Archive for Beauty and the Beast

BEATRICE, my beautiful companion

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2009 by erikball123

I have a student who told me that every time her ears are ringing, it upsets her to the point of nausea. Even so much to make her unfocused or head achy. Hmm. When my ears ring, I just get distracted. Let’s hope a crowd of people doesn’t strike up a conversation about this young lady. While my ears aren’t currently ringing, I am immediately distracted by something that is making me unfocused and head achy. Today I made the not so hard decision to put my dog to sleep.

I have three other dogs that I love very much, and I couldn’t have been more grateful to come home to them today. (Penelope is sitting on my lap as I type.) But, Beatrice, my 13-year old, blind, diabetic, toothless chihuahua…held a special place in my heart, and today I had to say goodbye to a dear companion.

What sparked this posting has to do with my inability to come up with a clever idea for a chapel talk I give to the high school next week. Usually my chapel cup spillith over with high theatrics and a song and dance routine that challenges students to be distracted. My incorporation of crazed costumes, choreographed dance and student participation is legendary. I probably get on peoples nerves with the expectation of a horse and pony show at every turn.  I guess I really don’t mind. I do it for the students, chiefly so that they aren’t falling asleep and honestly because I love to perform and be a firm witness while utilizing the few talents God gave me. It’s always a stuffy affair putting it together and I just simply haven’t had the time to coordinate any additional participation this time…so I’m stuck in my office thinking about the theme: “Thank God for Beauty.”

Easy right? Whip out a song from “Beauty and the Beast”…change a few lyrics and add a wink to the audience. But, I don’t WANT to be big and loud this time. I’m baffled. I’m also deliberately trying to distract myself away from Beatrice, who has been occupying my mind all day.

Then it hit me. Not an idea for the chapel talk…still thinking about that one…but about “Beauty.” In first Peter 3 verses 3-4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair or the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead it should be that of your inner self. The unfading beauty of a gentle spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Beatrice was a puppy mill doggy. We found this out on our way to PetSmart for a routine shopping venture for a simple container of fish food. They were having the weekly visit from the SPCA. The tents were out and the bandannas were freshly pressed and dangling from every pitbull, terrier and mixed breed in the lot. We walked by and took time to try and make a few tails wag, when I saw this sad-looking, pot-bellied little thing in the top cage, nuzzled in a small heap of newspapers.  She was pathetic looking…and I knew she was coming home with us.

Her belly was black and calloused, and when we took her to the vet we found out that it was a form of yeast infection caused by exposure to an unkept kennel for durations of time. Weeks of medicine and lengthy warm, medicated baths turned her belly fawn and baby soft.

She had two teeth, both infected which were pulled and her tongue poked out the side of her mouth just enough to bring a smile to your face.

She never walked, she shuffled. Her body remained skinny, but she approached her food dish like a tank and ate with passion smacking her watered-down mash with her toothless gums and licking the bowl afterward side-ways with her long tongue. My wife always said that she looked like a wasp after eating, noting her skinny legs and big, full belly.

Beatrice had many problems. She was old, for one. She was not very well taken care of. The reality of a life as a puppy mill dog showed in her weak bladder and loss of muscle tone and low calcium levels. She was tired, and slow moving. She needed a place, soft and warm to retire.

I loved this dog very much. Silly as it sounds, it was kinda like having a grand parent in the house. She was quirky, and predictable…and she let out these wonderful little squeaks when she heard my voice as I walked in the room. That sound would instantly change my mood.

After a while, we noticed a physical change in her, and she was diagnosed with diabetes and we began a routine of insulin shots twice a day. She was a champion and became quite accustomed to the matter, even though her paper-thin skin wasn’t the most receptive of the change.

Over two years this dog shuffled, smacked and squeaked…and made us quite happy. I wouldn’t have changed a moment of these last two years. Slowly, we began noticing a considerable decline in her health in the last week, and upon the urging of our vet, and knowing that she was suffering, we made the decision.

My wife brought her to the vet and held her. I was driving to school for a parent meeting and was listening to a mix playlist on shuffle, when “Waiting for the Light to Shine” from the musical BIG RIVER began to play. I lost it. What a beautiful song. How amazing that it came on right at the time my heart was heavy. And what a wonderful thought that my now blind chihuahua, perhaps is seeing light again.

I refuse to go into it with anyone about pets…and souls…and heaven.

Instead…may I ask a question? One I truly want an answer to. You see, my dog Beatrice had a beautiful spirit…one I cannot explain. She was nothing less than a pathetic-looking, scrappy dog…but inside, and in every move or squeak…I saw that light shine. Why is it we have a hard time finding that light in one another as Christians? I can only imagine it has something to do with indifference, I suppose. To the passer-by, Beatrice looked old…and ratty. But to me…that was a beautiful little dog that brought a pathethic sinner much joy, in a beautiful way, every day.

My students probably don’t want to hear about a dead dog in Chapel.  I’ll remain in search of another idea. But if I could find a way to share that beautiful inside that I know is in all of us…that is hard to find sometimes, but peeks through just enough to make us smile occasionally…then I think I can do away with the song and dance. It’s the little things that bring us closer to God quickly. Miracles happen every day, but I certainly don’t expect a giant flood and an ark in my backyard. But, then again, I didn’t expect a black-bellied chihuahua at the pet store that day either. Instead, I find great joy in life’s surprises and look forward to that light shining in the sallest of places…and then, through us all.

“WAITIN’ FOR THE LIGHT TO SHINE”

I have lived in the darkness for so long
I am waitin’ for the light to shine
Far beyond horizons I have seen
Beyond the things I’ve been
Beyond the dreams I’ve dreamed

I am waitin’ for the light to shine
I am waitin’ for the light to shine
I have lived in the darkness for so long
I’m waitin’ for the light to shine

bea-and-me

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HUMAN AGAIN

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2008 by erikball123

The art of performing makes me sad. At least tonight it does. Signature Productions, in conjunction with P.S. Productions, completed its 24 show run tonight of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” to a standing ovation and a full house. Cast members cried, props were packed away…I began to think the tech crew’s black attire signified a burial of some kind. But, NO! I refused to get caught up in the ritual of closing a show. I had friends in the audience who have never seen the show. Just because it’s closing night doesn’t mean I shouldn’t dig deep to bring to life the same vigor I pump into Gaston every night. But somehow the pancake foundation set a little heavier on my face tonight.

It’s hard investing yourself, emotionally and creatively. Granted, just like every high school drama classroom, you’re going to get a multitude of differing approaches. Some like to perform as a hobby. Others are looking to this show as a springboard for their careers. Me…I just want to use the gifts God gave me (that I don’t deserve) to glorify Him and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way to share with my students. It helps that performing is fun. I suppose if it were like a root canal, I wouldn’t feel this way, right?

I love the looks on the faces of all the kids in the lobby afterward. I love the discipline of being onstage. I love the challenge of keeping the moments fresh. I love the thrill of approaching a high note in a song. I love the rush of energy I get every time I hear the opening number. I love performing. I just love it. I’d do it for free, every day of my life without hesitation, if I could.

But you know why I think I’m feeling nostalgic, mere moments after the show closed? It’s the routine. The day to day. I’m going to miss that most of all. I love looking forward to a performance. I love getting there early and slowly, methodically putting my character make-up on. During the show, I love knowing who I’m going to pass in the hall in between scenes. The pre-show banter, the post-show wrap up….the taping of the microphones…my wife’s picture hanging in my dressing room. I love it all. When I packed up a box full of my stuff, and started hauling it out of my dressing room to pack up in the car, I felt a little bit like I was cleaning out my desk after being fired. (Silly, huh?)

