“I’d like to thank…”

A head held high or one for the record books? Which would you prefer?

Slumdog Millionaire just won Best Picture. You might have heard about Heath Ledger (saw that coming!) and Sean Penn. Penelope Cruz might’ve surprised a few…but for the most part we watched  yet another predictable telecast of a mostly entertaining Oscar ceremony led by one of the industry’s most charismatic leading men. I liked some of the new formats presented and for the first time in years I wasn’t bored to tears. (Although I admit I was working on a few costume drawing for Seussical the Musical and tore myself away.)

One thing stood out in the program, and ironically is was a simple clip from a vignette and a movie I haven’t seen in a long time. You all remember “Good Will Hunting” right? Robin Williams’ character says “…you have to love something more than yourself…”

I don’t know what it’s like to be a movie star. I can’t fathom the paparazzi, the exposure…the lavish lifestyle and living in a fishbowl. But I can imagine that that sort of thing would certainly come in between what you do as a performer and how you do it.

award1

Sean Penn, tonight, was praised as someone who doesn’t allow the fame to get in the way of his process, and for the record I have nothing against Penn personally. I enjoy his films. But, I was disheartened to see that on the heels of someone praising his ethics and poise when approaching the craft of creating a character and his unwavering ability to not allow that to be compromised by the heavy chains of stardom, he accepted his award and used the acceptance speech time to get on a soap box and speak about a current political issue on gay rights. Granted the film is about gay rights…but the award is a acting merit award, given to honor the actor and his/her craft. It’s not a promotion. It’s not a platform. And yet, all too often actors (or rather those who routinely gain exposure) use that opportunity to further themselves or their beliefs.

Let’s bring this down to high school theater at Faith Lutheran. We just finished a successful first week run of our high school play. The students did amazing and I felt that the audiences were very receptive. I watched as those bright-eyed students munched on bite-sized cupcakes after the show, still in make-up. These enthusiastic hopefuls, who, at the very least, want to impress and do well onstage made up of a variety of personalities. Some want a career in performing. Some simply enjoy the ride. All too often, as their teacher / director, one of the hardest things I have to do is to attempt to break down that wall that society (and oftentimes their parents and peers) builds up around these young actors. It’s a wall of self-worth, entitlement and pride. I’m guilty of doing it myself.

Acting is appealing in high school because anyone can do it. If you have no arms or legs, you can still be an actor. What separates a good actor from a bad actor is determined by their self-discipline and what others think. It’s subjective. Kids want to fill a fundamental void in their lives by stepping onstage. They’re escaping…gaining acceptance…finding an outlet…utilizing the stage as a surrogate therapy session. Whatever the reason (subconscious or not)…everyone onstage in high school, WANTS to be onstage for a reason. How do you get past that as a teacher, and help those students realize that the craft of acting is MORE than that, and that they need to love it more than themselves in order to truly do it to the glory of God?

My job is part time counselor, theater teacher, drama director…and I carry lots of school keys. Every day changes and shifts into something I never would have guessed. It’s a roller-coaster. The other day I was nearly brought to tears when a first-time actor came off stage and looked me in the eye and said “I’m so happy!” and then rushed away. (You had to be there.) I was also recently nearly brought to tears when I was told a long-time student of mine might consider going to another school, known for the performing arts status symbols and community-recognized talent pool and opportunity.

High School is high school. It shouldn’t be the NBA where kids are drafted or selected or chosen. It should remain a secondary education platform for all students to broaden horizons and expand on things that interest them. We can channel interest, but to focus on a single one and drive it home prior to graduation is setting students up for failure in my opinion.

Leading roles are fun…and exciting, and challenging. But, it’s a supporting role world. Faith Lutheran does not have the best drama program in the country. (It’s DARN close, I’ll tell you!) But, should we even care about that? Is that the goal? To be the best…to get a leading role….to accept an Oscar? If that’s the goal…then count me out. That’s using the talents God gave us as a springboard for our own personal interest and ultimately looking out for number one.

Self promotion gets people in the seats, and I suppose one might argue that you have to be brilliant in marketing before even thinking about opening a show on Broadway or at Faith Lutheran. Entertaining comes with a price. But, the process of shifting focus…redirecting…and remembering not to upstage God…that’s the continuing road every performer must travel.

I look forward to SEUSSICAL auditions in two weeks. In three weeks I will do my duty as grief counselor to those who worked so hard and didn’t get that leading role. It’s all very perfunctory and while I do care for these students and their feelings very much…it’s a very hard job to look them in the tear-filled eyes and explain to them that this is ONE musical. One opportunity…one show…and they are only 16 years old. It’s not about the show…not about the role…not about the opportunity. It’s about knowing why you love something so much, and then investing yourself in that one thing to the point to where you can love it more than yourself. For them, the high school student…it’s recognizing why they wanted that role…and why it’s okay to be upset, but knowing WHY they’re upset. Is it because they lost an opportunity for themselves?

I don’t think I’m there yet. I love the applause at the end. I love the glow of the spotlight. I love make-up and costumes, and props. Love it! Heck, this whole blog post can be construed as my own little soap box! And as a dirty, scummy sinner…I can love my God enough to know that I’m going to have a hard time teaching my students to get past the role and show, and do their best in God’s name, when I struggle to do it myself.

God gave me talents to use onstage to His glory. He did the same to my students and the Academy Award winners. I will pat my students on the back offering a “good show” sentiment, and I can look forward to next weekend’s round two and the auditions afterward. I can maybe even look forward to next year’s Oscar awards. Maybe. But, one thing is for certain…there is no trophy shelf in heaven. As much as I want to be that actor that performs in the name of the Lord…I’ll have to start breaking down my own walls of entitlement and self-motivation.

And even then…how do you pass that down? Loving the art of acting is easy, but loving the Lord more than you love yourself is hard…even in a leading role.

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4 Responses to ““I’d like to thank…””

  1. Erik,
    You have a wonderful production with students who look like they are having a great time up there. Thats what being a teacher is all about. Every Broadway and Hollywood celebrity started somewhere. If we do our jobs well, then they will always remember what is important when you stand in front of an audience..and hopefully, that is fun and another learning experience. Congrats to you and Emily!

  2. Very interesting! It is hard to put the egos on the shelf, especially, when in high school they are so fragile..you have to be nurturer, friend, teacher, guide, and sometimes the velvet hammer. tread carefully so that a wonderful dream is not stolen. The kids that it is their passion, sometimes don’t understand when decisions are made with out explaunation. Did yhey do something wrong? did they not meet expectaition. All I ask is that you remember what it was like to be a teen, with all the doubt ridden thoughts, and “how do I fit in”, questioning.

  3. Hey, just popping by. Love your blog. Sharing it w/ my arts team. Thanks for what you do.

  4. Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

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