Archive for drama teacher

“Excuse Me, I Have to Take This Call.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by erikball123

One of the shows that I used to watch as a kid was The Cosby Show. I still value the wisdom and humor of Bill Cosby as one of the most influential forces in my life, personally. The show itself, which featured the life lessons of the loveable Huxtable family, lives in the annals of time as one of the most beloved television shows ever, and I can recite half of the episodes word for word. Sometimes I wish life was a little bit simpler, perhaps more “scripted” and decorated with life lessons, like that one episode where Theo was getting ready for college and he had to buy back is bedroom furniture…or the brilliant episode where the husbands of the Huxtable woman challenged each other to try and purchase the most romantic gift ever. It’s a half an hour of feel good moments that I cherish.

When I think about time, and how my time is spent…and this day and ages’ “normal day”…for some reason, I capture the image of Heathcliff Huxtable, the hard working obstetrician, trying with every fiber of his being to catch just a few winks on the family room sofa before having to go in for another shift at the hospital. This last round of unexpected call ins has kept him busy for hours…and at the height of the scene, Heathcliff rolls over and exclaims to little Rudy, who has interrupted his sleep, “Rudy, I just delivered over 100 babies…I need some sleep.”

I guess we all get to a point to where we feel like there is just no catching up on rest…and others’ perception of our plight is just simply not understood. (No matter how noble the cause.)

Now, I don’t deliver babies….ha! Yeah, God bless doctors…I can’t even stand the waiting rooms….I’m a simple High School Drama teacher…but I do feel sometimes that times are changing and expectations are extremely high with regards to how much time we are expected to spend in the efforts to be the greatest school on earth. Now, I promise this won’t turn into a sob-fest…but rather I’d like to take note that times they be a-changin’. Today, the parents of the students I teach are people my age, which means that I need to appreciate what these people are going through as they manage the trials of their children’s school careers. Yet, I don’t. I find myself frustrated…and pointing fingers.

You ever find yourself mad at someone, just because they’re going home at 3pm…and you have to stay for rehearsal…or an after-school activity. That’s all. They didn’t DO anything to you…there isn’t any REAL reason to be angry….but ooooo! They get to go home…and rest, and stuff. And I’ve gotta stay…and do stuff. Dang it! Shoot!

I have only to blame myself for being committed to many things…I like to stay active and involved…I love attention…I love working with the kids outside of class…and I bring it on myself. But, I get increasing annoyed with the 24/7, on-call status that I feel I sometimes am expected to maintain as a teacher. The emails I have to answer up to midnight from students and parents…phone calls I have to return…make-up test/assignment arrangements I have to make and attend…make-up auditions and “meetings” before an after class to “discuss” stuff. We’re on-call counselors, curriculum directors, tutors and mentors. On top of that…I work at the most wonderful high school in the country. A private school where I don’t have to worry about getting shot in the hallways…face drug deals in the bathrooms….and worry about gangs. And I sit here…annoyed and tired. Shame on me, right?

I guess I think about these sort of things because of the ways of the world that I recall when I was growing up. I recall my parents making me going to school no matter how sick I was. I would have to be puking or running a fever before I was allowed to stay home. Today…kids “don’t wanna” go to school…and they spend the day at home. (And I won’t get into the numerous unplanned vacations that are taken throughout the school year. That’s a subject for another blog.) I don’t understand the mind set of some parents. Perhaps they justify things because it’s a private school…and when you pay enrollment, there is a certain expectation. “I pay for this school…if I wanna pull my kid to take them to Hawaii…well, darn it, I’m gonna.”

I guess I’m not arguing about a lack of rest…or a desire to have a nightly vacation from school to recharge. I guess my concerns come from a lack of responsibility that we don’t enforce in today’s students. These are teenagers after all. The same ones that come up to me in class during group work and say, “Mr. Ball, where is some white paper.” “Um…right there.” “Oh, yeah.” Open your eyes…look around…and find the paper. If you cannot find it…after HUNTING for it….then ask. I’m afraid everything nowadays is being served up on a silver platter…and all our teenagers know how to do is ring the little bell and request another “thing.”

I guess what I’d like to see more of (because I always tell my students to stop complaining unless they have a solution!) is parents making their students more responsible for things. The text book stuff…it’s very important…but dude, even the smartest of smart people have to admit that some of the most important stuff you can take away from high school is the collaboration…the ensemble efforts…the trial and error of the everyday interactions. How can students learn how to identify a true success, if they don’t fail every now and then.

Hotlines are important. I think they are an integral part of society and should exist for many worthy causes. But have you ever noticed that hotlines exist primarily for urgent needs? I mean, rarely do you find a go-to source for mundane, everyday things? I feel like the age of technology and the turn of the decades (and this age of parents) expects teachers to drop everything for their students. I guarantee you….we do. (And for the most part, we WANT to.) But, when it’s after hours…or if it involves a hired worker to go above and beyond their expected punch out time…I beg of you to remain cognizant of the fact that this is not normal. If you get your hands on a teacher willing to spend time with your kid…this is a major good thing.

