Robin Hood Meets Arsena Marabdeli

Premiere: Batumi, Georgia, Batumi Shota Rustaveli University

This is the first time the Arsena Marabdeli story has been told in the English-speaking world, and we were excited that our friends from Tbilisi and the US embassy were in attendance.

Synopsis (English) Two English-speaking women travel to the town of Mtsketa, Georgia, where a chance encounter with an old woman begins the story of Arsena Marabdeli. Never told in the English-speaking world, the story is about a 19thcentury Georgian hero who fights the imperial government to provide for the poor and needy. The two English-speaking women then retell their story to the old woman. Two worlds apart, the three realize how much they share in common, and that the story of Arsena Marabdeli is just as relevant today as it was then.

Synopsis (Georgian) 2 ინგლისურად მოსაუბრე ქალი ჩადის საქართველოში, კერძოდ მცხეთაში, სადაც ხვდებიან მოხუც ქალს, რომელიც იწყებს არსენა მარაბდელის ისტორიის მოყოლას. ამბავი, რომელიც ინგლისურ ენაზე მოლაპარაკე სამყაროში არავის არასდროს სმენია, არის მე-19 საუკუნის ქართველი გმირის შესახებ, რომელიც ებრძვის იმპერიულ მთავრობას რათა მათ დაეხმარონ საჭიროებაში მყოფ ადამიანებს და ღარიბ ხალხს. ინგლისურ ენაზე მოლაპარაკე 2 ქალბატონი შემდგომ იწყებს რობინ ჰუდის ისტორიის მოყოლას. მალევე სამივე მათგანი ხვდება თუ რამდენი საერთო აქვთ მათ და რომ არსენა მარაბდელის და რობინ ჰუდის ისტორია ისეთივე მნიშვნელობის მქონეა დღევანდელ დღეს, როგორც იყო მაშინ.

We were a total smash hit!

The cast and crew at dress rehearsal.

The cast and crew working together the morning of show day.

The cast and crew putting their hands in for one final boost before the show.

After near exhaustion, everything went flawlessly in the end and we were a complete hit.  We stood together, locked hands and it paid off.  None of us went down and we put on one heck of a show and brought Robin Hood Meets Arsena Marabdeli to life.  The US embassy, several NGOs, the Peace Corps, Batumi State University, Adjara TV and members of the Adjara government were in attendance.  

From Chuck:

Thank you to everyone for standing together and not quitting.  Jordan, Sarah, Keti and I are so very, very proud of you, and your work and efforts have been noticed by many, many people.  You have accomplished so much and should be very proud of yourselves and your work.  You were amazing.  We did it together!

From Facebook: 

Total team work in Batumi:) Big thanks to Nana, Anna, Keti, Sarah, Jordan, our friends at the US embassy, Adjara TV (who announced the schedule change on TV and sent a crew!), Batumi State University, the Access program (and 30 very dedicated and hard-working teenagers).

Vist Adjara TV:
Link to newscast on Adjara TV (at 11:33:54)

We're Almost There:)

From Chuck:

December 2, 2012

Four days to go!  Not much time to write so this will be short.

On Saturday, we had a very nice piece on Adjara TV, discussing Access student participation and the play.  We are engaged in civic participation, and fostering the belief.  We'll get it posted as soon as we can.

The last few pieces are coming together.  The dress rehearsal was a complete mess yesterday, but that hopefully means the show is going to be great.

We've managed to secure a much larger theater at the university.

From our sister site, The cast and crew of Robin Hood Meets Arsena Marabdeli had brunch and a scavenger hunt before practice on Sunday, December 2.  It turned out to be incredibly fun and a unique opportunity to get students to use English outside of class.  Students used cell phones and took pictures of themselves in the Batumi community.  It was also a great opportunity to involve the community as students had to explain what they were doing to people who took the pictures.

The basic rules: teams of four.  EVERYONE has to be in the picture (meaning, someone else has to take the picture of the four team members).  Two-hour time limit.  We used symbols in Batumi, but you can adapt this to any village or city.  The word clues also involved critical thinking skills and considerable team work.

