Archive for acting

Brilliant Moments in the WOODS

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, REVIEWS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by erikball123

My favorite line in INTO THE WOODS has always been the Witch’s “I was just trying to be a good mother.” It’s widely received (on the stage anyway) as a laugh line to transition a moment. But in Rob Marshall’s version of this story, it’s a poignant, remarkable bookmark that made me almost tear up sitting in the Red Rock Regal Cinema. You see, everyone LOVES Sondheim. (And if you’re a theatre person and don’t…we’ll stone you to death.) But, the thing is…WHY do people love Sondheim? As a patron, is it his release from formulaic musical convention? As an artist, is it the challenge of skillfully crafted material? As a young actor, is it the blood, bad buys and nuances that are so much fun to love of hate? I think the answer is YES on all accounts. But, I would ask you to look past all of this for one moment…and look at the relationship between WORDS and MUSIC.

bernadette

Bernadette Peters (the Original Broadway WITCH) rehearses with Stephen Sondheim.

 

I’ve argued with anyone who has ears that Stephen Sondheim is a poet. The words he uses in his songs are cleverly and perfectly set to the moment. High schools across the country have presented INTO THE WOODS…heck, there is even a Tumblr site dedicated to low-budget Milky Whites, that I find most amusing. (https://www.tumblr.com/search/lowbudgetmilkywhites) From a producer’s perspective, INTO THE WOODS has a wonderfully twisted ensemble with parts for skilled vocalists, up-and-growing “green” performers, and optional ensemble parts. It has little dance (which is always a concern for drama groups) and costuming, set and prop elements can be as simple and complex as you’d like. The only tricky element is the source material, which in turn bookmarks this musical as a perfect example for those theatre groups hoping to engage students in lessons about simply telling a good story. (And for those who have a hand for creating transportive theatre, the show is a wealth of opportunity.)

Rehearsal for Faith Lutheran's INTO THE WOODS (2005). Andrew Eddins and Cash Black portrayed the tormented Princes. (Please Note: Kelly Odor and several lunch tables are in the background!)

Rehearsal for Faith Lutheran’s INTO THE WOODS (2005). Andrew Eddins and Cash Black portrayed the tormented Princes. (Please Note: Kelly Odor and several lunch tables are in the background!)

I’ve seen about a dozen live INTO THE WOODS productions. (Including one I directed in a high school gymnasium.) I’ve seen wild variations. One included a minimalist production told in an aristocratic living room during a thunder storm, as each high-society snob acted out the parts in turn “making up the story” as they went along. Interesting. I’ve seen video projections, puppetry, one told inside a closed book store and even one production where the Witch transformed from beautiful to ugly (instead of the other way around) and they played it off that the Witch preferred it that way. Hm. I’m sure there was an intended creative choice there and an accompanying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” message they were trying to send (much in the same light as Violet’s invisible scar, in Violet – The Musical, maybe??) Lots of fun to be had with characters we all know already…which is why I think directors feel magically compelled to “reinvent the wheel” (as snobby critics say) in their artistic vision of this particular musical. (Which is why it is so often regarded as a “good musical to produce.”)

The Central Park INTO THE WOODS.

The Central Park INTO THE WOODS.

 

The Original Broadway cast was superb…I show the filmed production to my classes…and it served as a springboard for Bernadette Peters to be cast in platinum as the production’s “forever Witch.” (Much in the same way that we’ll compare everyone who plays Elphaba to Idina.) The Broadway Revival, which started out in L.A. and featured a GIGANTIC giant foot that stomped on patrons waiting outside when it transferred to New York was wonderfully bland. I blame Vanessa Williams as unconnectable Witch, but that’s just me. (Loved her in Ugly Betty!) The British version wasn’t really well-received and included the new song “Our Little World.” (I can take it or leave it. I usually disregard it. The show is long anyway. Do we really need to lament more on the Witch and Rapunzel’s relationship and combing her hair?)  The Central Park, free admission production offered about 4 years ago was untraditional and offered a creepy Witch, a jungle-gym of a set and a Little Red in a bicycle helmet! I can hardly wait to see the Roundabout Theatre variation that is slated to head to Broadway very soon. (I’m ga ga over the piano concept in their minimalist design. Wackadoodle!)

Roundabout Theatre's INTO THE WOODS.

Roundabout Theatre’s INTO THE WOODS.

INTO THE WOODS is everywhere, which was why I went into the theatre today curious. I was pleasantly surprised at Marshall’s “CHICAGO” and I liked…not loved…liked, Burton’s “SWEENEY TODD.” What was going to become of another one of my favorites, and arguably a more often produced musical (moreso than CHICAGO and SWEENEY TOOD) at a high school level. I’m always worried how the non-theatre-going demographic is exposed to theatre in general. Live theatre is the most essential storytelling device we have in the world today. Music is the only thing we as a culture universally share as a binding agent. (We all love music.) Put the two together…and we have the opportunity to move mountains. As a director, I have the privilege (and burden) of shaping a production in the manner in which I hope to offer it up to an audience (full of the most critical theatre-loving critics and first-time theatre goers). When you take a musical that already means so much to you, personally…and redevelop it as a movie…the opportunity to loose integrity is great. (I would argue that the elimination of the chorus of pie-eating patrons in the Sweeney movie made the London masses, a collective character and important voice in the story, made the movie more about a monster of man…instead of the fact that we all might have a little bit of a monster inside of us. “Isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?” How do we know to think about that, if we don’t have a collective voice telling us? But, I digress.)

The cast of Rob Marshall's movie version of INTO THE WOODS.

The cast of Rob Marshall’s movie version of INTO THE WOODS.

The Rob Marshall INTO THE WOODS is quite possibly the best theatre to film adaption I’ve ever seen. It’s a wonderful story, presented thoughtfully without any loss of integrity. Those who love the musical will love the movie. Those who have never seen the musical will not miss out on any “inside jokes” or thematic elements potentially lost int he translation. There aren’t any. It tricks you. It’s not a movie-musical….it’s a musical-movie. On three different occasions I burst into a round of applause after a musical number, forgetting that this was a movie, not a musical. It nips and tucks in all the right places, and while I’ve been hearing a drone of “I wish the song NO MORE was included” among my theatre friends, I would argue it was not needed. The handling of the Mysterious Man was well-done, and the elimination of the physical Narrator (replaced wisely by the voice of the Baker, foreshadowing the tear-jerking final moment…which was BEAUTIFUL) made the song a bit redundant. They covered what they needed to cover…and good news!…you can still sing that song in the musical! Other missing musical elements are minimal, but as you’ll note, they were all connected to theatrical devices within the story that were eliminated in the movie. Nip tuck, nip tuck. (It’s a movie…without an intermission.)

What struck me as the most profound choices in the film were the choices. Allow me to highlight a few. *SPOILER ALERT*

  • The fact that there wasn’t a single title or credit at the beginning of the movie…brilliant. Immediately it plunked us down into this world. Before we could blink an eye…we were 20 minutes into the film and all of the exposition was laid out for us and we were actively engaged.
  • The contemplative “On the Steps of the Palace” was whimsical and perfectly staged as a moment in time. How often have we scrambled our brains to make a decision in a heartbeat…millions of times throughout a day? How wonderfully theatrical of our director to present this song in such a way, and deconstruct the moment that we all know as a simple act of leaving a shoe behind. Fun stuff.
  • The Princes’ song “Agony” (a borderline stereotype portrayal of the rugged and babyfaced Princes we all know from their respective stories) found two very likable characters temper-tantruming through splashy waters as they gaze upon their kingdom. It was thoughtful, well-filmed and hilarious. You INSTANTLY championed these two devise characters.
  • There is a danger in putting Johnny Depp as the Wolf. Who doesn’t love Johnny Depp? Those not familiar with the show may be heart-broken to only see him for ten minutes of screen time and catching stills from the set prior to watching the movie made me nervous. In performance, traditionally the Wolf is either portrayed as a personification of the age-old lesson of “don’t talk to strangers” or as a evil man of some kind, because all men are dogs…or, rather, wolves. The publicity photos saw Depp as a sort of Zoot Suit wearing gigalo. (Aside from the addition of some fun fur…Depp kinda looks like he was taken right off the street in his usual wears and onto the movie set!) I was pleased to see that HOW Depp portrayed the Wolf. It was very wolf-like…darting between trees to catch a glimpse, his trademark sneer when offering a sprig of flowers to the girl….it was VERY fun. I didn’t care how he was dressed…all I cared about was the fact that Depp was “the wolf” and how it was related was acceptable to me. Sometimes I wonder if I analyze stuff too much. HA!