Cards were exchanged and pleasantries were handed out along with hugs and well wishes. There were sandwiches waiting in the green room and a witty cake with icing that spelled out “Human Again” in yellow cursive loops. Human Again…hmmm. To some, that was a humorous sentiment, quite simply because the daily grind and wear of putting on a show was beginning to take its toll. “It’s time to let it go,” one of my friends said. To me, it was sad. I hung up Gaston’s shirt, and dropped the wig into a box marked “wash.” The boots I wore, while shabby…were comfortable. The gloves…just plain cool. I still joke about my Sonic the Hedgehog eyebrows. I’m not ready to be human again.

So…what do you do? Tom Stoppard said, “Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.” I love that quote because it offers hope. I have a hard time letting things go. I suppose I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Gaston and this production. But, more importantly, I’ll have a soft spot for those who made this show possible. The director, choreographers, musical directors, stage managers and tech crew members. The amazing cast of talented friends who were simply my second family. The audience fixed gaze never gets old. My wife who is a constant support of my doing what I love. Everyone.

You know before I go onstage…every time, before I go onstage, I say a prayer. I usually ask for support, confidence, energy, and thoughtfulness. I thank God for the opportunity, my gifts, and the people I work with. Every time before I step foot onstage I do that. I just pull myself away and find a dark wing and bow my head a little. Sometimes, I have to just be silent and kinda focus on the prayer in a group of people.

That routine will be missed.

Anytime my wife gets blue, she asks me to give her something to look forward to. It seems to cheer her up a bit. So, I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving. And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will offer my thanks again for a great run to all of those involved in the production. But, most importantly, I thank God for what I WAS able to do. The experience, the time, the education, the fun. I am blessed beyond my means, and even though I won’t have a wing to pray behind for a while…or a less than soft crash mat to hurl myself at every night during the Beast fight…I will look forward to finding time throughout my day to give the same thanks to God for allowing my life to accommodate what I love. Far too often that doesn’t happen for people, for whatever reason.

Side note…my beloved wife has been awarded the Pacific Southwest Lutheran School Disctrict Teacher of the Year. It’s kinda a big deal. I don’t talk enough about my wife in these posts, but let me just say that if I were a fifth the teacher she is…I’d bee a WILDLY amazing teacher. She’s simply the best there is. Students leave her class happy and having learned something very important in every class. She’s sharp, organized and disciplined…but she’s fun, caring and supportive. Students routinely bring her college essays to proof. She tutors all kinds of students, and she’s is every girl’s go-to person for advise or a shoulder to cry on. She’s my true, definitive inspiration…and I’m SO proud of her I can hardly stand it. She deserves it TEN-FOLD and I’m thrilled that someone other than me is recognizing how much she influences people’s lives on a daily basis. I love you Emily…and I’m SO proud.

So, with that said…blessings to you all. Whatever drama you are a part of now…whether you’re looking forward to it ending or not, I hope you’ll find reward and peace as you look forward to your next adventure.

“…Every Outing is a Bravura Performance…”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2008 by erikball123

It’s getting to be that time again. I’m looking down the long tunnel at the final week of “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” performances and I’m getting that sad…kinda bitter sweet feeling in my tum tum again when a show comes to a close. Let’s take a look at the facts:

  • At the end of the run, I will have performed Gaston 36 times.
  • I’m breaking apart from a cast that has been my second family for nearly a year.
  • We’re saying goodbye to a beautifully constructed turn-table set and over $15,000 of custom costumes, which will all be sold or rented out.
  • We’ll be saying goodbye to characters that we’ve rehearsed, created and made our own. Rehearsal time lasted from Monday thru Friday from 7pm to 11pm in the upwards of 24 weeks during this time.
  • I will no longer be able to sport Sonic the Hedgehog-like eyebrows.
Gaston

The tops of the boots are held together with Gaff tape...the shirt has holes in the armpits....and the wig has almost evolved into a living creature....but truth be told, I'll really miss playing GASTON when "Beauty and the Beast" closes.

It’s sad. As a teacher, I’ve only been able to offer my students the chance to be in a play or musical that lasted one weekend. (A total of 3 shows a run!) We’ve shared the gymnasium and were only able to give up that space for one week in the past. Now we have this big, beautiful theater space at Faith Lutheran and for the first time we’ll be offering two-weekends of shows, eight total. I’m very excited. Before, it always felt like we JUST got our groove and then we’d have to strike the set.

We are working on monologues in class, and I got after a few students who were dinking around in the corner when they should have been rehearsing, and one of them looked at me and said, “I’m done.” I asked them to perform it for me. They said the monologue wasn’t memorized yet. I said…”then you’re not done.” They replied that after reviewing it over and over, they were getting bored with it. This was what I was looking for….(Ha! You fell into my trap, you little stinker!)….and it sparked a nice dialogue about how to manage a sense of “FIRST-TIME-NESS” when performing and how to make something your are creating onstage fresh and exciting each time.

Thirty-six shows in the same big ‘ol boots…carrying the same prop rifle…pining for the same princess….how can I NOT get bored with that, one might wonder. Well, first and foremost…I don’t! I’m blessed to be working with an ensemble and directors who keep me on my toes each night, hold me accountable and constantly challenge my limitations and expectation. That’s not going to happen all the time, however. You can’t count on a magical cast every time. You have to create the magic yourself.

Granted, high school students are not actors. They’re hams. They’re manipulators. They’re comedic and dramatic. But, half of the class is there so they can get out of their art or choir elective…let’s be honest here. So, I can’t expect THAT level of dedication. But I can expect a firm understanding and appreciation of what it takes to make things work “for the first time.”

Let’s segue…for a minute.

My mother-in-law and a family friend came into town from Michigan to see the show this weekend. I was very happy to see them and very grateful to have them in the audience. (The frosting on any cake for a performer is having a loved one in the audience.) They even treated my wife and I to tickets to “JERSEY BOYS” which was fantastic. I highly recommend you see this show. I haven’t been THIS impressed with a show since “WICKED.” Tony award winner? Well, I can see why. It’s brilliant on so many levels.

Lynn

Lynn, Emily and Mama Sue stand in the Bellagio gardens before "JERSEY BOYS." They had a talking tree there. I was happy.

The entire day was fun…but at some point I had a bit of a grey cloud over my head. At first I couldn’t understand why. Then I thought hard about it. I came up with many reasons…

  • I had grades to enter and my weekend time was nearly gone.
  • I am broke right now. Lately we’ve been struggling to keep funds available for anything extra-curricular. The simplest transactions (like buying a Starbucks or buying a pair of socks at Ross) is suddenly a major surgery…and I’m cutting into our life savings.
  • I’m sad for the show to end.
  • I’m feeling old.
  • I’m feeling burdened by many, little technical responsibilities that were dropped in my lap at school.
  • I’m frustrated because everyone is telling me to chill out, because I’m stressed.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to depress my mother-in-law on her visit. I didn’t wan’t to seem mopey. But, I didn’t want to air my frustrations either. I was trapped!

Yet another segue.

My wife was looking at jewelry today at a store during our excursion. She was admiring a beautiful emerald ring. (Her favorite stone.) She would have loved to have bought it. I would have loved to be in a position TO buy it. We moved on…it wasn’t a big deal.

