Archive for Faith Lutheran

Auditioning for a Musical in High School

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

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

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

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

DIRECTORS

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEFORE THE AUDITION

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

THE DAY OF THE AUDITION

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

DURING AUDITIONS

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

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

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

AFTER AUDITIONS

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

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

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

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

I hope this was helpful.

School Spirit: Not Just Lip-Service

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2011 by erikball123

In my efforts to lick my wounds, I offer you all a challenge: offset the mad-man ramblings of one Dale Earnhardt when he quipped “second place is first place loser.” Have we raised our standards so high that we can’t even see the feet we’re standing on anymore? Seriously. I’ve often spouted about how I’m blessed to teach at Faith Lutheran…but make no mistake, it can sometimes be a “everybody gets a gold star” type of place. That’s not the real world. That’s not how life really is. Take it from an actor who met more closed doors that open when making a living in Chicago. You gotta have a tough skin, because sometimes life doesn’t happen to fall into place the way you expect it to.

Last night at the annual Faith Lutheran Homecoming Lip Sync event…the Senior class was defeated by the Junior class. (I was the adviser of the Senior class, along with my dear friends Chris and Christian.) Some say that the results of the judging were unjust! Some were outraged! Some wallflower seniors shed tears! One student threw a roll of toilet paper. We all deal with anger differently, I guess. I went to the drive-thru of McDonalds and inhaled two cherry pies in record time.

Allow me to explain what a Lip Sync is, first. Every Homecoming has a theme. This year’s was “VEGAS.” Every Homecoming event circulating this theme had to do with an individual Vegas casinos. The Lip Sync competition is one that pits classes against each other in spirited rivalry as they cut a four-minute music mix based on the given theme, and perform a costumed performance to the music, while attempting to lip sync to the vocals, as an ensemble. The theme for the Lip Sync event was HARD ROCK CAFE, and the seniors were given Queen, Journey and Rolling Stones as their music selections. The Lip Sync is truly one of the most attended and fun events we have on campus. (Even the teachers perform in a faculty skit. It gets really silly!) I’ve always loved it because it demands the students to work as an ensemble and draw on each others’ creative spirits.

Ours was REALLY cool too! The story followed a group of seniors from the hall (with various crazy hall passes) to the bathroom where there was a party going on. (Stall 54!) The Asst. Principal bursts in a gives everyone lunch detentions. While at lunch we meet some rather colorful lunch ladies, some boot-scooting girls and some Harlem shuffling boys. After the boys fall in love with the lunch ladies…the Principal comes in and issues a Saturday detention, enforced by the Saturday detention campus police (on bicycles…including a tiny clown bike.) The students are disgruntled…but in the end one brave student says “hey, guys…let’s get past all this…after all ‘We Are the Champions.'” Cue music. Everyone ends up very happy and unified…and we take a class picture. It was a very fun 4 minutes.

I’ve always thought that competition is a good thing. I don’t coach any sport, but the second we begin doing contests “just for fun” is the day Rome falls. I can’t imagine any red-blooded 4A school in the country suiting up for a friendly game of ball where they didn’t keep score. Wouldn’t happen. So, in this case, the Lip Sync is judged. I would say the vast majority of the time, the Seniors win…simply because this is their last hurrah! They usually pull out all stops and generate a lively, energetic and touching offering. Something they can be proud of. This year was no different and I was proud to be an adviser.

With that said…I find myself a bit disheartened today. Like every heated competition, there must be a winner. When that winner is announced, surely there will be a group of people who are upset by this. Well, the dust settled…my group of seniors were defeated (and by a bunch of Juniors! The audacity!)…and I found myself facing a handful of faithful lip stinkers who have taken the defeat very personally and are steadfast in their theories that the school is “out to get them” or “hates the senior class.” One student even punched a hole in our foam board restroom stall that we made. (Ironically, he was the one that the toilet paper as well. Restroom rage?)

Please allow me to put forth my perspective: I think the senior class worked a lot of hours perfecting dance moves, pulling together creative ideas, making costumes/props, and including people from all four corners of the class dynamic into every faction of the offering. It was inspiring. Were there those that rolled their eyes? Yes. Were there those who didn’t care as much? Sure. But overall…I’d say that the class represented themselves very well. I was there from day one…I saw how this coming-together of minds morphed from a puddle of goo into a full-fledged production. I saw people struggle and sweat. I saw the spirit.

Now, did the winning team struggle? Did they overcome trials and tribulations? Did they inject even half as much spirit into their offering? Who knows! I certainly don’t. I hear grumblings just like everyone else…but I can imagine that they had their share of trials as well. And I’m sure everyone can agree that everyone wants to win. But, here’s the thing…(and I’m sure some seniors have personal, or big picture gripes about what they are experiencing this year versus what is deserved)…there is no perfect system. Like every audition I conduct…I am to be trusted to make a decision that will affect a bigger picture. Those judges were picked by student council and it’s up to them to issue the final decision. If the seniors would have won…we’d be facing the same uphill climb with the Juniors. They’d be mad….etc. Now, one might argue that because last year the Junior (now Seniors) under my direction again (sheesh! I’m cursed!) came in second place….and we had a REALLY cool offering. But we’re not talking about last year…we’re focusing on this year, and the stuffy Gym atmosphere, and the new judges, and the alpha and omega stars which were aligned and the fifty-thousand other things that made this particular lip sync unique.

Now, before all the seniors who read this hit the Stumble Upon button, grumbling madly…I would encourage you to think about this…school spirit is what YOU make of it. It’s not a magic power…it’s not something granted or earned….it’s not something someone is entitled to. It’s a mind-set.

If you took: kindness / optimistic / determination / courage / thoughtfulness / faith and Hawaiian Punch and made a crazed milkshake…maybe with a dash of Red Bull…that’s school spirit. It’s what you feel when your home team scores a touchdown. It’s what you feel when every member of your class puts their hand in the circle and you shout “TEAM!” together. It’s what you demonstrate when you high five someone who just did well, or comfort someone who feels sad. It’s a frame of mind that supports you and guides you and helps you make positive choices. I argue….it’s the influence of the Holy Spirit working through you.

School spirit is like Bigfoot. Do we really need proof that it exists? If everyone in the room agrees that it does…that’s enough. And that’s what’s FUN about it! (Frankly, that’s what’s fun about Bigfoot too!)

I’m sad for my senior students. I have the great fortune to look into their eyes and see good people. Even those buggers who are naughty…(you know who you are)…I stand behind them with my hand on their shoulder and I tell you, they are good people too. That’s the thing about Faith Lutheran, it’s a school that truly does care. It’s an imperfect place…and there is room to grow…but no one wants to be on the receiving end of a second place trophy. While I argue that this contest was in no way personal…and that my students can use this experience to help paint the color of the fabric of their character…I will say that it sucks to lose as a senior to the juniors. I tip my hat to them, as they did a fine job. But, I hope that the four-minutes of Lip Syncing isn’t what these students will take with them on their personal journeys after graduation. I hope it’s a bigger scope of experiences.

Did you know that Jack Nicklaus (some would say the greatest golfer of all time) came in second place 19 times, in 19 separate major golf championships?

Did you know that Star Wars (a film in a year that redefined cinema in nearly every regard, and was considered to be a shoe-in for Best Picture) lost the Best Picture Oscar to “Rocky?” (Gotta love the underdog irony there.)

Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears were both runners-up on Star Search before becoming world-wide music icons.

Al Gore (probably one of the most famous runner-ups ever) received more popular votes than any elected President ever….still lost to George W. Bush.

This is absolutely no consolation to the efforts demonstrated by the class of 2012. But, I would argue that while upsetting, it gives us all something to talk about today. (Even if it is commiserating.) And after all, isn’t that what spirit week during Homecoming is all about? A chance to come together? I mean…let’s say we win our football game this Friday. We’ll walk away…together….going “WE ROCK!” But, if we lose this Friday…hypothetically….then we should be able to walk away….together…going “DARN YOU BULLDOGS!” Here’s the thing…there’s a saying “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I’m not sure I LOVE the saying…but I am a huge fan of teaching students to have a thick skin.