depp

  • The kids were GREAT. Daniel Huddlestone as Jack and Lilla Crawford as Little Red were perfect fits. (I would have loved a bit more snarkiness from Red…but, I’m being picky.) Emily Blunt is a superstar as the Baker’s Wife. James Cordon is adorable and sympathetic as the Baker. Everybody loves Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick IN Pitch Perfect. They were quick to critique her in this film…but I would argue that she gave Cinderella the exact amount of torment. I was initially worried that she’d be too contemporary, but she was wonderful in the role. Tracy Ullman, Chris Pine….shoot, the entire cast was simply well-suited for their roles. Is there an award for CASTING a movie?
  • Now let’s talk about Meryl Streep. Preface: I’m a huge Bernadette Peters fan. I’ve always thought Streep was a great actress, but I never understood the tidal wave of hype about her. (In the same breathe…what’s up with the torrent love affair with with Barbara Streisand? I like her…but I don’t get the obsession. Another blog post for another day.) With that said…I cannot imagine another actress who could have played the role better. She sang beautifully and extracted from us the perfect about of sentiment and emotion. We loved her…we hated her…we feared her…and (most importantly) we found ourselves feeling sorry for her. In the song “Children Will Listen” (which is a song that could stand-alone as the show’s landmark) we were transported from the world of many characters’ strife to the inner struggle of a would-be mother and her desperate struggle to connect with her child and shield her from the dangers of the world. It’s beautiful. I LOVED “Last Midnight” for the same reason. I love how I can COUNT ON my students getting pissed off when the Witch disappears at the end of the Broadway version. “Did she die?” they ask. Maybe…maybe not. She’s definitely gone. They HATE unresolved. (Remind me to never read them the folk tale “The Lady and the Tiger.”) The Witch is at the center of this story…and Streep connects in every right way. (And I love the blue hair.)

I’m thrilled that another generation of could-be theatre goers will be exposed to this movie variation. It tells a great story and more importantly it relates (through WORDS and MUSIC) that truly no one is alone in their pursuit to communicate, be needed, protect and survive tragedy together. It’s a bedtime story and when the Baker is telling the tale to his son in the final moments…and the camera peels away…you desperately want to remain, a part of the audience. But no…our director takes us out of that world…and then for the first time presents the title: “INTO THE WOODS” reminding us it’s just a story. Wow. Brilliance.

INTO THE WOODS is the story of all of our lives, (whether we’re Bakers, Princes, Witches or Giants) and can effectively remind us that at the end of the day, we’re all going into a world that presents dangers, and only together can we survive and more importantly thrive.

I sit, poised and ready to purchase the Blue Ray upon its release. I have the projector in my classroom warmed up.

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The Process of Creating: Handle with Care

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2012 by erikball123

There are element of the process of developing a character that is worth sitting down and taking notes on. I would also argue that the deconstruction of any audition is worthy of spending countless hours on. The preparation before an audition, rehearsal or show is the nuts and bolts of an actor’s process and what puts the fuel in the ‘ol gas tank, as far as I’m concerned. A person’s reflection of the piece (actor, audience or otherwise) is the greatest joy and one of the most rewarding experiences theatre has to offer. But most importantly, I think is the fundamental art of storytelling. Above all things…did the audience walk away having been educated or entertained by an effective story?

All of these concepts, and more, are stations in a student actor’s process.(When I say student…I mean teen, adult, seasoned professional, etc.) Some advance on them like a mighty general leading an army. Other at least acknowledge them.

I’m in my ninth year of teaching high school theatre, and I want to say on the onset that my reflections in this post carry the weight of the culminating years. I don’t want to put any specific class of students under the microscope, but there needs to be something said about all students of theatre at a high school level…I suppose because I’m curious if there is a common thread in America. If so…perhaps my brain won’t explode.

You see, I teach bloody talented students. It sickens me sometimes how blessed they all are with talent. Therein the problem lies. I think they know their talented…and for me, I’m consistently distracted from teaching theatre, and find myself herding talented sheep back to the pasture so that they may continue to graze…whether they believe they need to or not.

Flashback. I remember a group of high schoolers with a fairly average skill set, who enjoyed tackling rinky-dink productions. There was really nothing terribly special about the after-school drama program in my home city. We all did it because it was fun. I supposed in the very end, I can look back and say that we weren’t challenged enough, I suppose. I recall a production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”  my freshman year. The adaption of the play left a lot to be desired…and I remember the name of the director was Jolly, which I thought was funny…but what I remember most was this one ensemble member. He was a townsperson and didn’t really have a large part…kinda kept to himself. At first, being the sensitive guy I was, I thought he was kinda a dork. He was always rehearsing by himself…thinking up new “moments” to create onstage. He didn’t really relate with the others much…but when directed to do so in the scenes, he was careful, polite and professional. I remember his freckles. He was always trying to dig for something more substantial in his character…which I (at the time) found silly. His character didn’t even have a name in the program! (Oh, but his character had a name onstage! And fears and quirks…and business cards! I’m serious…the dude made business cards!) He was always taking creative chances. Some worked…some didn’t. Okay, most didn’t. I recall Jolly being frustrated with him because of his over-zealousness on several occasions and he was the butt of many jokes. When the show opened…I remember thinking to myself…”he’s so over-the-top.” And that first night when the Ensemble stepped forward to bow…the audience roared. That young man made a definitive impression upon the audience in an overall lack-luster play. I don’t recall him upstaging anyone. I just recall a genuine, honest dedication to the part. And while Tecumseh, Michigan probably isn’t best known for it’s appreciation of the fine arts, I will say that the relationship between actor and audience is an honorable bond and I learn a valuable lesson in that show. That bond is one I take for granted all too often. I did back then…and I still do today.

Students at my school don’t have enough outlets for their talents. I would argue that on average the students are renaissance men and women. Some play instruments, some play sports, some are involved in outside activities, some perform in community theatre, some write music, short-stories or poetry, some sing opera, some tap dance…and some are the most compassionate, caring, God-fearing, lovely people I know. I will go on the record to say that the last nine years have been the most rewarding of my life, as I grow and learn from them daily. With that said…I cannot understand, with the wide spectrum of opportunity lying at their feet…(and if you’ll excuse me as I narrow the scope a bit, as I focus on just theatre) why don’t they thrust themselves forward with the enthusiasm of a puma pouncing a gazelle? One thing is for certain…the school I teach at has limitless resources and opportunities for them to succeed. (I might argue that we could use about two more drama teachers to satisfy the current demand, but I’ll leave that personal sob story and political soap-box program proposal for another post.) I want to name just a few resources that I have the pleasure of surrounding myself with daily.

  • Students attend class in a large drama classroom. (That doubles as a green room / reception space.)
  • Students perform in a 792-seat Chapel / Performing Arts Center with a state of the art fly-rail system, sound board and lobby.
  • Students work on producing shows in a large, scene shop, costume storage room, two dressings rooms and a set-building scene shop patio…all at our disposal.
  • A four-show theatrical season, a summer theatre program, a structured budget, a chorus of after-school activities that include middle school mentoring opportunities, service events, International Thespian Society, trips to California to attend the Musical Theatre Competition of America…and I could go on and on.

“…these students HAVE talent…they DO succeed…they WILL “bring it.” The problem is…they don’t have to CARE about it.”

What I’m talking about today is simply this….I think we are seeing a new dawn of students growing up in a world where they don’t HAVE TO care about anything. I love my students. Believe me…these students HAVE talent…they DO succeed…they WILL “bring it.” The problem is…they don’t have to CARE about it. Please note…I’ve worked in this school for my entire teaching career. I don’t know any other dynamic and I can imagine that my statements could very well be challenged. Please regards my musings with the open-mind that this school…this classroom…these students…this is all I know. Perhaps I’m ignorant. I’m actually okay with that. Pastry chefs are usually quite satisfied spending their entire careers working on pastries. Please forgive me if I offend schools with diminishing theatre programs (or no theatre program!) In the big-picture, I’m blessed beyond what I deserve…and so are my students. I hope you can ponder with that in mind. I’ll get back to the pastry kitchen now.

Students don’t have to care. Now, this is not including some exceptions of course. There are always those who are wonderfully careful about every faucet of their high school existence. But, overall the students in the private Lutheran school I teach at wear a cozy blanket that keeps them safe and warm. This same blanket provides them with reassurance that their days are filled with comfort and security. It shelters them from being weathered and is a soft place to fall at every corner. I think our school/faculty does a great job of providing a quality education to all who enroll and anyone who attends Faith Lutheran is a better person because of it. What I’m talking about specifically is ART. The ART of doing theatre. The appreciate of the strength, courage and sacrifice it take to learn and perform good theatre. It takes an artist who is willing to drop their inhibitions, sacrifice their senses, wander into uncharted territories every day and face a challenge that will beat them down again and again before picking them back up and regenerating them with faith, knowledge and rivers of creativity they never even knew they had. I’ve seen this magic work in high school students. It not a pipe dream…and we’re not talking Vegas smoke and mirrors. The problem is, it requires the student to lose their cozy blanket and expose their creative hearts, unsheltered.

