Archive for actors

Little People: Big Fight

Posted in THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by erikball123

So, check it out…I broke up my first fight as a teacher this weekend. Don’t be so proud of that Erik??? Are you kidding me? It’s a milestone. In fact, most teachers (granted, of the athletic dept. variety, mind you) would argue that you’re not really a teacher unless you’ve scuffled with a sophomore or stepped between Johnny and Billy during their noon-time quarrel over Betsy’s honor. I say this to you fight breaker-uppers: “this drama boy from Illinois can sock it to ’em like a skilled teacher-ninja, when push comes to shove.”

Okay…so it actually was merely a pushing match that I stepped in the middle of and merely held a student at bay long enough to cool them down. I don’t really have an impressive story, or a shattered pair of D&G glasses to show off. In fact, the scuffle ended with the student and I talking it out, and it turns out the boy (who wound up truly regretting the incident and apologized for it later) wound up being a pretty nice kids, down on his luck.

COME ON! Leave it to me to get the one “fight” that ends with a freakin’ hand shake! I mean…help me out here! Throw me a bone! Let me drag someone by the hair, or disarm a switch blade! Now that’s the action! Ah….dang it. Oh well…I suppose I should feel thankful that it wasn’t any worse than what it was and no one really got hurt. But I can’t shake that hour after the incident when I couldn’t settle down, doctoring  a sudden case of restless leg syndrome and wiping the adrenaline from my brow.

I wonder sometimes if I would be cut out to be a dean of students or a principal, and I think this particular answered the question: absolutely not. I see students as these little people who are trying hard to be big people, but can’t quite figure out why the real big people are treating them like little people, when in their opinions, the world should begin accepting them as big people. (Sounds like a reality show on TLC.) But students have lost the fundamentals, haven’t they?

In watching this generation of kids come up through the years, and meeting and greeting with their parents, I’m going to suggest something absurd. I think the issues with students today begin with the parents.

Big statement, I know. (I’m sure to win friends with this one!) But, seriously, how can a student be expected to respect anything if they don’t have to respect anything at home. (Their personal ground zero…their comfort zone.) I have the privilege of working in a private school, so I don’t have many opportunities to break up fights. (Like the caged, death match I easily settled.) I say one of my biggest challenges with students is wrestling the sense of entitlement out of their heads. No one DESERVES anything and when your parents are sending you to a private school at great cost, before you even enter the door, there is a certain sense of expectation. (You’d better get straight “A’s” for the money I’m paying.) So, these unreasonable expectations are being piled on the already burdened students by parents who don’t have the privilege of working with them every day. You know something….state standards aside….a “C” on a paper is considered “average.” And yet I’d argue that 90% of the students at my school expect their children to bring home “A’s” or nothing at all. Is that a warped level of expectation? Or is it the mind set of this generation, that ultimately shelves the personal education and expects a cookie-cutter finish line? Hmmm.

The school where I was at when the “fight club-like” assertive altercation took place was a public school with a strong outer-campus fence. It was a great school, mind you…but it felt sterile and automaton-ic. I wonder what this student’s situation is like. I can’t imagine it being exactly the same as some of the students I teach…but I suppose I’m just as entitled to think that way. My guess is that all students to some degree hold their futures in such a personal way (as they journey through their every day routines) that the unreasonable goals of their parents, teachers, etc. pale in comparison to the ones they hold for themselves. The actions they take as a result, are merely responses to a call to duty of sorts that keeps this sterile, everyday refreshing and approachable.

This student felt disrespected, and acted out. Afterward he was remorseful, for he saw that the overall outcome was more overwhelming than the moment, and that grounded him quickly.

It grounded me too.

I joke about the event because that’s my action. I find great relief in making others laugh, and when I’m scared or if I need to question my worth, or challenge my walk with Christ…I can at least settle in the safety net of what I know. That’s all anyone does: big people and little people.

I have a hard time writing detentions. “Stop chewing gum in class. Stop chewing gum in class. Stop chewing gum—-ah, here’s a detention. That’ll show him!” The temporary action doesn’t manage the problem. It’s an Alka-Seltzer. Takes care of the immediate heartburn…but it doesn’t solve the problem, especially if your prone to eating spicy food. Changing lives in the classroom is a challenge, and yet that’s what teachers are expected to do everyday. Teach, nurture, guide, protect, reward and serve.

I would hope that the goals of a parent for their student reflects the same goals the teacher holds for the student. A quick fix to any problem (at home or in the classroom) is as useful as breaking up a fight, or an Alka-Seltzer. Stops it…but doesn’t address the issue.

Hm. I wonder what the other students thought of me when they witnessed my breaking up that scuffle. “Dude, that teacher’s a stud.” Maybe not. “Don’t mess with him!” That’s right! Eh. Maybe….”Dang. Look away. Glad it’s not me.” We’re probably getting closer.

Do you suppose students who act out in class are ones that need attention? I wonder if they don’t need attention so much as they know that involuntary attention will be offered to them regardless through their classmate’s observations…and that in return aligns them, putting them in the same category in a defense against those who lead the class. An interesting thought…but I would hope that it wasn’t totally true. After all…I can handle one student…but if they gang up on me, I’ll see you in the water with the crocodile, Peter Pan.

Phew! What a weekend. Well, it’s back to night owl work. I have a lip sync to choreograph, and I need to sharpen my cat-like skillz (yes, with a “z”) in case a fight breaks out after they announce my group the winner.

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.

“I’d like to thank…”

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by erikball123

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.

%d bloggers like this: