male and female leads, as well as three or four others in the main cast. If there were auditions this year, we weren’t asked to judge them.

One kid told me that he chose to be a stagehand because he lived so far away that he wouldn’t be able to stay for rehearsal most of the time. I know many other kids are in sports clubs, and their practice seems to always take precedence over English play practice. We didn’t even rehearse with the whole cast present until last week!

The Script

This year, I think the kids are in a much better position because they seem to have understood from the beginning that they can’t just take a 90-minute movie script and it’s gonna somehow magically turn into a 40-minute script fit for the stage. When they brought me the script to check, they had not only already deleted some scenes, they had taken note of how much time they had removed! Even so, the script was too long, and there were things that were going to be hard to represent on stage, such as the two leads’ scene in a canoe. So I told the directors that same day, “I’m going to rewrite this script so that it’s doable in 40 minutes. You may not agree with the changes I make, so at that point we can meet and discuss it. But first I’m just going to do it.”

Since this time the cast hadn’t gotten the script yet I went ahead and made big changes, such as combining scenes and assigning lines to different characters. Thanks to this, I think I was able to pace the play well this time, more like a stage play than a butchered movie.

Rehearsals

At least, even something as banal as Camp Rock still has lots of natural English and American culture points that are hard to explain, so I gotta respect it for that. It’s easy for these kids to do the snooty dances such as “Too Cool,” because they see lots of that glamor-pop-princess crap here, but the hip-hop-ish track “Hasta La Vista“? Not so much. Most of them just don’t have the attitude for it, not even for fake hip-hop. That said, there’s some first year girls that have it down pat, and one second year boy who I could tell from the beginning had what it took, but until last week he was holding back.

The hardest thing has definitely been trying to get them to put emotion into their lines. They pretty much all just spit out their lines without thinking about the meaning of the words coming out of their mouths. I say to them, “Is that what you sound like when you’re angry?” or “Have you ever been sad?” At this point, I’ve at least gotten them to raise their voices a little when angry and smile during the dances. But I still can’t get anyone save the female lead to lip sync in a halfway decent manner, and I’m sure there’s still tons they don’t understand. Until last week, they didn’t know what “Hasta La Vista” meant and hadn’t bothered to ask, nor realized that the song “Two Stars” was actually the snooty character’s message to the male lead. (E.g. “Can’t you see, can’t you see / There’s never any us / Can’t you see / All we can become / We can shine like the sun / If we believe that two stars are brighter than one.” …and yes, I did just type that from memory. *Gags*)

Now, what I think will save the play from being a snorefest is that there’s two kids, those in the role of Jason and Nate, who actually do play guitar, and jam along on their Stratocasters during “Play My Music” and “We Rock.” There’s also a boy in the role of the mother who uses exaggerated gestures, which looks strange up close but looks okay from further back. And, the much talented Boy Who Should Have Been the Male Lead is pretty good as the camp director, even trying to imitate the original actor’s British accent!

But Then There was This Weirdness

With just two more days of rehearsing, the kids have started to practice the curtain call. During the curtain call, the different groups do little motions or gestures before they bow and step back. Today, for their motion, the three girls playing Lola, Sander, and Barron, busted out on stage with very real-looking toy guns. They pretend to shoot each other and fall back about before joining hands, bowing, and lining up with the rest of the kids.

I was like, what…just…happened…?

I grew up with gangster rap and real life gangbangers. I’ve seen someone get shot. I crouch down whenever I hear loud noises that resemble gunfire. It’s not that I’m squeamish at the mere sight of firearms, though being in their presence does put me on alert. (As it should anyone.) It was the pure dissonance of saccharine Disney channel Camp Rock and a mock murder scene executed with such realistic toys. To make matters worse (and I just now realized this)…Lola, Sander, and Barron are all portrayed by black actors in the original movie. -_-‘

I was pretty upset about it and went up to the girls when that run through was over. The following conversation took place, mostly in Japanese. I refer to the students by the roles they have in the play.