I find that often, my students are unwilling to do that.

I’ve stood in front of them like a starched, spectacled Patton…I’ve delivered masterful speeches, riddled with fancy, encouraging words telling them how proud I am of them. (And every word I spoke was the truth.) I’ve seen them succeed in so many way…I’m losing buttons on my shirt I’m so proud! And in the grand scheme to things, you might be able to step back and look at my argument as a nit-picky, trite commentary. I see it differently. I see students who want so badly to be told that what they are doing is worth something. I see students who find homes in the theatre because it’s the only home they know. I see students who are gifts from God. (And there can be no other explanation.) I need to find a way to SHOW them that the ART of doing theatre….the ART of effective storytelling…the ART of doing the art, is what is the most rewarding thing of all. It’s a sense of urgency one gets when they are without a warm blanket…standing naked in the cold.

I think the problem is everybody has instant access to everything nowadays. I mean EVERYTHING. If I wanted a pizza, right now…I could have one. If I wanted a bear trap right now…I betcha there is someplace in Vegas I could get one…right now. It ridiculous really. I mean…how am I supposed to appreciate anything? And I grew up with parents and grandparents who did a GREAT JOB of making sure I didn’t grow up with an inflated sense of entitlement. What about the kids today? This is all they know. They are LOST without their conveniences. I can’t imagine any of my students in an impoverished school situation attempting to accomplish what they do in the drama program at Faith Lutheran. Heck, I can’t imagine what would happen to them if i didn’t allow them to have lunch in my classroom every other day.

I want it to be know that I can’t blame them. This is all they know…and this is what they’ve grown up with. But, is that good enough? I argue…from a creative aspect…no. If you want to perform (or work in any industry that requires you to create) you must learn to appreciate the process of creating. If you cannot see the worth in it, then you will find yourself resentful and finding shortcuts to get jobs done that you once took great creative pride in doing before.

I had a nightmare two days ago. My wife was a psychology minor in college and when I can remember my dreams, I like to share them with her. Perhaps she can see into them more clearly than I? I was onstage…a big stage…and people were applauding. I recall feeling rushed. I ran offstage and someone threw me towel. It hit me in the face. I wiped my face (I was sweaty) and I ran into a hallway and threw the towel down. I remember more than any other detail that I was upset about the applause. Not mad…not sad…just very upset. Unsettled. I woke from that dream and had a hard time getting back to sleep. The next day at school I couldn’t escape that feeling…and later talked about it with my wife.

“The recognition you receive for doing what you love sometimes comes at a great expense, especially when that same audience doesn’t see or understand what happens before, after or backstage during the show.” I thought there was wisdom in that. She thought the perfectionist in me is constantly fighting for the chance to create…and when the opportunity presents itself, any challenges in the process, and especially afterwards there is applause. But they are applauding for a character in a fictitious situation…not a grand effort by a hardworking artist. (Can you remember the name of the artist off the top of your head who painted “American Gothic?” I can’t. It’s just an example.) There is always someone standing just offstage who is unwilling to simply offer a towel…some relief. Rather, through expectation, it is thrown at me. Forget the fact that we’re fortunate enough to even have a towel. My “throwing the towel in” as I storm off, unsettled…is probably what made me feel so upset when I woke. I didn’t allow myself the chance to see what I did next. I ended things with me giving up.

All to often we get wrapped up in the immediacy of things, that we cannot see the forest from the trees, creatively. People forget that beyond the rehearsal notes…beyond the red scarf or the poofy shirt….beyond the “things” that make up theatre….there is a story being told by a storyteller. The art of telling that story is so hard…but it’s such a beautiful, fulfilling thing.

It was probably the most vivd dream I’ve ever had…and you know something…there are probably a million holes in our analysis of the dream itself…but if you think about it, whether my interpretation carries water with any of you or not, the bottom line is I’m no better than what I accuse my students of.

I think my students don’t have to care about doing theatre…because they are so used to it just being done for them. All they have to do is show up with their bags full of talents. But, I suppose if I’m going to be any mentor / teacher to them, then I need to figure out a way to ensure that what they show up for is a boot camp. A ground zero settlement of structure and opportunity that allows them to fall on their face…skin their elbows…and callous up! Imagine the joy one might feel after creating a character for themselves. Envision a high school musical generated by the collective efforts of a thriving ensemble who have generated something original, refreshing and telling. Who cares if Jimmy-Bob didn’t splatter-paint the barn correctly?! (The OCD side of me says “I DO!!!” But, I must stifle that side of me!) I need to be willing to allow them to fail so that they may succeed. I believe then and only then…will they see that they have the talent and opportunity to create, and be proud of it, every time.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to truly do this. It the same voice inside my head that compels me to spend 6 hours making a single prop or re-write an entire play in a format that more pleasing to the eye. This inability to give it up to the students makes for twinkly-good productions…but leaves my students entitled.

I need to allow my students to be that freckled-face hopeful who annoyed the hell out of director Jolly! I can play Duck Hunt with every chance they take onstage, shooting down moment after moment, guiding them through every line of dialogue…but if I’m a teacher of theatre, I need to be willing to allow them to fail. I’m encouraged by the fact that I have a talented group of kids who are smart enough to rise like a phoenix in the ashes.

That darned Junior back in high school probably doesn’t know the impact he made on my “Emperor’s New Clothes” experience. I find it funny that while I had a lead in “Emperor’s New Clothes” and nightly I (figuratively and literally) “disrobed” my juvenile appreciation of theatrical arts…today I look back and realize that it was a focused, joyfilled Junior who exposed a more vulnerable heart that I ever could. Jolly should be proud.

Today I hope that lovers of theatrical arts (onstage and off) can take a moment to reflect on what the theatrical arts provides them. How can the risk of burying yourself in a creative process (that requires so very much of you) be both rewarding and some of the biggest chances you’ll ever take.

Students of theatre…you are trusted every day to create wonderful stories. Every day is another lesson in another classroom that you must willingly step into so that you may work. Find great comfort in the opportunities that you have. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, so that you can march into battle with no armor, no weapons, and a trust in your own skill-sets and the help of your fellow cast mates. The victory after that battle will be great. More importantly, the story told will be legendary.

Auditioning for a Musical in High School

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2011 by erikball123

You have no idea how hard it was for me not to do a High School Musical / We’re All in This Together play on words for the title of this post. I suppose I’m more interested in people being attracted to this post for what is it rather than being attracted to the cleverness of the title….much in the same way I’ll never be able to appreciate the Twilight movies because Kristin Stewart is a strung-out mouth-breather and Robert Pattinson is a jelly-headed monkey with sweaty pits. Anyway….(Sheesh! Where did that reference come from? I gotta stop drinking V-8 before bed!)

I’m going to try to categorize the process of auditioning and give some advise in all areas. My goal here is to effectively prepare students (especially those at Faith Lutheran High School…holla!) for their upcoming musical audition. Faith Lutheran is looking forward to “ALL SHOOK UP” this spring…and next year “LEGALLY BLONDE.”

Needless to say these are two very demanding musicals…but I would argue they are amazingly fun too. I hope in the words that follow you can capture a joy in approaching your audition by gaining some sort of peace of mind. After all…this is supposed to be fun, right? I would like to thank the Music Theatre Guild, Signature Productions and my past theatre professors, as they certainly have all contributed to what I’m about to share.

DIRECTORS

There is a common misconception: directors are a roadblock of sorts in the efforts to successfully win the Nascar race that is an audition. While the process of auditioning is certainly a step in putting a show together, I would argue at a high school level (and when I refer to things at a “high school level” I’m talking about Faith Lutheran specifically. Surely other schools have standards that would support or oppose my comments. I argue that after 12 years of doing this I’ve found the processes I describe to be successful, that is all) the director WANTS a student to succeed. Let me give you two scenarios:

  • A student who has done several shows and regularly enrolls in drama classes…this kid might be considered a “drama kid” (a wonderfully stupid label…all kids are dramatic…like, really! Psh!) and has maybe even earned some leading roles. If this student walks into auditions, most likely the director has worked with them before…or the director at least knows of their work ethic. Don’t you think the director would hold them to a high standard, knowing they want to pursue performing outside of high school? Knowing that they are there to re-prove to all the other kids that they are deserving of the role (a tough speed-bump to approach, believe me)…knowing that even though they’ve had an opportunity to do a leading role before, they are a human being with desires, dreams, goals and hopes (just like the boy or girl who has never received a role.) Sure, there are going to be students who don’t appreciate their gifts….sure there is going to be arrogance….sure there is going to be entitlement issues. But underneath all of that is a human being who WANTS TO DO WELL. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Whether or not they’re re-proving themselves to the parents who don’t pay attention to them….or merely hoping for a lead so they can “finally get something of substance on their resume”…whatever the reason….the director of the approaching drama student WANTS them to succeed. Why? Because it is in the show’s and the student’s best interest.
  • Now take a student who has never done a show before. (Perhaps they’re a senior who has “always wanted to give it a shot”…or a “jock” who finds a studly role in the show appealing to their ego.) Or maybe…just maybe….it’s a student who has auditioned 5 times prior and has never been cast. All types are looking forward to facing a director with glaring eyes, and a strong opinion of them already. Well, I’m going to tell you something…..YOU’RE RIGHT! Those glaring eyes are filled with hope. That strong opinion of the type of person “you are” is about to be challenged by the type of person “you could be.” I promise you (on a stack of Bibles) that the director WANTS YOU TO SUCCEED. First and foremost, who doesn’t like an underdog! I cannot begin to tell you the number of times someone has flown under the radar and wow-ed me with an outstanding audition. I also love seeing “green actors” get their sea legs in a role and find that they have a passion for something they didn’t even know they had a talent for. And to those who keep trying after countless “failures”…to be granted a chance to finally do what you hope for, it’s thrilling. Why WOULDN’T a director what to give that gift to someone?