I can’t get mad at those people walking to their cars at 3:15pm. I can’t. God bless them. I don’t necessarily consider myself Heathcliff Huxtable either…trying to catch a few zzzs on the sofa before the next round. After all, I step into the classroom and take on these extra commitments myself, knowing full well what is expected of me. I just want the students and parents to know what is expected of them too. Perhaps that’s unreasonable. But, then again, I would settle for a half an hour of old-school life lessons from the Huxtable household. I guarantee you, unless little Rudy was puking or running a fever….girl would stay home.

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Pawn My Drama

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by erikball123

I’ve been into stupid little reality shows like Hardcore Pawn and Pawn Stars lately. I’m diggin’ on Storage Wars too, but that’s starting to get old, and scripted. I think what attracts me to such television silliness is the mystery behind people’s stories. What is in that storage unit that makes the risk of purchasing it at a premium so appealing. What mysterious chain of events brought Mr. Cecil Stickyfingers to the pawn store today to give up his prized possession. The suspense of actually seeing that the cardboard box holds dirty laundry instead of Uncle Billy’s gold coin collection is what builds the suspense for me. The let down after seeing Cecil find out that the autographed skull of Abraham Lincoln was really a knock off is what creates the storyline for me, I guess.

In general, my stomach ties itself in knots when I’m faced with confrontation. In the big picture, I find myself working very hard to move forward, with every project, every challenge and every journey. The speed bumps that slow me down are things I like to deal with quickly and quietly. I’m not a fighter. I get frustrated and hurt when people cannot see that all I want to do is create something positive…something good.

I’m also found out that I’m not sentimental. This realization surprised me. My wife said it simply “well, you’re not sentimental.” At the time I took it personally. Then I thought about it. She’s right. Tangible items in my life mean very little to me. It’s not that I don’t care about things…rather, I care VERY much about people, and feelings, and emotion…to the point to where the object doesn’t matter.

So, why do I find entertainment value in watching people fight and toil over objects? I suppose it has to do with the convenience of it all. Have you ever thought WHY people put “things” into storage? I’ll give you a few suggestions:

  1. To store for a future event / date / project.
  2. Because they don’t have room for said valuables in their homes.
  3. Because they want to hide it.
  4. Because they want to forget about it.

Pawning is different. People give up their valuables for money. A quick pay off to get them through today, so they can peacefully look forward to tomorrow. The tangible items doesn’t matter in the “now,” and the knowledge that later, when the dust settles, they can obtain that object back (if they pay the price) is appealing.

I find these concepts particularly interesting to me lately.

As you can see, it’s been about 10 months since my last post. I’ve been a smidge busy. I’ve been involved in a total of 6 theatrical productions this year (technically, and onstage), I taught full time, starting my own radio show and was recently hired into a professional acting gig. That’s just the work I’ve been involved in. It’s been a long year.

A long disheartening year.

Granted, I find value in every experience, good or bad, because I truly think you can learn from all, but this year was different. I’m losing faith in my fellow actor. Perhaps even, my fellow man. (Cue dramatic music.) The creative person (especially theatrical actors) by nature is extroverted. They are emotional, passionate people. I pride myself on being one of them. But, I cannot grasp the notion of sullying relationships and taking such a huge personal vested interest in a creative project that it voids out human nature and creative collaboration. These are fundamentals that I believe are staples in creating good theatre.

The state of theatre in Las Vegas is the opposite of what I think everyone believes. There is plenty of theatre to do here in the Valley. All types too. You can keep yourself pretty busy by hitching yourself to any of these proverbial horses. With that said, it’s really a small city. Getting my foot in the door here as a director / designer, etc. was relatively easy. (Pay your dues, be respectful, believe in your product and work hard…and you can too.) But, now that I’m here…I don’t know if I want to be.

I respect my fellow directors / actors. The modern day theatre company is VERY hard to manage. I applaud the theatre companies in town. (Some manage well, some do not…but they all manage.) With that said, I have found little joy in my work this year. There was several times where product or personal feelings stifled the creative process. Several times egos clogged the flow of communication and collaboration. The desire to be top dog or to have the “Best” award…fueled the focus and scope of the project. I found myself in the wake many times…because I don’t like conflict.

Some people might view it as “not having any Balls.” Ah, Irony. I don’t view it as such. I just think there is a way that a collection of artists can generate something together without making it solely about them. I’m reading a book on one of my idols Tim Burton…and he talks about how he cannot work for an ego-driven machine. He has to allow the creativity to breathe and live….that’s where the joy comes from. I’ve worked very hard this year…but I’ve found very little joy.

