The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project

The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Update 1 - 3/28/2011

Subtitled: What the hell am I thinking?
This is the first update on how the Romeo and Juliet project is going.

What have I got myself into? Who in their right mind thinks that a joint production of Romeo and Juliet is an awesome idea? I passed out the assignments and talked about the different roles and I’m scared to death. It’s only the first day! Now, I’m not scared that my kids cannot do this project. They are some of the brightest kids I have taught in a very long time. I would not have continued with this project if I thought they couldn’t do it. My problem is that I think some of them think they can’t do it.

I need around 20 actors for the production. After talking about the different parts of the project, I had only 10 or so students say they were thinking about acting in the production. No actors equals no play! After school, a couple of students asked about acting and what it would entail. I’m hoping that more students will jump on board the acting train. If not, I might need my writers to be creative.

I have too many students interested in doing the print ad work. I think they assume that is the easy job, but it truly is the most time consuming. The students will not get their roles until Friday, so I need to spend the next few days talking up the students and the different roles. Sometimes, we get in our own way. If we think we can’t, we won’t. I need to boost their self-esteem and let kids know what they can do and what I expect of them.

This is not going to be an easy project and I’m going to need the support of my Tweeps if I’m going to make it through this. Despite my first day jitters, I know that this is going to be the most epic Romeo and Juliet Project ever. I just need to make sure my kids feel the same way as well.

Until next time.

- Nick

 The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Update 2 - 3/9

Subtitled: Heck ya!

All of the roles are cast and the kids are off and running. I've spent countless hours working on creating a wiki for the Epic Romeo and Juliet Project(No longer active) and organizing all of the different roles and jobs for all of the students. On Thursday, March 10, my class will be Skyping with the amazing students of Van Meter to discuss the play and how they are going to re-write it. I'm very proud of the work my students have done so far. I was out today for some PD and I one of my directors emailed me from class. He wrote,

"Things are goin great here. Latisha showed up, Riana and I talked to her and she said that she wanted to be apart of the costume department. She said that she knows how to draw the stuff up and make them herself. So what Riana and I said was that we were going to allow her to draw the stuff up, then show it to the Writing Department, then they would try to incorporate it into the script...or the other way around. And then it will ultimately then come to us (the directors and you). So tell me what you think, and we can move from there."

I did not ask them to do this. The student in question had missed the past couple of weeks and my directors took charge and made the right moves. Moments like these make me happy I have dedicated the time and energy to this project. I hope I see more of these as we move along. I know this is going to be a marathon, but sometimes I wish I could sprint to the end and see the finish line.

My kids are awesome and they are going to do amazing things on this project. I can just feel it. I hope everyone is having a great week. I am. :-)

- Nick


The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Update 3 - 3/16

Subtitled: Organized Chaos

It's been a few days since my last post and, for some reason, I lost 20 minutes worth of typed material and all of update 3. Although annoyed, I'm carrying on to spread the awesomeness that is The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project.

My students are now blogging! After some troubling setting up blogs on Blogger for all of the students, the vast majority are up and running. Check out The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Wiki(No longer active) to see the different roles the students have and their blogs. Feel free to comment on their work. They would love any feedback you could give them on their work.

Here are some observations I have from the first few days of blogging for this project:

- The students have varying levels of computer/technology skills. I think adults just assume that kids know it all because they are young and can text really quickly. I was surprised by the number of students that did not know how to create a hyperlink or embed an image. I feel I will need to spend some time to teach kids the tips and tricks to using blogs. It will be helpful to them in the long run.

- At the moment, spelling and grammar are not a concern. Some of their spelling and grammar is just terrible. Many of the students seem to think that online typing is not as strict as in class essay writing. Most online typing is pretty informal, but for class work, it needs to be better. Once the kids get comfortable with Blogger, I'm going to address the style, structure and grammar of writing blog posts for school. It will impact their grades.

- The kids are excited. The majority of the kids are really embracing their different roles and are really looking forward to the completed project. That is always a good sign.