So, I don’t care who you are, if you want to audition for the musical, I want to impress upon you that every high school theatre director (if they’re worth a spit) wants you to succeed. This is why being a director is one of the most rewarding and heart-breaking jobs ever. Not every student will get that chance.

Directors are looking for the best fit between role and actor. PARENTS, READ ON. Directors don’t simply put the “best actor” in the “biggest role.” It doesn’t work like that. The actor needs to have what it takes to be able to fulfill the demands of the role. That includes chemistry with other actors, technique (in vocals, dance, etc.) and how a student takes direction. This is HUGE in high school theatre as directors are burdened with many issues regarding rehearsal space, school conflicts, budget, volunteers helping with set, costumes, etc. and many more! If a student is VERY proactive and works hard on their “job,” then a director can trust that with some creative tweaking, that job will get done. If the student’s approach suggests that they will be a liability (or at least, someone we’ll have to “deal” with all the time) then the attractiveness of their offering won’t be as golden. Parents, don’t storm into a rehearsal and pull your student out saying “we have to go, right now.” It’s creates a huge problem. While the play in your world may be another bullet on your list, for the production, yanking your kid out nullifies productivity in that rehearsal. I think parents sometimes forget that we high school directors (and the student actors) have a job to do too.

This is why I’m constantly nagging the students to make a good choices throughout rehearsals….clean up after themselves in the green room….be kind to others, preventing backstage drama….and being respectful to their fellow students and volunteer adults. Nobody wants to work with someone who thinks their proverbial “poop doesn’t stink.” Not in high school, not in college, not in the industry. I always saying (somewhat jokingly…but somewhat not) “It’s one of two choices: a good choice or a bad choice. What one are you looking to achieve?” Back to auditions….sheesh. See how I get side-tracked!

I want to clear up one last thing. In an audition, directors are looking for what you do RIGHT, rather than what you do WRONG. (Which is why if you mess up your words in your song…keep singing!) Mistakes are expected, so try not to focus on them. Instead, show us what you are capable of.  Edmvnd W. Golaski once said “While the actor’s ego may crave the largest role, getting a role that’s the right fit is probably more conducive to happiness during the production period. I would argue that it’s in your best interest to be yourself, show off what you do well, and trust that the directors will put you where you can shine.” I like that.

BEFORE THE AUDITION

  • PICKING THE RIGHT SONG: We are looking for a song choice that suits your voice and shows off the dynamics of what you can offer in range and personality. Remember, this offering is no less storytelling than your acting audition, so make sure it’s a song you “perform” well. If a director has set up rules to follow (aka: do not sing something from the musical, an up-tempo, etc.) then FOLLOW THEM! Do not challenge the director before you even open your mouth by bending the rules. There are a million songs out there…find one that satisfies the requirements and makes you look good. If all else fails, choose a simpler song that you KNOW you can sing well. Avoid songs that are tremendously overdone.
  • THE SCRIPT: Some high schools make sides or scripts available to students before auditions. You absolutely need to acquaint yourself with the show. Read through the show, find scenes that interest you and rehearse them. Make solid choices in character / approach that you can bring into auditions with you. Nothing too solid. If the director wants you to try something completely different…be flexible enough to change it up. I recall my callback for Mr. Salt in Willy Wonka, the director wanted me to read him as a bustling oil tycoon. I donned a rip-off Yosemite Sam and turned the character into a southern tornado. I got cast in the part and was never asked again to approach that “type” of character. I believe the director was testing me.  Unless the director requires you to memorize something, don’t bother. Know the scene well…but don’t add another stress to your plate. I guarantee you the “worth” of you having the scene memorized will not be weighed in your favor as much as you’d hope it would. Directors don’t care about that at this stage of the game.
  • DANCE CALL: If you are considering a career in performing…get into a dance class. Bottom line. Even if you’re not a “dancer,” any sort of movement will take the edge off a dance call. (Trust me…I’m not a dancer.) But, if you are unaccustomed to dancing / dance calls…my advice is to come prepared. (Bottle of water, towel, comfortable/move-able clothes, appropriate footwear.) Prepare yourself to do your very best. (Even if your very best is the best dancer’s very worst!)

THE DAY OF THE AUDITION

  • CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR: It so funny to me that a student can be so conscientious about what their boyfriend / girlfriend is doing behind their backs…but they have absolutely no sense of object permanence when they sit in a room during an audition. A director can see you rolling your eyes. A director can see you making a comment under your breath. A director can see you isolate yourself from others. Make it a point to be outgoing, enthusiastic (about everything and everyone.) Be kind. Be helpful. Be proactive. Be welcoming. Be encouraging. Be supportive. Nobody…nobody wants to work with the alternative. If you have a hard time adopting these traits…then your social personae is telling you that the impression you’re leaving is not as important as your status at the school. A director sees that too.
  • THE AUDITION FORM:  Someone once said “be illustrative, not exhaustive” when filling out your form. (Especially when detailing your experience and relevant skills.) Please come prepared to write down all of your conflicts. (Everything…that means talking to your parents and making sure orthodontist appointments don’t surprise anyone!) Good rule of thumb: “when in doubt, put it down.” Be honest and clear. Misunderstandings always create confusion…and you never want to purposely leave something off or lie.
  • IN GENERAL: Usually auditions are held after school. Try to go about you day normally. (I know, I know…easier said than done!) But, seriously, working yourself up into a tizzy ain’t gonna do you no good…so eat a good breakfast, work hard in class, eat a healthy lunch and then approach the auditions with a collected mind. Avoid pre-audition gossip and do your best to think about your audition instead of focusing on others.

DURING AUDITIONS

  • SINGING: I’m a big believer of telling a story in your song. Understand what the character is feeling in the song, and become that character. Personally, I don’t mind if you read your lyrics off of a piece of paper…but in a professional audition, you’re going to want to have that thing memorized. You will most likely not get a chance to sing the whole song. (Most directors put a limitation on offerings…mostly because of time.) If there is a part of the song you want the directors to hear…make sure you include that part.
    • THE VOCAL DIRECTOR is looking for the following: VOCAL QUALITY, MUSICIANSHIP, TECHNICAL DETAILS (pitch, dynamics, etc.) and are you ACTING THE SONG. The director is looking at a bigger “package.” Does your voice and body language suit the song you’re singing? Are you entertaining? Overall, please remember this….we know this is probably NOT going to be your BEST offering. So have fun!
    • THINGS THAT EFFECT YOUR VOCAL AUDITION – There are a million factors that will effect your audition. Ex: Are you just getting over a cold? Did you just flunk your science test? Did you get into a fight with your boyfriend/girlfriend? All of these things will creep into your audition. If you can remember: NOBODY EXPECTS PERFECTION…then you’ll do okay. If you do run into “trouble” and forget your words…my recommendation is JUST KEEP SINGING. Say any word in the world…it doesn’t matter….but don’t stop. You know the notes….sing them. Sing any words that come to your head. One of two things will happen. The director will realize what’s going on…ask you to stop…and allow you to start again. OR, the director will let you finish…and RESPECT the fact that you didn’t give up. I KNOW I WOULD! Never say die in a vocal audition. REMEMBER…the director WANTS you to succeed!