I was sitting here tonight…my wife away to the Utah Shakespeare Festival with her book club…watching a rerun of Hardcore Pawn. While you won’t find me anywhere near the Detroit Michigan back streets…I sometimes wish I could bring the drama that breaks my spirit to the Pawn Shop. Cash it in…and maybe, just maybe, be back for it later, when I can deal with it.

Or, even better. I could rent a storage unit. Pile my frustration, my over sensitive nature…my paranoia….my dread that what I try to create through theatre is amounting to nothing…..pile it into a storage unit…get a sturdy padlock, and put it away. Perhaps never to be seen again. Maybe someday they’ll auction my unit off and I won’t ever have to worry about it again. That would be so nice.

I wonder if that would be the coward’s way. A friend told me that I should be very proud to be a drama teacher, and that it takes a special kind of person to do what I do. I appreciate that. But, I also think it takes a special kind of person to believe in WHAT they do. (And that goes for anything, not just theatre.) I suppose so long as I continue to believe in WHAT I do, then how in pans out in the short term doesn’t really matter. In the long term, I’m building on what I know, and propelling forward to create a better tomorrow.

Bill Cosby said “Yesterday is a ghost. Tomorrow is a dream. All you have is now.” I like that. Kinda supports my Super Pawn Drama idea. Perhaps I don’t need the inner-city Pawn shop…perhaps I can find a way to pawn my frustrations away so that “now” is what is the most important. Creatively, anyway. That makes sense to me.

I wonder…if Picasso knew that his paintings would be sold for millions, do you think he would have bought better brushes or worked in a different light? I don’t know. I do know he wasn’t focused on the future. His scope of work is unending.

I feel like I had an unending year. I’ve decided not to judge it…or cry over spilled milk…instead, I’ll pawn it away in my secret Pawn Shop….and focus on right now.

I’m not sure how much I’ll “get” for pawning it…but it’s more than I currently have.

Don’t Tip your “Serving” Tray

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by erikball123

I was watching a TIVO’d American Idol yesterday with my wife. A young hopeful was brutally rebuffed and sulked away, rejected, hurt and emotional. He turned to the camera (of course) and, tearing the clouds apart, cried “My spirit is broken!” (Somewhere in the distance a wolf howled.)

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Sheesh…somethings just don’t change. You have to admire those editing masters that never get any credit for the behind-the-scenes vignette work that is poured over every 2-hour “road to Hollywood” Idol episode. Those vignettes are always emotional, abrasive…and very cheesy. They know their stuff. What does America like: drama, in-your-face realism and cheese.

I bring up the topic of ones SPIRIT today because I had a similar situation happen to me yesterday. While I did not appear on American Idol, I did at one point feel like my spirit was broken. (Even candidly that statement sounds over-the-top.) Let’s just say that my heart sank for what I loved. That’s what your spirit is after all…right? What you’re passionate about, what you love and your predominate feeling or mood about it…it all boils down to your essential essence or spirit.

I read a letter to the editor in the newspaper today, written by a public high school teacher in Clark County about how concerned he was about the state of public education system in Nevada. If you don’t know, our school board passed out 6% pay cuts at Christmas parties, inflated classrooms in the upwards of 28 students per class (an all-time, national high) and offered limited reams of copy paper and office supplies in order to encourage use of technology. (Think about that, Faith Lutheran teachers, next time you complain about your new MacBooks!)

But seriously, there is a gray cloud over anyone who loves to teach in Nevada. There are revolving doors on all of our schools and then there are the teachers that DO stick around. Most of the time, they aren’t the ones you WANT to have around. (Just like students, really! Aren’t the ones that bug you the most…the ones that find your classroom quite cozy?) Our giant school district (which should be divided into three districts, in my opinion) is a not a very happy place. They’ve had a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” attitude about test scores and offered very little as far as incentives are concerned for prospective newbie teachers. There is no silver-lining to this Silver State dilemma.

I was sitting in a restaurant yesterday with a group of colleagues having a lunch meeting. For the sake of my colleagues, and the students they teach and the parents that may read this…I’ll keep the agenda and particulars confidential out of respect. But I left that meeting quite deflated. I teach six classes (two sections of high school drama, high school advanced drama, middle school drama, middle school clowning & puppetry, and I team-teach a middle school dance class and during one of my prep periods I also facilitate over an Independent Study Costume Design class) and I have a very full plate. Drama is amazingly prop heavy and while we’re known as the nomads of all performance classes (meaning most flexible, after all we don’t carry tubas or music stands full of choral music) we still have a fair share of preparatory work before every project. I love my job and look forward to it. I work in one of the top private schools in the country and the expectations are very high. But, above any hidden complaint, or off-handed comment, I work with amazing students, an amazing administration and wonderful colleagues. The buildings are big…the carpets are steamed cleaned 4 times a year, the landscaping is beautiful, and everyone has a hand in building up the ginormous (real word) pillars that hold Faith Lutheran up so high. Everyone wants their particular subject area to succeed. Talk about a high caliber, feverish, energetic and positive environment, right? Well…we fall short.