- I see tons of collaboration. Kids are working together and helping others with their different jobs. Some showed others how to create hyperlinks while I was working with other students. It was very nice to see kids helping kids.

When I started this project, I was worried about the organization. How was I going to keep 70+ blogs organized to give students credit for writing. well, Google saved the day. A simple Google Reader account is all that I needed. I created individual folders and labeled by class. I tagged each student's blog for a certain folder and that was it. Whenever a student writes a new post, I'll know by looking at the folder. It took me 30 minutes of set up time, but it is going to save me hours over the course of the project.

Lastly, some might be wondering about the grading process. Yes, I'm giving grades to students for their writing. I'm not too worried about the content. I told them it is their space to speak their mind about the project. I will start to mark them down for bad grammar, style and spelling, but as long as they post on a regular basis, everyone should be fine.

That's it for now. We should have some rough draft of scripts posted to the wiki or their blogs in the next day or so. Have a great day!

- Nick


Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Update 4

Subtitled: What do you mean you didn't blog over the weekend?!

Hello everyone! I've had a busy few days. I presented at my State Conference this past weekend. It was my first time attending and I presented twice. It was crazy fun to meet some Twitter friends and connect with edcamp Detroit people. You can read about that in other posts though. You are here to find out about the craziness that is the ERJP. 

Well, things were supposed to be running smoothly while I was away doing conference things on Thursday and Friday. Sadly, about 1/3 of my students chose not to do their blogging work. They were supposed to have the work done by Friday, but I waited until Sunday to check it. 

Not surprisingly, the students who tend to be on top of their work got the assignments done without problem, but others just did not do it. I addressed the classes on Monday and let them know that I was disappointed in their effort and they need to step it up. One of my directors even talked to the class after I was done. The director said they all need to buckle down and work, but as director, he needs to lead by example. That was a nice moment for  me. 

I decided to give the kids more lab time to work on their individual blogs. It takes away from class discussion time, but the kids have shown a strong understanding of the material. It is more important that I give the students to write and collaborate for the project. They can discuss the play with their friends as they try and figure out the costumes, sets, props, lines, etc. 

The one thing I need to remember with this project, like all other new projects, is that I need to be flexible to some degree. The kids want to do well and they do show a great amount of effort in the work they complete. Check out the wiki for a great collection of blogs. Kids have done a great job at creating print ads, collecting a wonderful soundtrack and other ideas. You can access the wiki from here, The Epic Romeo and Juliet Wiki (No longer active)

Lastly, one of my kids created a pretty good soundtrack for the production and included the music video for Taylor Swift's "Love Story". It's a perfect song for the production, but I had to explain to the kids that we cannot use the movie without her permission. The kids were bummed, but I do not give up that easily. I have tweeted Taylor Swift asking her permission. I might just employ my PLN to help me by tweeting Ms. Swift to get permission to use the song. Stay tuned! 

That's it for now. The Van Meter students are working hard and the project is having hiccups, but I'm excited. It's going to be awesome. 

- Nick


The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Update 5

Subtitled: The Taylor Swift Experiment

As many of you saw, I made a push to get Taylor Swift (@TaylorSwift13) to respond to a request to use her songs in the class production. I gathered my PLN and we assaulted her with thousands of tweets asking her to read my Open Letter. After a long night of tweets and retweets, I check out for the night and let my PLN help me. 

I'm not going to lie. I had dreams of Ms. Swift sending me an email or a tweet giving me permission and Skyping with my kids to talk abut the songs and their meaning. It would have been epic. In reality, I awoke tons of @ mentions. I quickly put together a follow up post detailing what had happened over night. 

It turns out I was briefly trending in Canada. For most of the day, I was the top Tweet if you searched @TaylorSwift13. All of that is cool. It makes me feel pretty awesome to be honest. People from all over the world rallied behind my project to help students they have never met. That is education at its finest. 