  • ACTING – Listen very closely to the directions given by the director. The best way to do this is by looking them directly in the eyes and giving them all of your focus. This is hard to do sometimes, because you’re nervous, fidgety and attempting to find some sort of comfort by connecting with your friends/classmates. When the director talks…shut your mouth, look them in the eyes…and follow their directions as best you can. If you are unsure of something…ask.
    • WHAT IS THE DIRECTOR LOOKING FOR? They need to see if you can portray a character in such a way as to effectively tell the story. (This means they’ll be looking at character choices, relationship, reactions, and delivery.) Don’t allow words to get in your way. You’ve already read through the script, right? So you know what’s going on in the scene? If a word or two gets in your way…just GO ON! You know how they respond…so RESPOND! Students have this weird notion that they have to deliver every single word perfectly…and if they miss one….they’re out! Just focus on TELLING A STORY. Best way to practice this: At home, pick a scene from a musical. (Look at them all. Which ones WOULD be a good scene to use in an audition. Usually that’s the one the director will use!) Go through it a couple of times with your friends. Now….drop your scripts. Seriously. Put them down. Now, do the scene without the privilege of the lines. Make up the lines. Keep the same intention / goals / relationships, etc…but just get through the scene from beginning to end without the scripts. Afterwards…revisit the scene WITH the script. You will find that the discoveries you make when you’re NOT buried in words are usually MORE FUN to watch. Apply them. Practice makes perfect. Some of the best auditions I’ve seen in high school were ones delivered by those who worked on their scene work BEFORE auditions. Just sayin’.
    • TAKING DIRECTION: I guarantee you at some point the director will give you instruction. Again, 90% of the time, they’re testing you. They are not so interested in the final outcome so much as they are the journey you take to get there. Listen…focus…take chances…and perform!
    • TAKE CHANCES: This is tricky. I’m not telling you to light your shirt on fire and call it an “acting choice.” There are good choices and bad choices…remember? What I’m saying is, make a FUN choice that helps tell the story. People want to be entertained. Why deny them of that honor in auditions. Have FUN! But make sure that whatever choice you make….supports the scene.
    • START THE SCENE WITH ACTION! This is huge for me. Never start a scene with the first line of the scene. Why? Because everyone else will. That’s why! Trust me. Start with a moment of action (pantomime even) that sets the stage for the first line. Also…end with action. The script is just words. WORDS, WORDS, WORDS!
    • LOOK THEM IN THE EYES: Chances are you won’t be paired with a scene partner of your choice. In any case, when you are performing, LOOK THEM IN THE EYES. It’s a little detail, but I’m surprised at how many people DON’T DO IT. If you are buried in the script…or in a distant land somewhere spouting words into the empty universe….you’ll never connect, and ultimately it’s empty and void of an entertainment value. Instead, force your energy upon your scene partner by talking to them and making eye contact. They will do one of two things: 1.) Take that energy and run with it, offering it back, thereby creating a cool back-and-forth pulse to the scene. 2.) Or, fight against it. If this happens…and sometimes it does…I promise you it makes YOU look good. Just remain persistent and let the little bugger flop in the boat like a helpless fish. (Somewhat insensitive…but so is fishing.)
    • SAY THANK YOU: A simple thank you is enough. No need to walk over and shake the director’s hand (unless they offer it.) Just look them in the eye…say thank you….and be gone.
    • DON’T STOP BELIEVING: No matter how the scene is going…keep going. If you struggle to find a heartbeat in a scene…keep going. If you flub a line…or your scene partner loses his/her spot in the script….keep going. Never, never, never stop and ask to start again. Never apologize for your offering. Never mutter how bad you thought you did as you leave the stage. Bad, bad, bad monkey!!! No, no, no. Head held high! Stiff upper lip! Act that scene….and if it sucks….well, then….suck wonderfully!!!! Just don’t stop.

  • DANCING – Listen very carefully to the instructions given by the choreographer. Make SURE you have had enough water to drink before the auditions. (That includes you, wafer-thin Tyra Bank wanna-bees who eat only celery every other Tuesday.) You will most likely be tested on how you follow direction, technique, application, interpretation, and energy. (Also, are you focused and driven? Or sloppy and distracted?) My suggestion (and I don’t dance that much) is to do you best. Focus….and do your best.
    • Something technical to think about. A choreographer tends to stand in front of the group to give instruction. Most choreographers are right-handed…which means they will turn over their right-shoulder to give instruction and watch as you execute the moves. It would behoove you to stand toward the front and stage right. Just sayin’. You’ll be noticed more. (Nobody ever got noticed standing in the back. That’s why us good old fashioned Lutherans sit in the back pews. It’s the closest to the coffee in the narthax and we most likely won’t run into the head of the church committee-of-the-month.)
    • FOCUS – In on of the dance classes I helped team-teach, one of my students challenged me to Dance, Dance Revolution. I failed miserably. It was NOT pretty. I remember the same game at my brother-in-law’s house. Empty house…game system all to myself…and I’ll tell you what, I did about 100 times better than I did in class. Why? Because I didn’t have distractions. I focused. You can do it! Final word on this….have fun. Choreographers want to work with people who WANT to work hard…and have fun. If you exhibit neither of these traits….it’ll be a HUGE up-hill battle. If you screw up…keep going. The only time I think you should ever leave a stage during an audition is if you are going to PUKE, PEE or FAINT. Then, by all means, exit stage right.
  • CALLBACKS – Remember this, unless otherwise stated, callbacks are NOTHING MORE than another audition. What does that mean? It means the director needs to see more of you. That’s all. It’s not a right of passage. It’s not a green flag so you can advance to the next level. This isn’t American Idol. You’re not going to Vegas baby. (You’re already here!) Tighten your belt, strap on your helmet and gear up for more of what you just went through. It’s JUST another audition. Directors may give you something specific to work on. My suggestion is to focus on that and give it your best shot. DO NOT focus on who’s reading for who…and who did / didn’t get a callback….blah, blah, blah. See, you’re back acting like a typical high school student. You’re above that.

AFTER AUDITIONS

  • RELAX – Try to relax. You just been through battle. Remember there are many kids in there vying for the same part you want. In essence it is a competition. But, did you do your best? Did you take chances? Did you execute everything you had in you? If so…then you have absolutely nothing to worry about. If you don’t get cast, then it wasn’t because you didn’t do something. The goal for you as an actor in an audition is to walk out of that room with confidence in what you offered with no regrets. Another goal might be to make sure the director is thinking about YOU when the auditions are over. You’re unique…you’re special…you’re deserving…and you have EVERY BIT as much right to be considered for that role as the next guy. (And if you don’t think so out of the gate….there your #1 problem. Work on that self-esteem thing before auditioning next time.) The point is: The director is rooting for you. Most likely your parents, brothers / sisters are rooting for you. Your friends are rooting for you. God is rooting for you. Why in the world wouldn’t you be your #1 cheerleader. Have confidence in yourself! You can do it! And if it doesn’t work out, then next time you’ll do it. You need to generate a tough skin. The performance industry is the most rewarding industry out there…but it’s the toughest. It’s ruthless. And you need to be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off…and start all over again. If you’re unable or unwilling to do that…then don’t get into the performance industry.
  • ONCE THE CAST LIST IS POSTED:If it’s posted on a call board, then approach the cast list, take a gander and then walk away. I recommend celebrating or reacting with disappointment several….several steps away from the cast list. Make it an agenda item. An appointment. Check the list…then go away. If you linger it’ll be perceived that you WANT to see others’ reactions (good or bad.) If you react (positively or negatively) and linger, it’ll make the approach to the cast list just that much more difficult for others. Please, for your sake and the sake of your fellow classmates, just check it out…and step away. If it’s posted online or if you receive word regarding the cast list via email…then you have the opportunity to reacting in the comfort of your own home, snuggled up with your ladybug pillow pet. Anyway you want to react is fine, but I beg of you to refrain from engaging in rumor mill gossip as a result.
    • Please keep in mind three things:
      • 1.) Regardless of the role you received…there is always someone out there broken hearted that they didn’t get the role you got. So appreciate the opportunity.
      • 2.) If you got a leading role…be humble. Remember, with great power come great responsibility. Get ready for a lot of work. (And that work shouldn’t include beating down misconceptions of others saying that your arrogant.)
      • 3.) If you didn’t get cast…please remember, this was a VERY difficult decision. It’s NEVER personal. (Parents, I understand if you roll your eyes. The job of directing a high school production is something I’m very honored to do for the school. They trust me to put in place a fair system that will determine a cast. I, and most directors, take this responsibility VERY seriously because it is our passion. We want to see children flourish in the art of theatre, not suffer as a result. After every cast list is posted, I spend a good two-three weeks as a make-shift guidance counselor, talking with students who are disappointed and working through their auditions, having a collaboration regarding what they could be doing better for the next time.
      • FACEBOOK: Can I just say one thing. I’m a huge Facebooker…I have a Twitter, a Tumblr and every other en vogue app de jour. With that said…please remember, EVERYTHING you put on Facebook is read by everyone. If you’re happy…awesome. If you’re sad…that’s perfectly reasonable. But if you feel compelled to self-medicate yourself by posting the highlight or greatest regrets regarding the posting of a cast list over the world wide web in any format…ultimately your positing yourself to hurt someone. I have been on the back-handing side of things with regards to this, and I have witnessed first hand these types of postings totally disable a person’s joy in auditioning in the first place. Frankly, it’s the reason my wife cancelled her Facebook. Not because she was attacked…but for the same reason neither of us will ever chaperone a school dance: it’s paints students in such an ugly light. We see knee-jerk sides of their personalities that we wish we hadn’t. I ask you to think twice before posting, that’s all.
      • PARENT CONCERNS: I’d say 95% of the complaints I hear from parents as a result of their students not receiving roles they believe they deserve, are brought to my attention because they believe I’m not providing an opportunity for them (in the form of a leading role.) I hope they’ll look at the bigger picture and see that while I cannot give every student a leading role…what I can do is provide opportunities for them to GROW. (Whether it is in the form of an onstage role or a supportive dialogue with the director) so that at the next time, the student can effectively expand on those opportunities and re approach the next play/musical. If you’re a drama director at a high school level, I challenge you to keep that open-door policy after auditions. If a student falls into the background after an audition…seek them out. Have a dialogue with them. I view this as the most important part of my job. Shows come and go…as do classroom dynamics…but that personal coaching is what builds character, which should be paramount.