Everyone wants to be proud of a something big that happens. It’s human nature. Just as the Holy Spirit works through us, we want our emotional spirits and passions to be worked over everyday as well. We want to flex our creative muscles. (And those that don’t are the ones that are “stuck.” See above.) We want to anticipate something. We want to revolutionize something. We want to bring something new to the table. We want to win. We want to be in charge. We want control.

I had this game as a kid called “Don’t Tip the Waiter.” Silly game. There was a two-foot tall cut-out of a snobby waiter that teetered on to spokes that protruded from each hip. Above his head he hoisted up a flat cardboard serving tray. You’d spin a wheel and depending upon your luck you’d be challenged to position a cardboard steak, or broccoli, or pizza slice, on top of the serving tray. If you weren’t careful, if you didn’t use good judgment, and if you weren’t careless, the waiter would become unbalanced and tip over,  dumping the food on the ground. Good times. (I also liked the dude on Sesame Street that would come out with eight cream pies, announce the number of the day, and proceed to trip down the stairs and splat the pies all over!)

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I’m extremely fortunate to not fall into like categories as public school teachers do, so I won’t be dealing with the 6% pay cut or reams of paper. But, the high level of expectation, mixed with the superior caliber of faculty members with strong personalities working there (that’s meant to be a compliment) with a dash of pride that so easily consumes us…you find yourself with a volatile cocktail sometimes. Let’s just forget that this week is exam week!

I exchanged blows with my colleagues across dirtied plates of devoured spaghetti, and found myself pouting, fighting and defending the simplest and most minute things in order to prove my point. Again, it’s hard for me to explain without going into details about the particulars…but think about a time when you’ve been SO SURE that you were 100% right, that when it was brought into question (let’s say, even without conflict) you lost it! It’s not a fun situation. You wind up taking everything personally, all the while drudging up past mistakes (and, in your attempts to defend, not just your own mistakes) to prove your points and…why? Ultimately, you want to get your way. Right?

As teachers, (be it science, P.E., History, English or stinkin’ Underwater Basket Weaving!), it is our responsibility to be loyal to not only our individual disciplines…not only the care and success and spiritual well-being  of our students…but it is our responsibility to make certain that pride doesn’t overcome passion.

We all want to win. We hoist philosophies, quirks, resources, lessons, and emotions on a plate so high above our heads sometimes, that we forget what’s up there. We teeter-todder around our everyday on a whirlwind of rituals and “must-dos” that when we reach up to snatch something off of the plate, we don’t even see how that removed “food” is unbalancing the rest of our plate.

I’m guilty as charged. On top of all that, I’m a bit absent-minded. (Put a blind-fold on my waiter!) So, my journey is no different.

I don’t think anyone walked away from our meeting yesterday feeling good. My lasagna wasn’t even that good. So, why did I sit in my car for 15 minutes staring out of the windshield questioning my calling as a drama teacher? Why did I find my love for performing arts and my love for my students and more so, my love for growing in Christ, and watching those I teach grow in Christ everyday…why did I find those things being “messed with.” That’s the stinkin’ tray! That’s my serving tray. Why would I question that? How can I?

You know, I’m a big guy (6’4″) and I can take a lot of heat and punishment. But when my heart takes a beating…when my pride takes a beating…when I’m forced to spill all of the contents of my serving tray onto the floor and regroup before picking them back up…it’s stinks.

Randy, Paula, Simon and that new girl (Carly??) all have a huge advantage. They can break someones spirit and know that it will be well edited.  The show always goes to commercial break. But, when students, parents, administrators, or colleagues break your spirit…you have to look them in the eye the next day in faculty meetings.

I went numb after our lunch-time conflict. I do that sometimes. I don’t deal well with conflict. I want everyone and everything to be sunshine and lollipops. I never said I wasn’t a bit ignorant. But, as a teacher…not only do you have a responsibility to the school, students, parents and community as a whole…but you have a HUGE responsibility to yourself to make sure that your “waiter” isn’t tipped.

One thing the public school teacher wrote about in his letter to the editor was that he didn’t care what happened to the “system” because he cared too much about his students to allow anything to affect his passion for teaching.  I thought that was pretty cool. I suppose God wouldn’t give you the size “serving tray” you have, if He didn’t think you could handle it.

My waiter was tipped yesterday, and my spirit was broken. But despite my human nature, the drama, the in-your-face realism….and yes, the cheese….spilled all over the floor….I’m ready for another game.

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