Me: What’s with the *making the gesture for guns*?
Barron: Hm?
Me: Why did you put guns in the play?
Lola: It’s cool!
Me: There’s already so many Japanese who think Americans all carry guns, don’t you think by putting this in the play you’re just adding to stereotypes?
Lola: *Worried* What? No, no! It’s just because it’s cool, it’s like we’re shooting an ‘I love you’ shot!
Me: But look how real this looks. *Takes one gun and steps back* From far away, doesn’t it look like the real thing? You know in the States there have been children who have been shot by the police because the police couldn’t tell that the gun was a toy?
Girls who had gathered around: That’s so scary!
Me: Look, this is just my opinion, but I was really shocked when I saw you do this; this has nothing to do with a Disney movie like Camp Rock, so as an American, to me it just looks like a stereotype.
Mitchie:
But I thought everyone had guns in America. I thought it was okay to have guns.
Me: No, not everyone has a gun, and people who do carry one have to have a special permit to do so. The laws are different in each state, but usually, people who have done bad things, or people who are sick in the head, can’t get a permit. There are people who have guns illegally, but those are usually bad people like gang members.
Mitchie: Do you have a gun?
Me: Of course not, I don’t wanna die!
Lola:
But didn’t it look cool?!
Me: Yeah, well, by itself it looked cool, but it’s inappropriate for Camp Rock. If this were Charlie’s Angels, I would say put more guns in it! But this just looks really wrong in this play.
Caitlyn: Should we take them out?
Me: Well, if it’s an ‘I love you’ shot, why don’t you paint the guns pink?
Lola: Pink! That’ll look cute!
Caitlyn: But can we…?
Me: Is it your little brother’s toy or something?
Caitlyn: It’s [a classmate’s].
Me: Or just go to the Hundred Yen Shop and buy toy guns that look like toys.

At this point the cast was called to gather before doing another run through, so I don’t know what they all thought of the discussion. I was so ticked off that I went back to the teachers’ room for a little bit not to let my dissatisfaction ripple out to the rest of the rehearsal. When I returned, Lola was sniffling as if she had been crying; I don’t know if she was upset with me for accusing them of stereotypical portrayals of Americans, or if the teacher had yelled at them in my absence. I’m not even sure the teacher heard the conversation.

Had this been the first time these kids do something like this, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me as much, though visually and thematically it’s highly incompatible with the rest of the play no matter what. But I had already told these kids last year that not all Americans have guns; when a group wrote a skit about Japanese students who do homestay in the States, only to get mugged at the airport by their host family, I asked them, “Do you really think this is what Americans are like?” and all most of them did was smile sheepishly. One asked, “It’s not like Jack Bauer?” while making some gestures, and seemed disappointed to learn that no, we’re not all creeping around corners aiming shotguns for 24 hours.

This was honestly one of those moments where I asked myself, “what the hell am I doing here?” My kids aren’t that good at English, and as long as they have no reason to learn it for real, the countless hours they spend being “taught” English are a massive, unfair waste of their youth. But if I can’t even get them to understand that Americans don’t all tote guns, even as they base their culture festival performance off of something as toothless as Disney’s Camp Rock, am I making any real impact in terms of at least internationalization, or am I just a panda sans six figure salary?

On the one hand, I do hope that the teacher heard me. Even if in this situation I overreacted, which I don’t think I did, it’s still the case that the portrayal of foreigners in Japanese media isn’t all that good, and if no one tries to get Japanese kids these days to understand the difference between knowing about a culture and respecting it, they will go on to become adults who perpetuate the stereotypes in the future.

On the other hand, I didn’t mean for these kids to get in trouble with their teacher, if that is indeed what happened, as Lola had shown no signs of impending waterworks when I had briefly left the auditorinasium. I just want them to understand where I’m coming from, and to understand the ripples that each person’s actions send out.

Will the Final Rehearsal Be Perfect, or a Mess?

Last year’s final rehearsal was stunningly perfect. I didn’t want to believe in the superstition, but unfortunately, it came true: last year when it came time to do the real thing, the male lead choked so hard, and all the kids were so nervous for the first 20 minutes. So, I’m kinda hoping this year’s final rehearsal will be terrible. ^_^;

次回!The words you learn when you have to take someone to the ER at midnight, その1:麻酔 ~ masui ~ anesthesia

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