IF YOU’RE A STUDENT: I am very interested in your continued success as a performer. If you have a question (vague or specific) that I haven’t touched on in this post…please leave a comment. I promise to respond.

IF YOU’RE A HIGH SCHOOL DRAMA TEACHER / ADMINISTRATOR: Please let me know what you’re thoughts are on this topic. I’m also interested to hear what others think are the current challenges of drama programs in the school system as we approach this generation of students. (Especially in light of diminishing fine arts programs nationwide.)

IF YOU’RE A PARENT: Please let me know your concerns as a parent of a “drama student.” I believe strongly in the classroom trinity: STUDENT, TEACHER and PARENT. Collectively they create harmony. (And anyone who has worked with me will tell you that without the direct support of the parents at Faith Lutheran…I wouldn’t be able to do what I do everyday.) I care greatly about your concerns, and would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, knowing that we all have the students’ best interest in mind.

I hope this was helpful.

Willy Nilly

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , on June 15, 2010 by erikball123

The presenting of a world that cannot be logically explained is called Theatre of the Absurd. Where an actor’s voice and body should remain the spectacle, that is something we call Poor Theatre. Usually referring to several unofficial theatre companies performing challenging or controversial works at the same times, theatre goers have referred to this type of theatre as Fringe.

So then, what does one call a musical that is reverent, challenging, imaginative, and poetic…yet poorly written? “Theatre of the Suck?” “Bad Theatre?” How about, “The Dumb Show?”

I have a hard time exercising a notion that anything derived from a beloved children’s book could ever be dumb. I mean, 90% of children’s literature has us chasing run-away meatballs or galavanting off into the woods with Whosits and Whatsits galore! This isn’t Shakespeare madame!

My friend, the brilliant Shawn as Wonka...some goon in really fly shades...and the equally brilliant Madalyn as Veruca.

I’m currently playing Mr. Salt and The Candyman in the musical stage version of Willy Wonka at Spring Mt. Valley Ranch in Vegas as part of the city’s Super Summer Theatre program. I have been having the time of my life which challenges my inner-most intellectual actor. You see, the script for the musical (offered by Music Theatre International) is…well….bad. It’s not good. And while I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of “making chicken salad out of chicken poop” as my friend Chris likes to say, I find that my normal approach in this project has been somewhat rattled with conflict. What do you do with a bad script?

I recall a time before I even auditioned, sitting in a dressing room, aging myself to look like a forlorn sheriff, listening to Bon Jovi on someone’s far away CD player and taking theatre, slipping in cliche’ terms to sound important….and mentioning the upcoming auditions. “Well the show sucks” commented a friend who on more than one occasion I’ve taken advice from and who often uses bigger words than “sucks.” “And I’m NOT gonna be a freakin’ Oompa Loompa!” They hinted at the fact that the stellar dancers would all wind up Loompas…and in fact they were right.

I was convinced that while I loved the movies and books…I would not audition. Later, while I quickly shimmied out of my peppermint striped pants and into my grey shark-skin suit during my quick change, I thought to myself “this is a challenge!” At the time I was referring to my foot. (It didn’t want to go in the leg hole! Go int he leg hole, you foot! You only have 30 sec. for this change! Go in the leg hole!!!!!! Aaaahhhh!!!!) Luckily my dear friend Amanda was there (she volunteered to be my changer…a move I attribute to the fact so that she can mess with me) and she guided my foot….then sha-zam! I was dressed in no time.

The familiar songs / lyrics are there and I truly have the priviledge of singing “The Candy Man” in the show, which is the best song of the show in my opinion. (Love ya Sammy!) But, the mess is made in the translation of the beloved movie version to the stage. There are obstacles that need addressing that are simply glazed over, and there remains segmented musical tid-bits that are as long-lasting as a single spearmint Chicklet. Some may say disappointing. But, compared to what? Wonka appreciates the fact that no everyone will like EVERY candy bar. I can’t imagine there ISN’T a child out there who would prefer a Slugworth Sizzler. And you know what…who cares if there is! We can only work on creating what WE believe in..and HOPE others will enjoy as well.

I leave a great deal of room for the respect I have for the creative team on this project. Anyone that has a bad word to say about Phil Shelburne, Shannon Cook, Rommel Pacson and Tim Cooper will have to deal with me!

Perhaps I’m being too critical. I mean, obviously someone thought it was genius. Music Theatre International wouldn’t publish and distribute just anything…would they? So, I give great credit to the laborous hours we spent toiling over the subtext and the meanings and intentions before, after and behind the words in the script. Were we successful? Who can tell really…and the reviewer seemed as vanilla as single scoop ice cream…bland on opening night. Perhaps a Laffy Taffy joke would have helped.

But that’s the point, I think. There is a line in the Tim Burton version when Mike Teavee is challenging the grinning Wonka and says “what’s the point of all of this! It’s pointless!” and Charlie Bucket turns to him and says, “it’s candy. It doesn’t have to have a point.”

The hidden smile behind that notion is what brings me back to the present day. I genuinely look forward to Wednesday and performing in this bubble gum musical. I think it is because of the amazing ensemble I have the privilege of working with. The children in the show alone are full of life and recharge my batteries every night. I admire their professionalism and cannot express how their energy makes me a better actor. (Even if the one keeps wiping his nose on my pants.)

Another reason to brave the dusty trails of Spring Mtn. Valley Ranch and endure the love-wrought brays from the burros in the hills, has to do with the audience. We’ve been working full houses…and they truly seem to enjoy it. (The children do anyway. One kid squealed so loud it scared me.) Granted the movies have done a great deal as far as helping us market the show, but I like the idea that the audience might be there for the sole purpose of wondering what’s behind the next corner during the factory tour as well. It’s compelling to me to think that regardless of whether or not our Oompa Loompas are CGI generated or merely lanky community folk in purple spandex…the audience will accept it. It’s theatre…and there is always an element of imagination and forced perceptions. Right? Perhaps that what I like about the show. It’s simple…and sweet…and stupid. And people like simple, sweet and stupid.

My friend Keriann as "Peppermint" and the Candyman...we shop at the same store.

Challenging theatre is rewarding and a thrill to do, when done well. But, there is something to be said for theatre that wraps itself in “possibility” and offers a light offering of fun, creative, and lively theatre that transports audiences to a simple world of silliness, double-bubble burp-a-cola, and Snozzberries. It’s good, clean nonsense. And compared to “legitimate, good” theatre that I’ve done, and walked away from burdened (for whatever reason)…I will willingly accept the jab in my gut from my little Veruca and pass out paper mache lollipops to my scene mates until the fat Wangdoodle sings!

“It’s shear theatre. Nothing more that cotton candy and treacle.” That’s right. And I think it’s good. And that world tastes good….cuz the Candyman thinks it should.

I WANNA BE A “PRODUCE”-ER

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2009 by erikball123

It got to a blistering 108 degrees today in Las Vegas and I thought my beaded, metal necklace was going to burn a rope mark onto my chest as I walked through the parking lot.

I was at the grocery store getting the weekly goods and found myself spending a lot of time in the freezer section! Upon lugging our frozen waffles and crusty French bread home in doggy-walk bags, my wife and I decided to clean out the freezer. That’s when Emily found it! Not Jimmy Hoffa’s body… (I still truly believe the corpse can be found in the bottom drawer of my teacher’s desk at school)…but, rather,  a bag of frozen broccoli from 2006. We didn’t even live in this house in 2006…how did that happen!? It’s 2009. That’s three year old broccoli. (They say it loses it’s nutrients when you boil it. Hmm.)

broccoli

Got me thinking: What ALL do we forget about? Mind you, I’m not digging for vast philosophy here…I’m merely suggesting that in our daily clouds that are muddied with Americano chugs, “sup” nods and dress shirt pressing, we have a lot tucked in our proverbial freezers that we forget about. It sits there…frozen. It was at one point in time something significant, or useful. Something that we planned for…desired….obtained or toiled over…and then forget. Tossed aside, cozy against the Otter Pops and Pizza Rolls.