Scavenger Hunt!
  • Take a picture of everyone on your team wearing a mask;
  • Take a picture of everyone on your team wearing rain boots;
  • Take a picture of the “genetic code” of Georgia;
  • Take a picture of everyone on your team with their feet in the Sea;
  • The billiards game is over if this ball is sunk. Take a picture of it;
  • Take a picture on a boat that is also a restaurant; and,
  • Take a picture of a fake lake.
  • Take a picture with the food Merchant 1 says to go and eat in Arsena;
  • Take a picture of someone eating Acharuli Katchapuri (Note: It cannot be someone from your team);
  • Take a picture of the characters from Kurban Said’s novel set in Azerbaijan and Georgia;
  • Take a picture of someone in traditional Georgian costume; and,
  • Take a picture of the Quiet Woman’s place; and,
  • Take a picture of a proposal.
  • Take a picture near the article of clothing Jason brought to Georgia from Greece;
  • Take a picture of an extinct animal;
  • Take a picture of Stalin (Note: Team members do not have to be in the photo);
  • You can find these in Egypt. Make one with your bodies and take a picture; and,
  • Take a picture with “Hi Cat!” (Hint: It’s a very big book);

10 More Days!

From Chuck:

November 26, 2012

We're in the homestretch!

We did a full run-through yesterday and surprise, it actually looks OK:)  In the end, it will look good.  The final scene actually makes me very happy.  We are trying to encourage civic participation and linking the two main characters, and the play ends on a high note.  It's a twist ending.  To James' credit, it works. The two of us had amazing collaboration.

We're going to have stick dynamite in the Arsena actors to get them to move, but Robin Hood looks great.  It just makes you laugh.  We added a whole jester character, who doesn't really say anything, but nevertheless makes everyone laugh.  There are many, many props, some of them more fun than others, and the sheer size of the production has us breathless, but we have done it.  There are 35 kids of all ages and four adults trying their best to finish this project.

There's also a kilo of chocolate coins we're throwing out in the audience.  We're trying to take the acting out in the audience as much as possible, and involve them with our work.

Costuming has also gone to a whole new level.  We had some sent from the USA and Norway.  We have made some and are in the process of making more.  We are trying to make Arsena is real as possible.  We've gone a little crazy with Robin Hood, but it's so much fun that the sky is the limit.

We're a little behind on the scenery but I'm planning on an emergency Saturday session.  I'm sending all the leftover food from our work session for my real job, so everyone wins.  There is a possibility that we will move to the university theater.  It holds 100 more, but it looks like we can fill it.

This weekend is the dress rehearsal and the scavenger hunt, our outdoor event.  Sarah and Jordan have taken charge of that, and thanks to James' list, we ironed out all the music and Jordan is in charge.  I have learned so much about giving up control and letting others handle responsibility.  Either that or I've done this so many times that's it's going easier.  About halfway through, I was struggling under the weight of this thing.  However, today I feel like it's under control.

Breathing a little easier.  The battle has been joined and we are pulling in the same direction.  We have managed to pull it off.  It's not done yet, but it will work, and it will be a credit to all of us that we don't quit.  Even if the night is a total disaster, we didn't quit.  As James used to always say: our work is greater than the sum of us.  We brought our dream to life: a mostly original production that didn't exist four months ago.  Mostly, it was determination to show a group of kids that adults act like adults, and that North Americans are good people who care.

Sometimes the simplest things are the most obvious.

Props Nearly Completed, Halfway on the Scenery and a SCAVENGER HUNT!

From Chuck:

November 18, 2012

Three weeks to go!

Two more rehearsals this week. Arsena is under control but the execution scene in Robin Hood is messy. Half the cast for Robin Hood wasn't there because of tests and field trips, so we ran through Arsena. Part of this project is learning responsibility and showing up on time (and not quitting). We will have to redirect to get everyone there on time and focused. I'm not greatly worried as we're nearly there but we have to keep pushing.

While Robin Hood is fun, Arsena is very dry, and we're having to coach the students more on their acting and projection. There's not too much passion and while the students have the lines and the blocking down, it's nearly sleepy with the acting. I know they can do it and we still have time to relight the fire. We will spend a whole practice on the sword fighting for Arsena. There are four scenes with sword fighting and some are more complex than others. In the interest of time, we're going to keep it simple, but it should look exciting. The fighting was a big hit in our last theater project, so were going to use it again.

The prop list is nearly completed and we're halfway on the scenery, but it should easily be finished by opening night. Costuming is about halfway completed. I had a mild panic attack tonight as I was completing more tasks, but it passed and realized we are probably right on schedule, but it will be a major push the last two weeks to finish it.

Finally, we figured out our excursion for this production. We are all overloaded with work and the play and trying to do the work of four with only three, and the weather is turning cold. We decided to organize a scavenger hunt, using English as the medium, which will increase language skills as well as get us out of the school. The students are excited as it's the first time they've done anything like that, so we'll take lots of pictures and post them.

I want to thank Sarah and Jordan again for all their work. They are real professionals and have stuck it out. We haven't slept in weeks, but they keep going.