Instead of adopting the “pick yourself up and dust yourself off” mentality…I suggest we think of things this way: If we’re all trying to be SCHOOL SPIRITED…even if we fall on our faces…we’re still moving forward….together.

The students are disgruntled…I understand that. But, I’m letting you all know…I feel strongly that we will all be able to champion through this situation. Seniors deserve a chance to shine! If it isn’t going to be as the winners of Lip Sync, then let it be as good sports.

AUDITIONS ADDRESSED

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2011 by erikball123

Every year we have the great fortune to offer four full-length theatrical productions at Faith Lutheran Jr/Sr High School. We try very hard to run the extra-curricular program like a professional theatre company. We attempt in every way to offer a multitude of opportunities to educate and effectively prepare students to succeed in audition and performance situations.

There are four directors at our school and I feel secure enough to speak on behalf of all of them to say that we never give students roles. We grant them opportunities to play roles based on their performances in auditions. (We refuse to adopt the philosophy that “now they are a senior, let’s give them the lead” or “they’ve climbed to the top of the totem pole, so let’s give them a chance.”) Along with the great fortune of being a teacher at Faith (a tuition-based, private school,) I have the privilege to work with some of the most talented students in Las Vegas. They are focused, hard-working and beautiful people who offer a multitude of talents onstage to the glory of God. Students who attend Faith are fortunate. They are secured…nurtured…and very much loved. I would say that the biggest challenge I have with STUDENTS at Faith Lutheran is entitlement. I don’t blame the students. Being an enrolled student there is an expectation of the Faith faculty to offer a quality, Christ-centered education AND a multitude of extra-curricular opportunities to help enrich their interests/goals. I am pleased and proud to do this every day. It is my greatest joy.

As we approach auditions for “A Christmas Story” (the loveable, popular story of Ralphie and his quest to obtain a Red Ryder BB Gun, based on the popular Christmas classic) I look into the eyes of dozens of hopeful students as they prepare to take to the stage, and bring forth the fruits of my instruction. I expect them to prepare in advance. I expect them to work hard on characterization, relationship and dedication. I expect them to brush up on audition etiquette and the support, encouragement and positive reflection toward their fellow student. I expect them to pray and give thanks to God for their talents and the opportunity to glorify Him.

What I don’t expect from my students….is perfection.

Auditioning is a process. There are no professional audtioners. Everyone must be adjudicated and assessed before earning an opportunity to add to the dynamic of a production. Trying to wrestle the notion that a theatrical play/musical is ultimately generated for an AUDIENCE, (at least in the professional industry) is very hard to do. In high school…this should be an educational experience…period. Part of that education is a formal audition process, that will appropriately put students in roles that will exemplify the demands of the part, add positively to the dynamic of the show and position the student, the cast and the production as a whole for success. Bottom line.

My job in the equation…is to be trusted to use my schooling, experience and knowledge to make informed, performance-based decisions that will flesh out these production demands without compromising the process or hurting the individual student’s approach to their passion for performing.

It’s never perfect. The process is subjective. Like a football coach standing on the sidelines in the middle of a fevered game, we have to make judgements, and act immediately, based on what we think would be best. There is a huge element of trust that goes along with that. I can tell you stories of students….bloody talented students who we invest our heart and souls into….students we care about VERY much….who have left an audition / performance bitter, angered and upset about how the audition / performance turned out. They feel robbed of an opportunity, tossed aside or ignored. It becomes personal, fast. Auditions are what give me the most joy…and they break me in two.