You see, I’m not a fan of jewelry. I wear my wedding ring…that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll wear a watch, until it gets annoying, then I take it off and promptly lose it. But, jewelry has NEVER been a big deal to me, and I struggle with understanding people who have a massive amount of jewelry. Everybody from your textbook trophy wife with thousands of dollars of diamonds and not enough social events in which to brandish them all….to that cocky, super-tan dude with 10 Rolexes at home and one of those pine-scented boxes to keep them all in. I don’t get it. Why is something SO expensive…and yet, so insignificant…so important? Is it a status symbol? Is it symbolic of something? Is it like one of those Green Lantern rings that shoots out beams!? I cannot justify purchasing jewelry.

“But, Erik….my fifty pound diamond tiara means something to me.” Okay…it means something to you. It’s still insignificant. Disagree with me if you like, but anything that isn’t something you need to have in order to live (meaning heart-beating…breathing in and out) is a LUXURY. I’m not saying luxuries are bad. I have many luxuries. I’m just saying….jewelry is DEFINITELY a luxury.

Honey

"Honey, does this necklace make my face look fat?"

Don’t get me wrong…I have bought jewelry for my wife…and I will continue to attempt to fulfill any “shiney” desire she has…but for me, no thanks?

I have the same theory about my truck. I like it. It’s cool. Gets me where I’m going….but it’s a truck. Who cares. If someone said to me…”get rid of it…here’s a different one.” I wouldn’t care. I continue to have a hard time justifying making time to wash the thing when it’s just going to get dirty again. Oil change…okay. Flat tire…fix it. But…it’s a resource to get me to and from places, that’s all.

Doubling back, I suppose you can add “not able to get my wife shiny things when she would like to have them” to my list of things that might have made me blue today.

I finally told my wife that I think I pin-pointed my all-encompassing “blue-ness.” I felt a sudden wave of “Am I being used to my potential?” (You know…the potential that God has planned for me.) I’ve been given certain gifts. I also LIKE to do certain things. Squash those two together…and I should be able to lead a happy, fulfilling life, right? I feel sometimes like shows come to an end so quickly….funds dissolve way too fast….and “wants” overcome what you’re actually able to provide.

How do I keep things fresh? How do I keep my LIFE in the same mode of “first time-ness?”

One piece of advice that I offer my students regarding their monologue is to take a look at the scene through the eyes of the other characters….the director….the lighting designer….the audience members (older ones, younger ones, etc.) and then re approach. Find new and exciting twists and games to play AS that character with the scene before breaking the scene down again….tossing away all of the “yuck” and keep all of the “awesome.” That’s how Stephen King writes, you know. Ever wonder how he publishes all of those books? Ghost writers? Sure, sometimes…but for the MOST part, he pulls up a chair and begins with a general idea, and BANG! He writes and writes and writes and writes…..without even stopping to THINK about what he’s writing. He’ll pump out 200 pages in one afternoon and then go BACK and take a look at what works, what doesn’t. He takes a look at the “moments” in the rough draft from other perspectives and then goes back to rewrite.

Stephen King writes in his book Stephen King on Writing: “Practice isn’t painful when you love what you do…Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic.”

I love that.

The

The dude just freaks me out a little.

I took a couple of steps back. (We were at the Belligio fountains at the time.) I thought about today from my mother-in-law’s perspective. My our friend Lynn’s perspective…from my wife’s. We had a great night tonight. I look at tomorrow (Monday) and I think….errrr. But, you know, from the student who is delivering their monologue in my class, they have a completely different outlook. From the audience member who is seeing “Beauty and the Beast” for the FIRST time tomorrow night…there’s a completely different outlook.

Fountain

I never tire of the Bellagio fountains.

You know…keepin’ it “fresh”….keepin’ it in the “first-time”….it’s not easy to do. It requires me to step outside of my own self-absorbed little world to garnish a new perspective. But my approach…no matter what the reason or rhyme….should be wrapped tightly in the fact that I love performing. I love theater. I get to do what I love every day.

Next time I get sad about not playing Gaston anymore, I’ll reflect on the fact that Gaston and I are not terrible unalike in the sense that we have a hard time looking at things through other people’s eyes. Maybe that will help me move on past closing night. Gaston will carry-on within me.

“It’s about time (I) paid attention to more important things.” (Gaston says this in the show.) Perhaps those more important things are what lives and breathes inside each of the people I am in contact with every day. From that point of view…how dare I rain on their parade.

Top 20 Coolest Disney Characters of All Time

Posted in MY "TOP" LISTS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2008 by erikball123

Before I even begin writing this list, I need to be perfectly clear. This is a listing of MY top twenty Disney characters that I’ve always thought were just stinkin’ cool. Cool is a subjective term. You’ll notice Mickey Mouse is not on my list. Some would consider that sacrilegious. I like Mickey. Who doesn’t like Mickey. But he’s not on my top twenty list of the COOLEST Disney characters. (And I feel no obligation to put him or any other “classic” character there as a “tip of the hat” gesture.) Also, I’ve limited my list to ANIMATED films. (Yes, even digitally animated films.) I make no apologies for my list, and I stand by my decisions. You are welcome to argue them.

20. DORY (From “Finding Nemo”)

Dory is back on the list, because a reader of this blog was so kind to remind me that “Kung Fu Panda” is actually a Dreamwork movie, not Disney…which subsequently knocked Po out of the running. So, Dory is here and after thinking about it for a while….rightly so! What a fun character! Ellen Degeneres brings this hilarious Blue Tag fish to life and audience were delighted. She’s crazy, forgetful, enthusiastic, and sensative. (Sounds like my yearly evaluation with the principal at my school!) Anyway…congrats Dory for finding your way onto the list. Just keep swimming…just keep swimming!

19. PONGO (From “101 Dalmatians”)

Let’s face it…of all the ANIMAL Disney heroes, he’s by far the slickest. He’s cool, collected, loyal, and above all he loves his family. He goes to great lengths (even putting himself in the line of fire) to save those he cares about. He’s not an arrogant leader either. Even though he’s the reason why everyone went out and got Dalmatian puppies, thus giving puppy mills a booster shot, we won’t hold that against him.

18. MALEFICENT (From “Sleeping Beauty”)

Can we be perfectly honest with one another for a second, without hurting any feelings? Okay. “Sleeping Beauty” is not a cinematic masterpiece. It’s weak in character development and sub-plot structure. I’d even go as far to say that Princess Aurora (who has the most difficult name to pronounce of all of the Disney princesses…especially if you’re of Asian heritage) is kinda bland in comparison to her nemesis. I’ll even go on record saying that I’ve always found Maleficent a smidge attractive. (It’s the high collar, assertiveness and green skin. Love green skin for some reason.) My little Lima bean queen is just a fierce villain. That’s all there is to it. The topper is that she turns into a freakin’ dragon…a cool one too! Aurora spends half the movie frolicking in the woods bare foot….and who does she get with in the end? Mighty Prince Phillip. (Who comes up with these names!!!)

17. GASTON & LAFOU (From “Beauty and the Beast”)

I don’t mean to lump these two together, and it’s kinda my sneaky way of getting more characters into the countdown…but I do think that as far as great comedic teams are concerned, they’re on the best. Gaston is a strong, arrogant, studly beefcake and LeFou is his bumbling side-kick. Before they say a word you can’t wait to see what happens based on that description! I also like the collective journey these two take throughout the story. I would argue that Gaston has a wildly evil moment with the Beast at the end and reaches his fatal demise in a gruesome way. (In comparison to others. I mean, even Capt. Hook disappears still struggling with the crocodile…so we’re left hanging.) They’re drawn very well…and these two you can totally connect with. You can probably think right now about someone you know who is EXACTLY like Gaston or LeFou, am I right? (Shout out to Evan Litt who played LeFou opposite of my Gaston this year.)