Music and Pizza, and a Teacher Packet

From Chuck:

November 12, 2010

We managed to find James' music list and finished pulling the music together. Some of the pieces are very beautiful. James had a gift for finding the correct piece of music. There's Tchaikovsky and a piece from Mozart's Magic Flute, the theme from the 1950's Robin Hood TV show, and lots of Georgian music. The kids know most of their lines, but the play is so big it's taking time to weave it altogether, but we are. We finished timing the two most complicated scenes, the ballroom for Arsena and the execution scene for Robin Hood (have no fear, he escapes!), and the ballroom scene looked so nice that we ran through a few extra times just because! 

The kids are getting excited, and I believe we've recovered from most of the damage. They haven't quit, which says something for adults and children. The lead for Arsena, Gaga, has picked up the pace, and Cotne, the lead for Robin Hood, has so much energy that he is carrying the whole Robin Hood cast with his drive. We didn't have our two guards yesterday because of a field trip, so the energy was a little low, but we did well. Guards, come back! They be back on Wednesday.

Technically, I learned so much watching James that I've managed to pull most of it off with Sarah and Jordan. Stylistically, Arsena is the serious piece and Robin Hood is all fun. It's a little bit of madness to try and pull off two plays at once, but we're doing it. Personally, although I've worked seven days in a row before, I've been pulling out the stops to finish this. Then again, it's been amazing to watch Sarah and Jordan. Without them, there is no way we could have continued. 

The kids have been working very hard to finish. We're pulling in all the little pieces, and we are doing it. That said, I'm looking forward to December 8! It's been gratifying to see us all pull back together. Yesterday, to celebrate, we had a pizza party. It can't be all stick without some carrot every now and then.

Fianlly, the teacher packet is nearing completion and includes activities for teachers and students who come and watch the play. It's free!
From Chuck:

November 5, 2012

Practice, practice, practice.  We finally finished the Robin Hood section.  We're roughly two days off schedule, but we're going to be fine.  The scenery is coming along nicely, but we will have to start pushing to finish it.  Our scenery man is amazing, but he is a perfectionist, and perfection takes time.  While I'm not so worried at the moment as we are in relatively good shape to finish this, thing change quickly with large projects.  It's better to be ahead than behind.

We're learning by doing.  I've done theater productions before, but nothing this large.  Perhaps the greatest difficulty has been the challenge of keeping the kids focused.  There has been so much confusion since the departure of James and it has been a struggle.  James had a gift for theater.  It is very difficult to explain to children and teenagers what happened when adults have problems, and to remain appropriate, but we have managed.  Some of the kids took his departure rather hard and it shows in their performance, but I've done my best to keep us all together.  I'm not sure what I would have done without Sarah and Jordan.  They are working seven days a week and I owe them considerable gratitude.

The play itself actually looks good but needs work.  We cut some of the dialogue to make it not so English-heavy.  We cut one non-essential scene from the Arsena section to save ourselves and it really worked.  The Robin Hood section has some memorable parts that are very visual, but directing is not my strong suit, and I sometimes fear that I'm not doing the correct thing.  Perhaps there is no correct thing when you realize a project is much more about going on and finishing than anything else.  You do not quit when working with children.

On Wednesday, we go off-script and start using the props.  Jordan has managed to figure out the music and we are back on track with that by the end of the week.  All in all, it's going to be a marathon to the finish but we will manage.  

Setback and Determination to Go On, and Five week to go!

October 19, 2010

We had a major setback this week. James Greisler, Jr. quit.  It has been a roller coaster of a week.  We had to cancel, we're back, we had to cancel, and finally, we're back:)

We have practice, again, as planned, on Sunday, October 21.  The show must go on!

From Jordan:

October 29, 2012

The show must go on! and on it will go. We have continued to move forward.

The past week has been very hands on. We have started the blocking for both Robin Hood and Arsena. The fabric has been cut and Giorgi has started to sketch the Robin Hood backdrop. It looks great!

Despite having only half the cast present, on Sunday we blocked the Ballroom, Governor's Office, and Mountain scenes from Arsena.

On Wednesday, because Chuck was at work, we reviewed this blocking. I was impressed. The stage is busy and the action is engaging. Guard 1 and 2, in particular, are doing a fantastic job. Their characters compliment one another; their lines are quick and their movements are funny.

After Chuck arrived, we started the blocking for Robin Hood. Robin Hood is an easier script, so the blocking moved more quickly. We completed the first village scene. It is going to be very dynamic. At the beginning of the scene, Alan's character performs a song. At rehearsal, it sounded like music to my ears (and there wasn't even music being played!).