I wrapped up with a final post at the end of the school day. My goal is not to harass this young lady. It was a social experiment using Twitter. Could I reach a celebrity with the power of Twitter? Well, I have yet to hear back, so the answer might be no. However, I still learned something very valuable. 

I learned there is nothing I cannot count on my PLN for. They are some of the most amazing educators in the world. My crazy idea would not have been possible without their dedication to education. 

I need to return back to organizing the rest of the production. The kids are starting to film this weekend and we are going to be Skyping with Van Meter Thursday. 

We have only 3 weeks left to get major filming done before my kids have Spring Break. They are starting to feel the stress of time, but I think that will bring the best out of them more than anything. 

Thanks again for all of your support during this project. I know my kids appreciate it. This one is for you. 

P.S. - Ms. Swift, if you are reading this, I still have ticket if you want to come to Michigan and watch the finished product. :-)

- Nick


The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Update 6

Subtitled: Game Time!

I handed out the finalized scripts to all of the actors, directors, cameramen and any other student that wanted one. The kids were excited to have a legit script to place in their binder. It was funny to see. I wasn't expecting that time of response of a script. I think it made it very real for some of them.

I'm still getting lots of questions about Ms. Swift and the soundtrack. I still have not heard anything. I think it is great that people are still trying to reach out to Ms. Swift and help my students. You all have been amazing. Some very interesting conversations have been started on blogs about the fair use of songs and copyrights. I think I'm more proud of the fact that people are talking about an important topic in education. As educators, we need to push ourselves to talk about these kind of things and set an example for our students. My kids would love to have Ms. Swift's songs for their movie, but are ok if they can't use them. I personally think it is pushing them to look even harder at other music they are allowed to use. It might be nice to possibly give an unknown artist a chance. When we post this movie online, who knows who might end up watching it?

I'm tired. I have never been this tired working on a school project. This has been then most tiring experience in my life, but I don't know it until after the school day. I feed of the kid's energy all day and then I'm drained. I can't imagine doing this year to year. This might be an every other year type of project. That makes me a bit sad for students in the next year that will want to do this project, but I will just be too tired. On the other hand, it allows me to think of something even crazier to try.

Maybe I'll have everyone try and get Mr. Bieber involved in my next project. :-P

- Nick
The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project: Update 7
Subtitled: Are we there yet?

Well, we have finished the first act of the play. It was quite the event. I put in a 14 hour day at school so the kids could decorate the cafeteria and film scene 5. Two hour of filming paid off with an amazing 13 minutes of footage. I'm not being sarcastic at all. I was moved by the motivation and dedication the students showed during the process. They had fun, but got the work done.

One of my favorite parts of the filming on Monday was the fact that kids from my other classes showed up to help. Some moved tables and others helped "block" the scenes while the director was working on other scenes and camera setup. Another student showed up with a bag filled with props and costumes for the extras to wear and he is only in charge of props for a different act. The fact that all of the students are coming together to make sure the entire project is a success.

I've already started to piece together Act 1 and it looks wonderful. My Romeo and Juliet absolutely NAIL their first encounter. They sold the love in their eyes. I was moved by their dedication and acting in general. They are a couple of special kids. Really, all of my students have been pretty kick butt. I've showed some of the rough cuts to the director and cameraman and they like what they put together. I still need add music, (cough, cough @TaylorSwift13, cough, cough) and some transition slides. I hope to finish each act as they get done so I can use my Spring Break to get ready for the rest of the school year and @edcampDetroit

My students Skyped with Van Meter today and we exchanged some more ideas regarding filming and scripts. The kids get very excited to talk to the VM kids. We also had a couple of guests in the room as well. A student teacher in my department and a school board member stopped by to see the fun. When I told the kids that a school board member was coming to watch, they were excited. It is great to have other people stop by the class. It makes the kids feel that the work they are doing goes beyond the classroom. I really encourage all administrators to stop by classrooms and let the kids see you. It does have an impact on the kids.