Evan Litt as LeFou

Me as Gaston and Evan Litt as LeFou in Signature Production's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

16. IAGO (From “Aladdin”)

Iago is one of those annoying characters that you love to hate. Every great villain needs a side-kick or an on-looker. Iago’s contributions to Jafar’s dark side is what makes Jafar an effective character. Disney has to be careful. Can’t be too scary (something that happened in “Hunchback” in my opinion) and you can’t be too campy (something that happened in “Robin Hood.”) So, you sandwich the two together, then spin away the silly stuff in the end of the film, and you’ve got an effective bad guy. Add to the fact that Gilbert Godfrey voices the bird, and you have a brilliant comedic Disney cocktail…or rather…cockatoo, tail!

15. BALOO (From “The Jungle Book”)

Baloo is very much like John Goodman, if you ask me. I didn’t care much for ROSEANNE, but I find myself watching reruns of the show simply because John Goodman, and that chick who plays Roseanne’s sister….they’re so funny! Baloo is that friendly, funny, kinda dum-dee-dum type of character that is just fun to watch. I suppose it helps that Mowgli is just flat out annoying, and I could never STAND that character…but still. I have a soft spot for Baloo.

14. EDNA E. MODE (From “The Incredibles)

Edna is simply a fantastic character. First of all…”The Incredibles” is brilliant. That being said, this quirky, uppity, little tribute to Alfred from Batman and Q from James Bond MAKES the movie. She is feisty, slick, smart and resourceful. She’s got a great voice and the deadpan delivery kept me in stitches and burdened me throughout my weekend as I tried again and again, in vein, to mimick it. That, and the character is intimidating. Love it. Before we move on, real quick…any one else think she’s is the spitting image of Project Runway’s Christian?


13. CRUELLA DEVILLE (From “101 Dalmations”)

Alright…let’s talk about Cruella Deville. I know she get a bad rap, but let’s face it. She’s awesome. She’s been around forever and didn’t necessarily come from the best family situation. To step away from her other brothers like that and pursue a solo music career is very ambitious. Her recording career has become infamous and some of the most influential work in the music industry, period. I mean, when she released “Beat It,” “Billy Jean,” “Thriller” and dozens of other number one singles….I mean, she set the standard in……what? *Pause* She’s not…what? *Pause* You mean, she didn’t…..hmmmm. Are you sure? That wasn’t her dangling the baby from the balcony? Really! *Soft Whispering Heard* What’s that? You have proof? Let me see.

This proves nothing.

12. AM and SI (The Siamese Cats from “The Lady and the Tramp”)

The Siamese Cat song is just plain creepy. I love these two little devils and the way they are presented in animation…it’s so deliciously accurate. Siamese Cats are so much like these two, it’s not even funny. They’re crafty, they’re fun…and they stick out in my mind as being a part of one the neatest Disney movie moments ever.

11. ARCHIMEDES (The Owl from “THE SWORD AND THE STONE”)

This funny, snippy Owl is the best part of this under-appreciated Disney classic. Merlin would be on my list, but they ended up making him really goofy in the end. Kinda upsetting. But Archimedes is a wry, sourpuss, and who doesn’t love a sour-puss? Half the country is days away from voting for one! (That was a dig, I know. I’ll even it out. Ummm. Hmmm. The other one has big ears. There.) I watch “The Sword and the Stone” specifically because of Archimedes. (Who was voiced beautifully by Junius Matthews.)

10. SIR HISS (From “Robin Hood”)

Sir Hiss, that silly serpent was the best part of Robin Hood. (A movie is affectionately refer to as “a mess.”) Disney could have done SO much more with this movie.  It’s a classic tale with limit-less possibilities. We could have had a classic tale with amazing heroes and crazy bad villains. Instead we have  wussy bad guy, a unlikable fox Maid Marion…and the best character is a stinkin’ after-thought side-kick. Well, I’m glad they developed Hiss…of all of the Disney snakes…he’s the besssssssst. The only other good thing to come from this movie was a seriously sped-up track of the chorus to “Robin Hood and Little John” that is directly associated with the techno Hampster Dance. I’m dead serious when I say that someone is making a living off of the Hampster Dance. God Bless America.

9. TIMON & PUMBA (From “The Lion King”)

Timon and Pumba are the Batman and Robin of Disney characters. Probably the best duo in the history of Disney. Amazing vocal performances, hilarious and memorable musical numbers, carefree yet caring characters that grabbed audiences from the beginning and haven’t let loose yet. I mean, c’mon…how many of you have been to the zoo lately? A million bucks says you looked at the meerkats and said “Look, it’s Timon!” Everybody has!

8. SCAR (From “The Lion King”)

By law, Jeremy Irons should have to voice every animated villain until he dies. What an amazing vocal performance. He’s scary and delightfully evil. The movement and animation on this film is first-rate, and the scenes with the hyenas during “Be Prepared”….I would have to say that it’s one of the finest animated villain songs ever. Add to the fact that he’s basically a simple lion with a slight deformation, and you’ve got an unsuspecting, haunting monster waiting to pounce! Good times.

7. KRONK (From the “Emperor’s New Groove”)

Kronk is voiced by Patrick Warburton. He’s awesome. He starred in the live action version of the cartoon “TICK.” (It was very short-lived.) He also was Elaine’s boyfriend in Seinfeld. He’s very good at playing the clueless character…or the under appreciated character….or the likable dummy. In “Emperor’s New Groove,” a comedic master-piece in its own right (and by FAR David Spade’s best movie) he’s the mountainous side-kick to the completely unlikable (for the wrong reasons) Ertha Kitt villain. (I can’t even remember her name. Who cares, really.) If you never have seen this movie…go out and buy it now. If only for this brilliant secondary character. He’s genius.

6. CAPTAIN HOOK (From “Peter Pan”)

Captain Hook is an icon. He can easily be ranked in the Top 20 villains of all time list, if you asked me. He’s a pirate, which earns him bonus points right off…..he’s got a hook for an appendage, he’s scared of crocodiles, and the ticking of an alarm clock inside the belly of the always-pursuing beast keeps him constantly at bay. Dang…before you even tell the story you have bunches to work with there! Peter Pan has always been some sort of an enigma to me. I always found myself relating to Hook in the story. I mean…the kid is a brat! Hook is just trying to do his job….pillage, plunder, murder and steal. (Normal, everyday piratey things to do, right?) But this flying, jolly, green pixie is always up in his grill messin’ wit his bizznass. Homeboy askin’ for some hook….if you asked me. BANGARANG!

5. FLOWER (From “Bambi”)

Flower may come across as a bit namby-pamby at first…but when you talk about innocence incarnate, Flower is one of the sweetest Disney characters ever. And how genius is it that Flower is a skunk? Nobody said Disney wasn’t clever. Bambi is one of those doe-eyed movies of yesteryear that people long associate with this old-school was of thinking and doing. Usually, people regard them with a long-distance sentiment that seperates them from anything even remotely produced today. I argue that if it wasn’t for movies like Bambi and characters like Flower, we would have no basis for comparison for today heroes, victims and villains. Love him, or hate him…the skunk is a pioneer. But you can call him Flower if you want to.


4. LUMIERE (From “Beauty and the Beast”)

Lumiere is Disney’s finest front man. The fact that he’s French helps, I think, because it puts a romantic, slightly goofy (but only because the French take themselves so seriously) sort of machismo about him. But on top of that, he’s a showman with grace, manners and sentiment. Plus, he’s on fire…which adds an element of danger. What do you have…a premiere Disney character that some may argue is Disney’s #1 most charming character ever. Voiced by the brilliant (God rest his soul) Jerry Orbach, he is every musical theatre major’s dream role. (Tip of the hat to Steve Huntsman.)