Moving forward, we need to really come together as a team. It is imperative that we finish the blocking this week because we are a few days behind. Despite this, I have no reservations. Sarah, myself and Chuck are fully confident in the actors and actresses abilities – this week was a testament to that!

First Read-Through

October 10th

Today was the first read through. This day is very important because it is the first time we shall hear our play read aloud. It’s also important to establish rules today – quiet when another person is speaking, turn cell phones off, no gum. Half the students have already been through one play and know these rules, so I think they will act as the leaders. But it is important to lay down the lay from day one. Georgian teenagers can be so chatty sometimes!

Getting printed scripts was very difficult for two reasons. First, finding a Xerox office in Batumi, and second, cutting down on the price of printing so much paper. I ran around this morning looking for a Xerox office, but one was closed and another only had a scanner. Chuck came up with a solution, and asked a colleague to print ten scripts and 25 release forms. These release forms would also be important, as they would give us the right to take pictures, videos, and allow news crews to enter our rehearsals.

I picked up the scripts and forms at school No.2, then made my way to the theater. It was locked, as usual, and I had to ask students to go find keys. I found the TLGs and sent them up to the theater while I waited for extra students. We’ve been trying to expand our pool of student actors beyond those at school No.2, and Chuck sent me a message this morning that students from schools Nos. 1 and 25 may come. Not having any idea how to spot them, I waited outside the door anyway.

We formed a circle. There are about 25 students involved in the production, plus Chuck, Sarah, Jordan, Keti, and myself. It’s a lot.

Ten minutes past 2pm and still about half the students were missing. This is normal for Georgia, but not good for our production. As we waited, I handed out small candies to the students. Sweets are ways to keep their spirit up, and a subtle way to ask them to keep coming.

The first order of business was the release forms. Then we had to discuss rehearsal days. We originally set Sundays and Wednesdays, but that was after speaking to three students. Now with all 25 actors (all speaking at the same time) I wanted to see if there were alternative days. We spoke, yelled, shushed, and argued for about ten minutes before I could see what a waste of time this all was. Georgian students don’t have many after school activities, but they do have an enormous amount of private lessons, and it’s very difficult to get around the schedules of 25 teenagers. After ten minutes we ended back where we started, re-agreed to Sundays and Wednesdays, and started the read through.

During the read-through I noticed a few things. This play is very big. There are many characters and many short scenes one after another, often changing to different locations. This play is very heavy on language and I’m worried the students (and audience) will tune out.

Now comes my job as director. As the director, I am the brain of the operation; I have to know everything going on. In the next few days, I need to re-read the script many time, section it into pieces, make notes, and begin to plan basic blocking and how we will use the stage efficiently. I like to make drawings on separate pieces of paper so I can see what I’m doing.

I have to think about the themes of the play. This play could send a real message, it's the most serious play I've directed (Murtazi and Juliet was all about love, love, love) and I have to make sure that this message is consistent throughout the play. In directing, we call this the spine of the play – what is the main through line that relates to every scene and character? What is the central question explored in the play?

The stories of Robin Hood and Arsena Marabdeli have obvious political overturns – redistribution of wealth, poor rising up against the rich, fighting an external enemy. But with our production we want to focus on positive solutions to problems existing in all countries – this is play is about a meeting of two cultures, Georgian and American - and something the ordinary person can do. Despite what anyone else thinks, one person (a Robin Hood or Arsena) can have the courage to bring change. And at the end of our play, change is simple—picking up garbage, feeding stray kittens, and planting small trees. Anyone can do this and help make our planet a better place. A civil society starts from a few people working at the bottom. 

I have to finalize the music used during the play, how it will be used, and where. We want to get Zura involved as a singer and musician. If the music comes from the students themselves, it makes the production that much tighter and valuable.

And I need to think about the characters. This is a big play, the largest I’ve ever directed. Like the plays of Bertolt Brecht, there are many, many small roles, labeled not with specific names, but titles (Governor, Guard, Merchant, etc). The audience (and actors) should be able to easily identify each character as they come and go, so physicality, voice, and costuming will be very important.

Also in the plannings are a group hike up a mountain somewhere in Adjara and a movie night where we watch a Robin Hood film. 

Casting Day

October 8th

Today was casting day. After the success of our last play, I was curious if more students would show up. We walked up the stairs and found a big crowd of students outside the theater, mostly girls, many of them new. We all sat together in the theater and began with introductions. Chuck described who we were and what this project is about while I quickly ran downstairs to find any stragglers. We heard a rumor that students would come from school No. 15, but no one showed up. After introductions, we gave the students the lecture on commitment. We need people who are responsible, on time, able to move and speak clearly, memorize lines, and can work as a team. To send the point home, I pointed to the door and asked anyone uncommitted to this project to please leave. And I waited a few more second to make sure. With nearly 30 students on this project, I don’t have much time for horsing around.