A student told me they were getting questions from friends in other classes. Word is spreading around the school and the kids are getting excited. For many, they have never had this much attention on a project they have worked on. This raises the bar for them, but they seem to be excited about it. They want to do well and they want to impress everyone else. It really is something I'm proud of.

Still tired, but every day I go to work, I get to see excited students engaged in Shakespeare. As an English teacher, I couldn't be happier. I know the subtitle says, "Are we there yet?", but I know that a large part of me will be very sad to see this unit end. I haven't invested this much energy in a project of this scale since I used to do my Mock Trial of Mark Twain years back. I thought that was work, but compared to The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project, it's a worksheet.

I hope everyone is doing well. There will be some screen shots of the filming and some goofy behind the scenes footage posted on the Epic Romeo and Juliet Wiki. (Wikispaces has since closed and this link is inactive) Please feel free to head to the wiki and check out some of the blogs the kids have created. They would love to get comments from you.

Thanks again for all of the support everyone has given me as I take this journey. It has ups and downs, but I couldn't imagine sharing it with anyone else. Have a great week and talk to you soon.

- Nick
The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project: Update 8
Subtitled: No Joke Here

I read this on one of my student's blogs.

"The overall expirience I've had has been amazing. I never knew that I could be an actor, let alone I had never had tried to be one. Acting in the play has also been a great way for me to become more comfortable in public speaking. Public speaking is something that I will have to do my entire life, acting in Romeo and Juliet has made me actually like being the center of attention."

Makes the project worth it for me.

- Nick

The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project: Update 9
Subtitled: Teamwork anyone?

Just a small update this week. We had our first bump in the road. The kids had a huge scheduling conflict where the Nurse had a re-scheduled lacrosse game against our rival and could not make it to filming! With some quick work, the kids were able to change the filming times and accommodate everyone and their schedules.

It might not seem like that huge of deal, but to the kids, it was crazy. Kids offered up missing baseball practice to make it easy to change the filming to another date. I was really proud of the way the kids pulled together to make sure that the scenes could be filmed. It is just another instance where the kids show how dedicated they are to the project.

Here are a couple of things to I want to share with you as a bit of a teaser.

The kids are going to be done filming Acts 1,3 and 5 on Saturday. The kids are pumped and I can't wait to see the final production.

- Nick

The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project: Update 10

Subtitled: A Bad Break

We filmed for about 4.5 hours today and it was not without drama. (Pun very much intended)

We were filming the end of the play where (SPOILER ALERT!) Romeo kills Paris, kills himself and Juliet kills herself. It's a very serious scene that needs most of the characters to be present.

We were supposed to start filming at 1, but didn't get going to almost 1:45 because we were missing a camera, cameraman and a few actors. The cameraman never showed and the camera was dropped off by a dad of a sick student. We had students show up to help and they were drafted into acting roles.

We were still missing the Friar. We need him for the entire third scene. The Friar, who happens to be a third cousin on mine, had not arrived and that was not like him. Then I received this text with a picture.

"Eric's Broken Arm"

You have to be kidding me! The third most important character in the third scene was out with a broken arm. The directors and I had to sit down and re-write the script. The friar was removed from the entire scene and the lines of other actors needed to be changed so they would not address the friar. We cut about 3-4 pages from the script. The kids rolled with the changes as best as they could.

We were able to use the school's auditorium for the end scene and the death scenes turned out pretty well. The kids were a bit rambunctious at times, but we got some great shots. The directors and the cameraman did an amazing job. I'm very proud of my Romeo and Juliet. They did an amazing job playing dead. The rest of the cast and crew came together and did an awesome job.

We need to re-shoot Act 3 Scene 1 on Monday after school and a small portion of Act 3 Scene 2 on Wednesday in class.

We are almost there and I can't wait to see what Van Meter has to share.

The next update will hopefully be the last about filming and I can start to focus on the editing and the music.

Take it easy!