Steve

Steve Huntsman as LUMIERE in Signature Production's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

3. GENIE (From “Aladdin”)

The Genie in Aladdin is what brought audiences back to loving Disney movies again. Stay with me. There is an old-school Disney following. You know the group…those who think that Cinderella and Snow White look so innocent and pure (and not like expressionless, carbon copies of the last Disney damsel.) They are the ones that LOVE the simplicity of the grainy animation process, and scoff digital animation. Then there are those who are all about digital, and can’t imagine why anyone would ever even watch “The Three Caballeros.” Genie, is the bridge between the two and the character has been constructed effortlessly by Robin Williams who by and large I consider a genius. The fast-paced approach to this wide-open opportunity of a character really set the bar for Disney films to come and was simply a dream come true.

2. BELLE (From “Beauty and the Beast”)

Note that this is the only Disney Princess on my list. That’s because all of the others stink. (This is with all due respect to my friend Sierra Boggess who is playing Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” on Broadway. Love ya Sierra!) Where was I….oh, that’s right, “You heard me! Stinky poo!” None of them are role models. Tonight is Halloween, and hundreds of little girls are waiving magic wands and flouncing around in their princess dresses. Belle on the other hand isn’t even a princess by choice. She wants adventure…she wants to get away! All of the other princesses wants to be coddled by a big strong prince. Boo, boo, boo. “No mommy! I wanna be a fairy princess!”

Okay, let’s go there for a minute (frankly because my wife is giving me grief for putting Belle so high on the list.) What IS a fairy princess? Answer me that? Is it a princess with wings? Is it a small, flying pixie? (A pocket-sized princess, if you will?) Why in the world do girls want to emulate these characters so badly? (“Because they want to look pretty!”) Well…God forbid we start nurturing them with daily love and support so that they might build up self-esteem. (“Because they want to be magical.”) I don’t see anyone dressing up like David Copperfield. (“Because they like the color pink.”) Go trick-or-treating as a bottle of Pepto.

That’s always bugged me. Fairy Princesses. Sheesh. Did you know Disney has made over $5 billion dollars on the Disney Princess brand since 1998. FIVE BILLION. That’s a lot of plastic wands. I sincerely hope that the little girls of the world are granting wishes left and right tonight, because when they grow up and find out that life doesn’t always offer that Disney happy ending…they will have to dig down and reach for something inside to get them through. No plastic tiara or yellow dress will help them out.

With that said, Belle is Disney’s strongest princess. She is a dreamer, an odd-duck…but she doesn’t take crap from anyone. She sacrifices herself for her father…she’s kind and nurturing…and she reads! (Novel idea in this day and age.) And while I’m not saying that Belle is the reason for the boost in Twilight book sales, I will say that she’s not the type of heroine that stands by waiting for someone to rescue her. She takes charge and creates her own destiny. I love that about this character. All of the other princess can’t even match up. (Side Note: My favorite Belle is Kari Curletto, who I have the pleasure sharing the stage with in Signature Production’s Beauty and the Beast.)

Kari

Kari Curletto as Belle.

1. THE CHESHIRE CAT (From “Alice in Wonderland”)

Here he is folks…my number one pick for COOLEST Disney Characters of All Time! I can’t imagine anyone arguing with me that the Cheshire Cat isn’t cool. First of all he’s crazy. Crazy is WAY cool. Secondly, he’s striped and purple. Cool. He’s a cat. Cool. He detaches his head and can disappear. Way cool. And, we never REALLY know if he’s a good guy or merely a prankster. So, he’s mysterious. That’s cool. All the while, keeping a big ol’ grin on his face. Love it.

DISNEY CHARACTERS THAT JUST MISSED BEING ON THE TOP 20 LIST:

  1. GOOFY (Love the dude…simply because of that “wah-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoy!” noise he makes when he falls.)
  2. CHEF LOUIS and SABASTIAN (From “Little Mermaid”) Little Mermaid represent!
  3. APU (From “Aladdin”) I took him down a few notches. He kept throwing his own poo.
  4. URSULA (From “Little Mermaid”) Dang! Another one from Little Mermaid. Shoot. What should we do with all of these Little Mermaid characters that didn’t make it on my “Coolest” list?? I know, let’s write them into a Broadway musical!

Hope you found my list enthralling…or at least something to kill a little time with…but with that said, Disney movies (or any movie for that matter) is all about entertainment. I deem a movie “good” if I walk away from it having been entertained. The 20 characters on this list have entertained me again and again. That’s what it’s all about, really. Consistency. Consistency is cool.

PASSING GASTON. (Getting beyond the role, and focusing on Ensemble.)

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2008 by erikball123

Opening night came and went like the wind! Surprisingly there was little brew-ha-ha about it, unlike most opening nights. (Not that I didn’t totally appreciate the cake and balloons provided by Signature….ya’ll just rock!) But, I’m talking idle chatter. Rubbed elbows. Butterflies. Etc.

My wife always gts me an opening night pineapple. I love my wife.

My wife always gets me an opening night pineapple. Why? Long story. I love my wife.

Perhaps it’s because this is the second go-around for the majority of us. I’m sure the touring company of “Lion King” didn’t bust out champagne after a successful “opening” offering city after city. Not that I needed a big “to-do” to give me a booster shot. More so….it’s like watching a GIANT 747 land. The wheels are out, the engines roar…and you KNOW the wheels are gonna make that funny squeaky sound when they make contact with the pavement….and then….they don’t. Hmmm? The 747 lands perfectly…quietly. One might scratch their head.

Our fearless director, in a graceful manner congratulated us in traditional fashions, and then offered insight as to what still needs work. The second performance of the run, Saturday….we all re-approached our collective offerings and attempted to muster up something fresh. And, as a result…last night’s performance of “Beauty and the Beast” was fantastic! Everyone on stage felt better about what they were doing and the audience beamed. Phil, our director….beamed.

So, the question remains….why so icky an Opening Night? I thought about it. Rather, I dissected it. (Something my director tells me I do WAY TOO MUCH when approaching my character.) Could it be the Beast’s hurt back? Lumiere’s hurt knees? Perhaps it is the various forms of sickness being passed back and forth. Were my eyebrows filled in too dark that night? It wasn’t the quick changes…although I nearly lost an eye holding a wig for Belle. (Elbows, people….elbows!) It wasn’t the fact that for some bizarre reason my right armpit sweats a heck of a lot more than my left one during the Beast fight. (Strange.) Hmmmm. I couldn’t put my finger on WHY Opening Night was….Odd.

Gaston and the cutlery.

Gaston and the cutlery.

Finally, I decided to NOT think about it anymore. Of course, our collective directors gave us a lot to think about. Phil, Lisa (our Musical Director), Keith and Stephanie (our Choreographers) often help us to take two steps back in order to re approach something for the first time, so that the story being offered is vibrant and fresh. That’s one thing that is far too often NOT done by many directors: CONTINUED INSIGHT. Opening night…the show is yours, right? Never. It continues. It grows. It lives. And Phil never lets us forget that. He’s the type of guy who will call us early on the day before closing night to run Act 2, Scene 4 because we “something just wasn’t working last night.” I love that about him. He’s a visionary. You never have to understand a visionary (and most of the time you don’t) but they always wind up creating something magical. And most of the time the cast shows up on time…ready to rock that scene, and drop about 3 lbs. of sweat into reworking it so that it reads better to the audience. Ninety-five percent of us involved in this show is doing it pro bono…that says a lot about the caliber of “performer” that is involved in the process.