EXAMPLE: How many birthday’s did you forget this year? (And the term “forget,” in this setting, refers to something that you didn’t plan for or look forward to. Not necessarily forgot completely.) I can’t remember how many times I’d be watching TV and see a Father’s Day commercial or something, and find myself going “hmm…Father’s Day must be coming up.” And it was Father’s Day. Or, I recall my mother saying to me, “your cousin’s husband just lost his grandmother. They we’re very close. A phone call would be nice.”  I forgot. I never called.

Yeah, that broccoli could easily be something that you purposely avoid…because it’s something you have to deal with and can’t be bother by the insignificance of it all. After all, who wants to eat broccoli anyway, right?

It might be the weekly war between the church pew and the snooze button. It might be the backyard lawn and the hedges that you can’t manage to find time to trim. It could be the “thank you” letter that you forgot to write….or PLANNED to write, but found that re-run of Scrubs more enthralling and the chaise much more comfortable.

That bag of 2006, frost-bitten broccoli could be anything.

I saw a dude pull into the supermarket as I was pulling out. He had a Great Dane in the back seat. I thought to myself  “he’d better not leave him in the car and run in.” Of course he didn’t…because if I didn’t think that, I would sleep at night. But, there ARE morons who do that sort of thing. For those morons…for some reason, at that moment…that broccoli is not as important as whatever he needs to do in the supermarket. People who leave pets in cars are immediately  inconvenienced and are too lazy to deal with it.

That broccoli could be one-more beer past the time you promised to be home. That broccoli could be the prayer forgotten about as you lie half-asleep, actually thinking about how you didn’t pray. That broccoli could be forgetting to say “thank you.”

Forgetfulness in general, is not a happy thing. I visited my two grandmothers last week in Michigan (and it was GREAT to see them both!) and one of them celebrated her 90th birthday. As we visited, I struggled in my communications with her using a college-ruled notebook and an over-exaggerated mouthing technique I call “BALLTALK.” (I usually talk that way anyway.) She’s forgetting a lot. It’s hard to watch someone you love struggle to find a single word so that they can complete their thought. It was a work-out for her.  She had so much to say…and with us living in Las Vegas, expressing herself otherwise is close to impossible. The visit was like watching her struggle to play that Clock Game on the Price is Right. She had to get all she wanted to say out, before time was up and we had to leave. Broke my heart.

The struggle with that sort of “forgetting” is something I can appreciate and lovingly forgive from a third party perspective. But, the “thoughtless” forgetting (for lack of better words) is something we should all strive to work on. It is closely related to a catch phrase that I find myself less willing to accommodate as I get older. It’s called “WHATEVER.”

I have a guilty pleasure. It’s called Judge Judy. I don’t know how to explain it. I certainly do not apologize for my TiVo-ing every episode. I don’t apologize for laughing at the litigants. I even like Burd the Bailiff.  I find great entertainment in watching Judith Sheindlind set traps for the defendants…and then watch them walk right into them. Boo-ya! It’s like a modern day, 12-minute Miss Marple. I try to figure it out before she reveals it. I don’t know….it’s a guilty pleasure.

I find myself in CONSTANT awe at how people get SO wrapped up in their own selfish lives. Granted, I’m no saint! I put off work today for a nap. I find loopholes and “easy way outs” all the time, just like the next guy. But, I can’t explain the number of times litigants simply don’t have answers to simple questions like “why did you do that?” or “when were you going to pay her back?” They truly don’t know…and don’t care. Strike that. They DO know…but hoped that “it” would expire, and then years down the road when someone noticed “it” they were hoping they would simply throw “it” away.  (Did you follow me there?)

I laugh and enjoy the show…and then go back to my own finger-pointing, sinful life doing the exact same thing in differing degrees.

Let’s call it “selective forgetfulness” or rather the need to find daily obligations conveniently forgotten. It’s not the right thing. It’s how dog’s get left in cars…teenage students get pregnant…and broccoli get left in the freezer. We know…we just don’t care ENOUGH to act.

What a sad existence. Hm. Makes me wonder what it would TAKE to light that fire under my butt TO care? I mean, I bought that broccoli in 2006…planned on eating it in 2006…and I imagine I saw it in there from time to time. It HAD to be moved from one house to another when we moved 3 years ago. Yet…I didn’t care enough to strap on my hounds tooth hat and portray “Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Expired Broccoli.”  It remained…comfortable…cozy….forgotten about in the recesses of my temperamental freezer. (Maybe the ice cubes are sending me hidden messages when I ask for cubes and get crushed.)

So, what’s the solution? Should we take a vow of of fresh produce? I don’t think it’s necessary. We’re human and change our minds often. Working out the details in life is something I think God would want us to do, right?

Onstage it’s our job as actors to find moments to make the structure of the story we’re offering live, and thrive…and extend to the receptive audience. The role is one thing…the relationship is another…but it’s the choices we make as performers that binds it all together, breathes new life into it, and propels it forward. If we start character analysis at the beginning of the process with a bag of broccoli…we can do whatever we want to with it…except forget about it. That would be like denouncing the stir fry in which it was originally intended!

I don’t think it’s a crime to change your mind. I think we live in a fast-paced world. It’s okay to feel bad that we can’t communicate effectively with our grandmas like we used to. It’s okay to struggle with a part onstage. It’s okay to find it “hard” to read the Bible, go to church and find time to talk with God. It’s okay.

Again, I’m not digging for vast philosophy here. I just think that we have a natural tendency to find it all too convenient to forget to clean out the freezer from time to time. We shouldn’t assume that nothing actually “goes bad” when it’s frozen.

Help the “needy.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2009 by erikball123

Whoever invented the term “inner beauty” should be hunted down, bound with used Slinkies, towed to the nearest cul de sac and beaten with large sticks.

I know full well that by shouting from the rooftops that I’m a Dr. Phil fan will strongly effect my creditability in this posting. Some view this dude as a complete sell out, phony bologna with clinical advice as accurate as his painted-on smile. To a small degree, I agree. Anything on the boob tube needs a little make-up to remove the shine. But, in the big picture, I think Dr. Phil is a decent person who wants to do right, and puts things in the spotlight so that they can, at the very least, get attention. The dude makes a bundle doing so, granted…but I don’t think that deserves character lynching. That’s just being guilty of wanting to earn a really good living. Some of us would kill for some of that right now…so I won’t begrudge him.

Today he was talking about the “sexualization” of teens and how media is totally influencing those who do not have role models at home. I find this topic AMAZINGLY interesting. As a high school teacher in an upper-class, private high school I deal with student entitlement issues, social out casting and an overflow of arrogance as thick as the wallets they are used to receiving handouts from. It’s an uphill battle in some cases. But, you can’t get upset over things that ultimately aren’t within your control. These students are used to a certain way of life…and cannot be faulted for NOT thinking otherwise. They don’t know an “otherwise.”

I watched a promo for the upcoming Gossip Girl episode. (A show I admit I’ve never seen.) It showed a young man and women in bed…in a steamy, kiss-filled embrace followed by a discussion about how the girl might have accidentally married the boy’s best friend…and was he jealous??? Then it showed that they were in high school. They look 25!!

It’s farce. It’s all farce. It’s unrealistic to think of little Mary in my High School Drama class in a black thong (Why black? Well…I saw it on the commercial) in a steamy embrace…and talking about accidentally marrying someone because she replied “si” instead of  “I do” in a drunken stupor. It’s downright unimaginable.

I think it’s likewise unimaginable to think that ANY of my students are sexually active. But…and I’m impressing my “I suppose” theory here….I’m sure that’s not the case either. I bet there is a LOT I don’t know. To be blissfully naive sure seems nice on the onset, but when I look in the eyes of these kids who I have the pleasure of teaching everyday…do you want to know what I see? I see someone who has a fundamental void in their life that needs to be filled. Something is missing, and these impressionable hopefuls are filling these voids with what they KNOW. AKA: Gossip girl poo-poo.

I watch as they distribute off-hand insults on a daily basis. There are plenty of rolling eyes. Even their lingo. I’ve even used the word “creeper” in class. But, in a year that word will most likely follow suit to many other words of yesteryear (aka: “snap,” “Gangsta,” and “word”) and find a backseat to the next big trend. It’s a living, breathing, evolving mess of “whatever happens to stick to the wall at that particular moment.”

What they say…what they do…certainly what they wear…and how they “act” (in class, with friends, in social situation, and in gaining acceptance from members of the opposite sex) are all a part of this whirlwind of commitment that these “needy” students cling to. It’s what gets them through Anatomy class and any thing else that’s more than a mere speed bump in their day.

As a drama teacher, I have the great fortune of providing an outlet to students who are “needy.” Performance offers an opportunity to do something fun, in front of an audience, with the support of the ensemble that is usually followed by praise from the adult supervisor. Subconsciously isn’t that what every kid wants?

I watched as the parents of this 14-year old on Dr. Phil sat in a short skirt and tall boots, slathered in make-up as Dr. Phil and mommy argued about her rolling her skirt down to show her thong. Mommy retorted, “Well, it’s not her thong that she rolls..it’s her skirt and that’s what I have a problem with.”

I’m sitting there going….“how about NOT letting your 14 year old wear a thong.” Maybe I’m old fashioned. Maybe I’m conservative. But, I know I’m not crazy. I’m a full-grown man with eyes and ears in the public like everyone else. Everybody has innocent crushes with a make-shift celebrities. The media demands it. (And don’t say you DON’T. Do I even have to go there, you Twilight fans!!??)

But, must we surpass reason in order to supply evidence that we’re all “in tune” with what society throws at us? Have we forgotten our moral and personal, family standards…or are we just sitting on them because it’s easier than cooking a family meal and sitting down together to talk about how the day went?

Another thing…I’m NOT a parent, so one could make the argument that I have no basis for comparison…but, it seems to me that mommy dearest on the Dr. Phil show has her priorities completely out of whack! This is a young lady that is desperately seeking something…anything. And you’re arguing about her thong. Honestly. Mommy is complaining about how hot the sun is on Earth and she’s standing on Pluto! The big picture concern is that mommy is not in touch with her daughter.

What I think we all need is an outlet.  Something that takes us away from what is “expected” of us and allows us to do something for us instead. People have hobbies, have guilty secrets…but, until we can find a way to channel these “needs” that are suppressing what is truly deep down inside of us…instead of letting them control us like a robot to suit the demands of a PLASTIC society…then we will fill these voids our students with empty hopes and invisible promises.

With that said…I think parents need to be huge participants…no, no…ADVOCATES in helping to find and encourage these outlets.

Every night this last two weeks I’ve been putting make-up on in preparation for the onstage role I’m playing in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Tonight a young stage hand asked me with a roll of the eyes, “how long does it take you to do that usually.” I answered about a half hour. She couldn’t believe it. It’s hard work making every line…ever contour and feature fit the mold I’m trying to create so that I might offer an effective character. For the theatre…that’s time spent in preparation for a show. I argue, in life…it’s now different. Whether it’s make-up or self education, manipulation or transformation…that preparation time is something parents desperately need to be a part of.

People use the term inner beauty as a means by which to avoid what is being displayed outside. It’s totally misused. We all have the opportunity to be beautiful. Inner…outer…no matter what you want to label it…it’s all you. And just like the lingering MySpace photo of you holding a beer in a drunken frat party…what you put out there for the world to see…you can’t take it back! This “you” is the only one you get. You get ONE SHOT at life…make it beautiful.

Parents…they need your help. How else are they going to perfect those contours and features?

ARTIST vs. VANDAL: The Graffiti Argument

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2009 by erikball123

We are mere days away from opening the first High School production in Faith Lutheran’s new Chapel/Performing Arts Center! “CLUE,” based on the campy motion picture will certainly be one for the record books, and my wife (the director) will certainly consider this the hood ornament on her “drama career” Ferrari.  It’s been a long couple of weeks, and I look forward to a busy final rehearsal schedule and then an even busier follow-up rehearsal schedule as I swan dive into “Thoroughly Modern Millie” rehearsals. (I’ve been cast as Trevor Graydon.)

But, before I go on and on about how sore my feet are…or reveal the secret to magically removing dried paint from under your fingernails…allow me to relive the moment I first began spattering paint on the set last Friday and the look my the students gave me.

I had a hard time explaining to them that up close it looks like little splatters. But from a distance, and under the theatrical lights and magic of “pretend-land”…it looks amazing. Even after tutorials, some remain flat-out unbelievers.

“It just looks messy,” one said. “You ruined my wall!” another shouted! It was a wonderful uproar.

I had the opportunity to visit Home Depot several times this last week.  There is one conveniently located right around the corner of the school, and after my 17th trip to the macho-man mega-store, (casters were on sale), I noticed on the back of a neighboring Atlanta Bread Company restaurant, several graffiti-d “words”…scribbled with cheap spray paint on the exterior, trailing from one end of the store to the other.

Now, I truly believe graffiti, and graffiti artists for that matter, has its place in society. I’ve seen amazing graffiti displayed that I could easily categorize as breath-taking. Even the lettering of some simple offerings are completed with poise, flare and prestige. I think whoever invests time in something…anything…that is original, artistic and theirs (in other words, something they are passionate about)….then it should be considered art.

Art is such a subjective thing. Like theatrical arts, the visual arts world revolves around visionaries and skeptics. I recall, years ago, an commotion upon the displaying of a painting of the Virgin Mary. The artists’ medium was cow manure. The entire painting, which some deemed beautiful, was made entirely from dung. Some called it art…some called it crap. I thought they were both right.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, the martini-drinking mayor of Las Vegas, whose flare for the dramatics is as well-known as his reputation for extending himself beyond any conservatives city limits, made a public statement saying that any vandal caught spray-painting city property will have their thumbs chopped off.

I think graffiti artists have a voice and something to say. And I think they should have a place to display their artwork. With that said, I think it’s a ROTTEN SHAME that vandals scroll unreadable…rushed… “tags” all over the walls of Atlanta Bread Company.

If you’re an artist, if you have something to say (or rather, a message to send) then at least say it in words others can read. At least display it in places where you aren’t cowering in the shadows at midnight, waiting for that one car to speed by. If you want to protest…PROTEST! But at least show your face. If you want to defame, call-out or destroy something…if you feel strong enough, at least have the courage to do it where you can be seen. Anyone who scribbles with spray paint on the BACKS of anything…unreadable nonsense or “gang signs”….and then leaves it….they are nothing but a destructive vandal and a coward. Arguement

ice

Graffiti is misunderstood. Artists in general are misunderstood in some ways. But as someone who is trying to find their “something” that sets them apart…that “something” that makes them special…or, that “something” that needs to be said, don’t allow yourself to be lumped into the same category as thieves, gangsters and criminals. Instead find an outlet, a channel, or a means by which to express yourself in a way that supports your vision or art. I can’t help but think, even IF those vandals did accomplish their goal in successfully tagging that store…what now? Nobody can read it…nobody understands it….nobody cares. And unless your purpose for doing that is to upset people…you’re not achieving anything. And if your goal is to upset people…you’re doing it in a simple-minded way and you will never be perceived as artistic…only destructive.

Maybe that cow-dung artist had something to say with that particular offering. You know it’s said that artists aren’t truly famous until they are dead and the legacy of their art has lived on after they have. Perhaps this young hopeful was looking for a break and found it through a risky piece of art and a little exposure. Perhaps he knew that good or bad press regarding the event would at least garnish him some press. Either way, he was willing to sign his name to the piece.

We all have something special about us. Something that we do well, or are good at. Something that separates us from everyone else. Look around…some of us are very outspoken about our talents. Others, not so much, and I can’t help but think that these people are ones that simply haven’t found the right outlet yet. I always tell my students, if you want to be a doctor or lawyer…go for it! But if you like video games, or skateboarding, or graffiti art….go for it! But it’s HOW you “go for it” that will define you. If you invest everything you have (including hard work at school, a determined spirit, and a don’t-give-up attitude) you can accomplish anything you want, and before you know it, you’ll be designing video games, or copyrighting your own brand of skateboard, or displaying your art to critical acclaim.

The tiny specs of paint on that CLUE set up close look very messy and divided. But from a distance, you can see that thy run together and generate the preferred ambiance.

We together with our separate talents and likes really don’t do much of anything, if we cannot collaborate. And artist is not an artist unless someone is there to look and reflect on their painting. An actor is not an actor without an audience. A graffiti artist is not an artist at all…unless they can define who their audience is. There should be places where graffiti can be displayed. The painter has a museum. The actor, the stage. But I refuse to believe that the side of a dumpster or the back of an Atlanta Bread Company is the graffiti artist’s place.

I took several steps back to observe my finished, painted  set this weekend. I can only hope it’s pleasing to the audience and in God’s eye. Perhaps taking several steps back and reevaluating what your passion is, and how you can better direct it, and questioning if it too is pleasing in God’s eye,  is something that could help reveal that outlet for you.

Sure seems a better alternative to chopping off appendages.

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