- Nick


The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Update 11

Subtitled: The Long And Winding Road

It is the day before the premiere of the Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Movie. This project started out in my brain driving home almost a year ago. Tomorrow, I see my crazy plan come true with the help of the great students of Grosse Pointe South, the wonderful students and staff (Shannon and Shawn) of Vane Meter High School and the tremendous support of my PLN.

I had some major technical problems today as I tried to set up and test the auditorium for Skype. My school laptop crashed and my school profile needed to be reset. I spend both of my free periods and my lunch trying to solve the problems and I still needed to stay after school for an hour or so and make sure everything worked )Thanks Shannon and Steve for the Skype help).

I'm not sure how to feel about everything. I know that I'm beyond tired and I owe @JenniferPro some type of amazing gift for putting up with my stress while I put together this project and edcampDetroit (Next Saturday May 7). I want to say I am proud of my kids, but I feel like that word does not even begin to do justice to how I feel. I've seen something take place over the past 3 months I have never seen in my teaching career. It is something that is not possible to quantify on any state exam or bubble test.

Saturday, at 1:30 pm EST, the premiere will take place in Grosse Pointe and Van Meter. I would like to invite you to watch the movie with us and let us know how you feel. When I receive the embedding codes for the 5 acts of the play, I will put them in a post and have it go live at the same time we start watching. Feel free to leave comments and tweet us your thoughts. Please use the #VMGPS hash tag so we can see what everyone thinks. (If someone knows how to archive a hash tag, I would appreciate any help you could give me.)

Thanks again to all of you for your support and I can't wait to show off what these amazing kids accomplished.

- Nick


The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project: Update 12

Subtitled: The Premiere

If you click the picture below, you will be taken to the site that is hosting our 5 Acts. A very special thanks to Steve Geresy for taking the time to upload those for us. We will all be watching the world premiere at the same time, so please feel free to drop a comment in this comment box or send us a tweet using the #VMGPS hashtag. We would love to show the kids your thoughts and support.

Thanks to everyone for making this possible.


Note: The movie is being moved to YouTube. The link will be posted when it is available. 

The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project Update 13

Subtitled: Fin~

I prefer to write about things when they are fresh in my mind. The movie and post movie discussion ended about 20 minutes ago and I just wanted to share my thoughts.

This has been the best lesson I have ever been part of in my 10 years of teaching. Words will never be able to fully express how proud of my students and the students of Van Meter I truly am.

The bumps in the road and the hiccups in filming were to be expected, but the kids pulled together and made a hell of a movie that I will hold dear until my retirement. To be honest, I might show that version to future classes as an example of a Romeo and Juliet production.

I only had about a third of my students there because of a variety of sports and other programs, but the ones that showed up brought friends and family to enjoy the experience with them. We talked about what worked and what didn't. Kids shared some behind the scenes stories that were silly. I had 25 or so students engaged in Shakespeare on a Saturday!

The only part that was disappointing was that I only had one other district person attend the movie. (Thanks Mr. Walsh!) I emailed all of my building admins, my entire department, staff members in the administration building (including superintendents) and the entire school board and only one showed. I knew some couldn't make it and they emailed me, but I wish they would have been there. Not for me, but to show the support for the students and the work they did. Maybe next time.

I would like to end this series of posts on a positive note though. If there was one thing I would like other educators to learn after following this crazy adventure, it's that you should never give up on a dream lesson. There will be naysayers, obstacles and time constraints, but if you stay committed, amazing things can happen. Dream big, aim high and follow through and you can do anything you want.

Now, what am I going to do next year...

- Nick


  1. Nick, this is just fantastic. I would love to visit your class if you'd be wiling to have me. I'd love to see and hear the progress the students have made on this. Let me know.


  2. Nick,
    I'm a sophomore English Education major at Valparaiso University. I so admire the way you incorporate technology into your lesson plans. I dreamed of doing an interactive project such as this ever since I decided to become a teacher. Thank you for the inspiration! I look forward to continuing to read your blog!


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