So, opening night was odd…Phil and the other directors, gave us renewed confidence and we re approached the “BEAST” as we attempted to travel through “uncharted” woods. Saturday, we made something magical happen, and now our show has been transformed.  I love theatre.

Sevyn backstage.

Sevyn backstage.

With that said, I need to be very clear about something. (And to those in the cast…call me a copy cat, I don’t care.) I need to offer acknowledgments to those who help me do what I do. I cannot create anything onstage alone. That’s why theatre (and this show in particular) is so unlike anything else in the world. It forces ensemble…you MUST work together. (My argument has always been: that’s why people pursue theatre. They’re satisfying a void in their life by participating in forced ensemble and embarking on a mission, then celebrating together. All of this reading I’m doing…sheesh. It leads to ideas….and thinking…..Ewwwwww!)

My friends who I have the privilege to share the stage with night after night are the continued inspiration behind what I can offer.

Kari Curletto (Belle) is the most humble, genuine, complete antithesis of what a Broadway Diva is…that’s I’ve ever met. (And I’ve worked with family!) She is a brilliant Belle, and her delicate nature and unwavering support and encouragement sets the bar for me every night. I’m a better actor having shared the stage with her.

Evan Litt, (Lefou) is a continued source of high ideals. He’s physicality, self-discipline and sense of humor, is an inspiration and inspires me. Evan, you are a true onstage partner. Thank you.

Sevyn Mindoro is a big teddy bear. He’s an amazing Beast. He’s sensitivity mixed with brute force makes for the most unique Beast I’ve ever seen. I love sharing a dressing room and daily thought-provoking conversation about our collective crafts with him. I also think that our renditions of early 90’s hair-band songs, could go on tour! You’re an amazing talent, my friend.

Steve Huntsman (Lumiere) is one of those actors you just can’t take your eyes off. He’s dynamic, funny, graceful, and quite brilliant. And you’ve got to hand it to him…he spends 95% of the show sans hands! I share many of the same theatrial philosophies with Steve, so it’s always a treat to watch him execute those passions.

Joe Hynes (Cogsworth) is a very funny guy. That’s a blanket statement….perhaps. But, I’m serious. Quick witted, sharp, and poignant. His gun is always loaded with a glance, or a quirky gesture, or a smart remark that lightens the scene or moment. He’s a great singer, actor and all around nice fella. I’m very glad he’s part of the cast.

Let me take a moment to talk about the thrilling Shannon Cook. (Mrs. Potts) What a bloody talent. She’s got a powerhouse voice, she adds warmth to Potts that helps bring our story around full-circle, and she genuinely loves what she does. All the while, she’s trapped (in Elephant Man like style) in a shape-shifting pose the entire show. She may be a little tea-pot, but her “poor” spout….dang… I could never do what she does.

Jennifer Del La Torre (Babette) is just delightful. Aside from the fact that we’ve been in two shows together and have never had a scene together!…it’s the discipline she offers that I admire. She’s poised, friendly, and never one to sweep things under the rug. She’s a hard worker and will go to every length to ensure that her character is as fleshed out as it could possibly be. Her interactions with Lumiere are very funny. (There’s always something new…a little glance…a tiny pout…..every night. I love watching that scene.)

Brett practicing for his day job.

Brett practicing for his day job.

Brett Buschell (Chip)…Brett and I go way back. The long car rides together to the warehouse and making fun of that darn golf course banner…and Bar-B-Que sauce man! Ha! For a 6th grader….this guy is somethin’ else. Now, I’m not going to go on and on about him….(Because he has to fit that head of his into a teacup each night)….but I will say that as a 6th grader, he has more onstage instinct than some adult actors I’ve worked with. Bloody talented kid.

Inara Michele (Madame de la Grande Bouche) is another newcomer to the cast, and I’m so very glad! She’s got a beautiful voice, an amazing presence, and her shoot from the hip humor backstage is something I look forward to every night. It’s my pleasure to help her ROBE, and DISROBE her WARDROBE during costume changes! Ha! In all seriousness, she’s become a very good friend and I love watching her perform.

Inara and the famous Bouche "fish face."

Inara and the famous Bouche "Fish-Face."

Josh Meurer (Maurice) is a charming Maurice. Aside from having a great wig (ahem) he adds a sentimental element to the show that helps any audience member connect to that one family member that we would all lay it on the line for. He’s classy, funny…and stinkin’ talented. I love working with him.

Chris Hermening (D’Arque) shares my favorite scene in the show with Evan and I. Talk about a class act. Chris is a quiet, patient, “silent…but deadly” actor. Seriously. He’ll be in the room, quiet as a mouse….but what he offers onstage is as big as the world. He’s kind, sensitive, generous…a very good friend, and a heck of a performer.

Teresa Fairweather, Mikey Phillips and Lauren Basch (Silly Girls) are some of my favorite people in the world. Each of them has a different approach…a different vision….and a very genuine, kind and sincere nature. First and foremost, they all have crazy good voices. They are all collaborative workers and constantly are working with me on how to make our scenes better. On top of that…they’re nice people. Teresa, it is my pleasure to throw you around the stage! (You’re like, pocket-sized….no, no…FUN SIZED!) Your smile, positive words, and energy and friendship……it’s such an inspiration. Mikey…even though you talk about football all the time (a language I don’t speak), you continue to brighten my day by making the tiniest nuance of every scene come to life, even if it is backstage while we wait to go on! (Be Our Guest…c’mon, girl. Bring it back!) You’re amazing fun to work with. Lauren…when we’re not collectively throwing up on things (you have to be there) you are a bloody wonder! You’re the definition of a crazy talented actress, who just doesn’t know how talented they are! You’re funny, exciting, and very good at what you do.

The Silly Girls and I in rehearsal on the back loading dock. Good times.

The Silly Girls and I in rehearsal on the back loading dock. Good times.

ENSEMBLE – Courtney Broadbent, girl, your wry wit is always fun to be around. You’re a leader in the truest sense of the word. I appreciate your help, your insight and your talents. This Sharpie marker is for you!

Joel Abersole, first and foremost…DON’T LEAN BACK! Secondly, your sense of humor, selfless nature and flair onstage and off is contagious. Our ritualistic chest bump before each show is something I rely on to pump me up every night.

A sideways picture of Joel. (I couldn't figure out how to rotate it.)

A sideways picture of Joel. (I couldn't figure out how to rotate it.)

Alison Haeberle is just SWEET. She is the kindest person you’ll every meet. I love her style, I love her continued encouragement, I love her voice, and I love her sugar bowl! Allison doesn’t get much credit, but if you’re looking for a cast member who is 100% loyal to the vision of the show…someone who will always commit, and follow-thru….Allison is your girl!

I admire Jeremy Bowen for his vice-grip lock on focus. He’s a great talent, a funny guy offstage…but the way he rehearses is something else. He’s so focused. (And if he truly isn’t….than dang….he’s a good actor.) Keep it up, dude. Love workin’ with ya!

THE GAR-GOILS: Jacqueline Melendez and Vicky Best. Jack, you are a very good friend and a constant source of encouragement, I appreciate that so much. You have a brilliant voice and a drive to succeed that is unequaled. You’re a snazzy dresser too! Vicky…your sarcasm is NOT appreciated! (Did you catch that? Irony.) You’re a delight and a CRAZY good dancer! I also LOVE your laugh. (She’s like a little, tiny thing….but her laugh fills the room!) It is a pleasure unzipping your Gargoyle heads each night.