So then I showed the students a power point of all the characters in the play, and I described the story. Then we began casting. I called out a character’s name and asked if anyone had interest. The casting went pretty well. For a few roles, (Maid Marian, Countess, Narrators) we had to have students read a selection and then Chuck, the TLGs, and I decided who would get the part. Students got choices and things were handled fairly. Even in these tiny moments we demonstrated how a civil society works – goals for ELCE and TLG. We looked for students who could speak clearly, show enthusiasm, and be reliable. For those students who did not get the part, I offered them other roles.

We have about half old students, half new ones. The students from the previous production all know how we work – we start on time, we work hard, we use our time wisely, we have fun. I expect them to be the leaders of the production, but I also want new students to learn from this experience. We’re building a community, slowly, slowly. We need a few more students, but I fear we’ll end up with too many extras. I can’t have ten non-speaking extras standing on stage carrying spears. Too much.

Everyone wrote their name, phone number, and email on a piece of paper and we finished for the day. Next rehearsal, Wednesday at 2pm. And there we will finalize the schedule.

So a good day. No tears. Everyone who came seems to have gotten the part they wanted. 

At home, we put the final touched on the script. We wanted to include more Georgian language in this play, and copied and pasted bits translated by our colleague, Nino K. Next to come are music lists, stage combat lists, prop list, set design, and costumes. Poster is done, thanks to Dachi. 

Robin Hood Meets Arsena Marabdeli....beginnings


 Hello out there. Welcome to our new Theater in Education website. The posts will focus on our current production, Robin Hood Meets Arsena Marabdeli, but before I get started, let me tell you how we got started.

 We are a group of English teachers living and working in Batumi, Georgia (the former Soviet country, not the American state). Our first production, Murtazi and Juliet, brought together Georgian English teachers and Americans working through the Teach and Learn with Georgia Program (TLG) and the English Language through Civic Education Program (ELCE), with a grant from the Norwegian people. Our semester culminated in a 40-minute production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, performed by students from schools No. 2 and No. 15 in Batumi, Georgia. Over 150 parents, officials, and students came to see our performance in one very, very hot theater at school No. 2. The project was fantastic because it formed a community of Georgians and Americans all working together to create something greater than themselves.

 Now we are back in Georgia ready for a new production. Our story initially developed from our love of Robin Hood. During our research, we found that Georgia has its own real-life folk hero, Arsena Marabdeli, who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor in early 19th-century Georgia. In the century after his death, Georgians have written stories, novels, poems, and folk songs about one of their great heroes. In our production we tell the stories of both characters, ending in a fictional meeting between the two. It is very exciting and we are all excited.

 The research part of the project involved resurrecting a 150-year old poem, “Arsena’s Leqsi”, from the crypt. After an exhaustive search in the Tbilisi and Batumi Public libraries, we finally found a single slim volume from 1936. One of our former actors, Gaga, (who played Benvolio in Murtazi and Juliet), translated the 30-page poem for us, so we could form scenes and a story. He should be very proud. This is the first time this story has made it into the English language and he translated it (from Old-Georgian, no less)!

 We also watched two Soviet era films of the Arsena story and dug up every piece of information on the internet. Very little of this man’s story exists in English and that is part of the fun in this project. Robin Hood, on the other hand, is much more familiar. Also, we need to stick more Georgia language into the play. In our last play we noticed that our audience was particularly fond of moments of relative violence and physical comedy. We have strived to include more swordfights in this play, but we also want our audiences to stay interested during the wordy parts. So the characters will sometimes speak Georgian, including foreigners speaking Georgian.

 Today was the first project meeting. We reworked the Facebook group from the Murtazi and Juliet project into the Batumi Theater Guild that we hope will survive us after we leave. We set a date for October 4th at 3pm. We arrived a little late to school #2, marveling at how fast Batumi is changing, but it was exciting being back. We found Keti and Medea, two Georgian teachers we had worked closely with back in the spring. Only three students showed up, but they were leaders from the previous project and can be counted on to spread the word. Two TLGS, Sarah and Jordan, also stopped by. They will be a very big help with stage management, budget, and props. They might even play characters in the play. We are trying to include new students in the project, some from other schools around Batumi. We are also interested in working with a few students from Keti’s access program, which targets disadvantaged students.