Spooky.

Spooky.

Jason Bailly, you are always there to offer that “pep-rally” word of encouragement. After each scene you buzz around to make sure everyone felt good about what they just did. Who does that?? You’re a gifted actor who is so amazingly consistent! I admire that. Thank you for your continued support.

Christian Escobar…let me just say that no one wears that CORKSCREW HEAD like you.  No one! You’re a bloody talent performer dude, and I’m so glad I got the chance to get to know you during this run. You have this uncanny ability to speak mountains with just a glance, and your support, talents, and delicious produce is a blessing.

Ashley Nunes and Kristen McKusick…let me just say that you two are SO DAPPER! I mean that. You’re Dapper-licious. Dapper-lightful. Dapper-Lapper-Woo-Woo! We could be passing in the hall or passing off my blunderbuss…whatever…you two are always so very cheerful and kind. I’ve never hear either of you say an unkind word about anyone! What an amazing positive influence. I appreciate that. (And the muffins your mom brought one night!)

T.J. Thomas….you are great fun to have around, even if I have to keep reminding you that I’m the NUMBER ONE HOOK. (Got it!!!) Just kidding. You’re energy, talents, (including piano…holy smokes!)….and friendly nature is a delight to be around.

Kate Harris…my fellow schoolteacher! You are such a wonderful inspiration. You share so many similar philosophies with me, and your perseverance, forward thinking, and amazing voice exemplifies what I teach in class everyday. Thank you.

Finally, Glen Riggs. I left you for the end for a reason. You see, a lot of outsiders will never know this…but Glen is the SUPERGLUE of the show. He understudies every part (I mean….EVERY part.) He builds sets, constructs props, conducts vocals backstage, picks up U-Haul trucks, etc., etc. There isn’t a think he HASN’T done for this show. On top of all that, he is a very genuinely kind man with a big heart. He’s talented but never let’s it get to his head….he’s supportive without making you feel small….and he’s a good friend of mine. I look up to him. (And I’m taller by two inches.)

Me and the "Superglue."

Me and the Superglue.

There are many people involved behind the scenes too…and because I referenced the acting element of the show in this post, I’ll tip my hat to them all (directors and crew alike) and say a blanket “thank you” in the hopes that you can read into the sincerity of my words.

You see….you can have flashy costumes…a wild rotating castle set….talking deer heads. You can have it all! But, if you don’t have that ensemble, that trust….you won’t be able to create effectively. Now, I’m not saying “Beauty and the Beast” is the end all, be all as far as perfect ensembles are concerned. But I am saying….we’re a DARN good ensemble. We like one another and like working with one another. We all have fun with the show. And that’s what it’s all about. Shows may offer tales as old as time, and songs as old a rhyme…but if you don’t add that something special night after night…that ensemble effort….you’ll never be able to create magic onstage.

I’m certain. (As the sun…rising in the east.)

“When will my reflection show, who I am inside?”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2008 by erikball123

I get so caught up in my own pride sometimes that I cannot see past my own nose. My little world that revolves around me and my self-absorbed, self-motivated, me, me, me, me, me-ness! How in the world can I begin to exemplify what I teach in my classroom everyday if I cannot regroup with enough dignity and pride-swallowing tact to consider myself even the most remote example to my students? I can’t.

On the flip-side…we’re all sinners. We make mistakes. In our efforts to extend ourselves as mentors, leaders..heck, human beings…we think so far outside of the box, we forget about what is INSIDE the box…which is what’s really important, right?

Enough speaking in generalities. So I got my hand slapped by my boss today. I did something stupid…I knew it…and I feel very bad. I showed an excerpt from an R-Rated movie (Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd”) in my H.S. Drama class before getting a parent permission slip signed by parents granting permission to do so. I usually pass these things out at the beginning of the year, and just keep them on file. I didn’t this time, and due to a time crunch, and a unaccommodating absence (I took a sick day), the film was presented, and the students saw Sasha Baron Conen’s bloody demise. Now, here’s the thing…I’m pretty positive that the majority of the class already saw the film…and I’m not so worried about any of them moving to London, grabbing a leather strop, and beginning a barber’s profession….but I DID know that I should have gotten the permission slip signed first.

Why did I show the film? I guess I don’t have a clear answer. Perhaps in the “big picture” of what happens at Faith Lutheran, I saw this as a small “oversight.” Perhaps, I thought no one would ever know. Perhaps…I didn’t care. I’m uncertain. I do know this…the ultimate reason for that decision was based on a luke warm form of conceit. Whatever the reason…whatever the motivation…I didn’t care enough for a policy I knew about to take a harder, more complicated road. That’s lazy, selfish and conceited.

I’m mad at myself for it. I contacted the concerned parent. I emailed all of the parents in both H.S. Drama classes to apologize and offer an explanation. I even forwarded correspondence to my boss and apologized to him. I suppose this all falls under the category of “do now…ask for forgiveness later.” Dang it.

We all know right from wrong. So why do we so often choose wrong? Why is that little shoulder devil’s voice so loud? I wonder if my inner monologue is getting drowned out by what I WANT to do, and the secular world that so willingly encourages me to do so. Ah….now I’m skirting blame. No, no…this is something that I’m toiling over…dealing with and sorry for. But that doesn’t right the wrong. Every tiff I engage my wife in usually ends with her saying “I’m sorry doesn’t necessarily erase the past.” As crazy as that sometimes makes me…she’s right. She’s right.

I was also angry last Saturday because tonight was the first Preview night for the musical I’m in, “Beauty and the Beast” with Signature Productions. Saturday they blocked the curtain call. I found myself quite upset about where my character was placed in the order for bows. (I know…”How arrogant!” I’m with ya.) I actually pouted. I would not say a word during the blocking of the curtain call…and did my job, but afterward, inside I felt I deserved better. (Even typing that makes me ashamed.)

I look back at that moment last Saturday and I can barely fathom how I could have been so childish…so selfish…so unappreciative. This role and opportunity is a privilege. The costume was made for me…the lights are adjusted to highlight a scene featuring me…the program has my name in it…and hours of time, talent and effort were afforded to me is unimaginable. How dare I snuff out all of those efforts for the sake of a post-show lineup! I DO get a curtain call…that’s more than some people get! My sincerest apologies to my fellow actors/directors. I love you all, appreciate you all…and would never take a second of recognition away from any of you. I promise you that is NOT why I do what I do…and I am ashamed I thought that way. Hindsight is 20/20. I guess I need to get my eyes checked.

Changing subjects…I found a box of Jello Pudding Pops in the ice cream aisle yesterday. I freaked out. I haven’t seen these puppies in years! Seriously…if you haven’t tried these things….they’re amazing! I unwrapped the creamy treat, and took a bite. Nostalgia melted on my tongue and I was in chocolate-covered heaven! What a treat, and surprise.

Another unexpected surprise…I received a phone call from MIKE LOGAN. Mike is my best friend from high school. I haven’t spoken to him in 8 years. Why? I’m not sure…we kinda parted and went our separate ways. There wasn’t much explanation…and when we talked, we both felt terrible about the past and looked forward to the future. I have only good memories about Mike. I remember our misadventures, our trials, and the differences in our personalities that evolved into a deep respect of the others philosophies. I missed him and I didn’t realize just how much until we talked again. I’m glad he took the initiative to call me. He didn’t have to.

What a stud. Rock-hard expression and slick white jacket. Miami-Vice...look out!

What a stud. Rock-hard expression and slick white jacket. Miami-Vice...look out!

I suppose life is kinda funny in the sense that when you are burdened by a hefty agenda or when you are star-struck by your status or personal goals…you always have the opportunity to make GOOD. The option is there. Sometimes making GOOD means dealing with the bad…and who wants to do that, right? But, nobody said life was going to be easy. But, around every situation…good or bad…there lies that hidden surprise. That “something” that you weren’t expecting. That maybe small…maybe big, life-reward, that you are presented without expectation.

Call it a silly Pudding Pop…or a rekindled friendship……maybe it’s more like, a true understanding of WHAT you did wrong, and the opportunity to reflect on it….whatever it is, these “surprises” are part of your walk with Christ. These moments are what shapes and builds your character, and it’s always what you DO with these moments that makes you WHO you are.

I cannot help but feel badly about my mistakes the last couple of days. Perhaps I’m brooding. But, “sorry” doesn’t erase the past (whether it was yesterday or 8 years ago)…all you can do is look forward with anticipation. Re-thinking that lesson, re-approaching that curtain call, re-starting where your friendship left off, or re-visiting a yummy-ness of a chocolaty past….all are gifts from God. These reflections are what you can grab hold of and run with, inside or outside of the box…if you’re willing.

“And we, who with the unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the spirit.”

– 2 Corinthians 3.18

I thought it only fair I put my Senior Picture on here too. First an foremost...could my tie knot be any smaller? Secondly...look at all that lovely hair!

I thought it only fair I put my Senior Picture on here too. First an foremost...could my tie knot be any smaller? Secondly...look at all that lovely hair!

The Transformation of “Beauty and the Beast”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2008 by erikball123

Kari Curletto (Belle) and I during a particularly harrowing rehearsal during the first run of “Beauty and the Beast.”

When I first went into rehearsal for P.S. Production’s version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast last April (’08), I found myself very excited to jump into the colorful role of Gaston. This classic Disney tale has long been my favorite Disney movie, and I was thrilled to be a part of what was sure to be an amazing show. Rehearsals started with the usual aligning of schedules, theatre games and exercises and day-to-day rituals of choreography, vocals and blocking. Things went just fine for a while. I was feeling confident. But, then after about a week or so, (particularly when it was my time to beging in-depth character development), I found myself getting frustrated about what I was able to offer in my scenework. (Or, rather, what was being received by the audience…aka: the director.)

If you never met me, or are unaccustomed to my work ethic…allow me to detail my mind set. I’m a very energetic, passionate dude, who admits to an occasional A.D.D. fueled speed bump, but will always give 100%, all of the time. (Simply because productions demand that…and because I love to perform and consider the opportunity a great priviledge. It is my way of offering thanks…my devoted time, efforts and talents.) I try not to be arrogant…but I think the performing profession demands a level of confidence in order to be successful, so I try to over compensate that with an even greater level of gratitude and support for others.

I love working with others because I feel like I can take away ideas, processes, disciplines, etc. that I have not thought of before. There is no sense of “leading role vs. ensemble” in my little world. (Yeah, right, you say.) I truly believe that the best work comes from a strong, unified ensemble where everyone is there to build a perfect story. Anything we can learn from one another becomes part of that ensemble’s efforts, and anyone lucky enough to be in the room at that time should benefit from that.

With that said, the frustration I felt came from the inability to provide what I felt was being demanded by Belle and LeFou, my scene partners. (Both of these actors, by the way are very good friends…and brilliant. I mean it. I have no reason for false flattery.) I found myself at war with…myself! I wanted so badly to provide the nuance, the look, the gesture, the posture, the motivation…the whatever!…so that the moment in that story reads well to the audience, and adds to the show.  We worked and worked and worked. We tried games and exercises…we switched roles and even sat and had in depth discussions about the characters.

I will tell you the director’s name. It’s Phil Shelburne, and he’s amazing. For weeks this sort of frustration brewed in me. Over time it bubbled and grew into an acute determination to make something out of a character I had trouble connecting with. Phil never gave up on me, and even in the moments when I felt completely removed, he would ask me questions like “how did you feel about that?” I would answer. And he would simply look back and smile and say, “okay. Let’s do it again.” And we would. And I would be tired. And I would be stressed. And out of that repetition…out of that unwillingness to compromise….out of that “tough love” for lack of better words, Gaston slowly crept out. I remember at one point Phil looking over to me during a final dress rehearsal and saying “…now that was something. Why must you battle me, Erik!” That felt so good. But it also made approaching this second run of Beauty and the Beast that much sweeter.

I look at this upcoming second run of the show as my opportunity to work with what I already know in a very different way. My instincts tell me to remain comfortable and rely on already engraved processes, connections and discoveries. But, I want desperately (and so does Phil) to reinvent this character.

This week when I began character development work with Phil and others, I felt myself slump back into that same frustrating rut. (Dang it!) It doesn’t help that I was having a “bad” week. (Locked my keys in the car, incidents in class with students kept my frustration levels high, etc.) But, let’s be honest. Those are excuses. Theatre is an escape from reality. But, especially last Friday I noticed something I never realized before. My roadblock…or rather, oversized speed bump…was the fact that I was thinking about it too much. (Phil says this to me all the time. That I’m the very definition of a cerebrial actor. Someone who thinks too much. Imagine that. Wish my high school career was peppered with comments like that! Phooey on you Mr. Glenn!)

But seriously…I would be in the middle of a scene and instead of LISTENING to my partner….I would be thinking about what I should be doing. Instead of REACTING to my partner….I was thinking about how to react. Silly, isn’t it? Some may say….well, just STOP DOING IT! But that’s what’s going on…I notice myself THINKING, and I’m struggling with myself to STOP THINKING, during the scene! Yikes! It’s a bad, bad thing. Sounds crazy, I know! But add on top of that a wildy enthusiastic personality who ONLY wants to do well for the show and make his fellow cast members and director proud….and you’ve got a fine, fine mess. On a Friday, no less! (I even bought cookies!)

I’ve been there. Someone once said that a true actor find’s the difficulties of the actor’s art infinite. (I think it was Stella Adler. Correct me if I’m wrong.) Well, I suppose I’m on the road to being a true actor, because I’m frustrated. I slept in until 10am yesterday hoping to put to rest those icky feelings and re approach this week with new found vigor.

I suppose the show would sit differently with me if everytime I walked in the room, everything came completely natural to me. I always thought the thrill of theatre was watching a character or a scene or an ensemble develop and come to life on stage. I witness it as a director at my school all the time..but as an actor in someone’s else’s vision…I have a deep sense of responsibility fueled by a restless determination. I find myself like a lion tamer most of the time, attempting to put on a good show while keeping my restless self at bay. (With a whip….’cause they’re cool.) I am determined…you’ll never see me give up. The discipline and challenge of the theatre haunts me…but I’m not scared. My horns are down and I’m ready to charge.

Whoever said the art of acting is easy needs to be hit in the head with a snow shovel. I will let ya’ll know how things turn out this week. I’m in training. I’m drinking figurative Gaston protein shakes, and pumping Gaston iron on the road to a beautiful new Beauty and the Beast production. I’ll get there. But I promise I’ll try not to think about it.

___________________________________

“New, and a bit alarming. Who’d have ever thought that this could be? True, that he’s no prince charming, but there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see.” – Belle

DISNEY’S BEAUTY & THE BEAST is playing at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center throughout the months of October and Novemebr ’08. Click here for show information. Click here to purchase tickets.

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