One of the joys of being a theatrical arts educator is watching students grow up and realize the amazing gifts God has blessed them with…and then realize that they have been put on this earth to use them to glorify Him. It brings me SO much joy to watch them flourish and thrive and receive applause. The demands from parents, the expectation of a looming financial burden so that students can attend a quality institution, and the pressures of an exposing audition in front of peers with the like conditions is enough to bring any “normal” student to the edge of insanity. (And that’s before the Anatomy homework!) It’s no wonder people prefer to run Track or go out for one of the 57 football teams we have on campus. It’s really hard to be a student actor.

I will never make light of the unbelievable pressures of auditions. I look forward to auditions this Wednesday. I asked students in my Musical Theatre class to write out questions they have about auditions. This is not the last time I will talk about auditions. It’s an ever-growing, multifaceted topic that demands tons of attention. I argue that an actor should NEVER, NEVER be satisfied with their craft. One of the greatest joys of performing is the demand, and the desire to continue to create. Finding new ways to approach auditioning is just ONE way an actor (student, or otherwise) can find great joy in performing. I hope that the simple offering in my answers below can offer some insight to questions you may have about the topic.

  • Why do we get so nervous at auditions?  Stage fright is the most common plight of EVERY high school actor. First and foremost, it’s natural. We have human nature defense mechanism that reacts based on a “fear of failure.” We all fear failure. We want to do well. We want to make our parents, friends, directors, etc. proud of us. We are standing in front of a group of our peers so that we may be “judged.” It’s very exposing, and before we even open our mouths we find ourselves scared to pieces! The bottom line is (and in answer to your question) we get scared….because we desperately CARE about what the director / fellow classmates think about us. (I blame society.) If you can wrap your head around the fact that the director is TOTALLY rooting for you to succeed…and that your classmates will be in the very same boat you’re in…it gives you courage. That courage fuels your confidence…and that confidence will calm your fears. Just remember…I’m very proud of you. Even if you personally don’t think you hit a home run with your audition….a triple still scores runs. You can do it. If you are your own cheerleader…then you can start on building up that confidence…now.
  • Mr. Ball, every time I step onstage (alone mostly, I’m good in groups) I get all choked up and can’t force any sound to come out. I love to belt it out at home and I tell myself I’m not nervous but I just can’t get over this. Take a gander at what I had to say about about stage fright. First thing you need to know…you are not alone, and this is a very common thing. I recall an audition for “AIDA” that I worked very hard for…practiced again and again…I felt very confident…I found myself auditioning in a room, in front of people I knew and respected (and for the most part, comfortable in front of) and to my great surprise….I FORGOT THE WORDS! I kept singing…I made up words (something about chasing my son up a tree!! I don’t know!) and then stood there completely stoic. The director said “thank you, Erik.” I left the room….and about died! It was a terrible experience. But, I’ll tell you what I took away from the experience. I found out that even the most trained, rehearsed, poised actor needs to be on their toes and “nervous.” I thought I was ready. Maybe I was. But, it’s part of the process. The “on guard” mind set that you have to bring with you to auditions….the uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, needs to be a part of what you do. It’s how you manage it that structures the fabric of your process. Use that nervous energy to bring to the table an energetic, passionate, full-of-life (including nerves) offering. Bottling up (or in your case, choking up) is a reaction to those nerves. You’re closing up. It’s a conscious reaction. Think if it like this…if a monster approached you…would you curl up in the fetal position and hope he goes away….or will you make a loud noise and emote in an exaggerated manner, facing that monster? You may be scared to death of the monster…and he may eat you OR run away…but, you will have FACED the monster either way.
  • Why shouldn’t a person dress like the character the are auditioning for? This is an easy question to answer. Bottom line…you want the focus of your audition to be what you have to offer. Not what you’re wearing. There is a funny moment in the musical “A Chorus Line” when a busty character muses on the fact that she seems to be getting more work every since her plastic surgery. (I won’t go into it in any further detail!) In the professional industry, yes, you will be cast in some things STRICTLY because of your “look.” I encourage all actors to embrace who they are. There are a million roles out there…and because of what you bring to the table, physically, you’re going to be PERFECT for a LOT of them! But, for a high school (or maybe a college audition), make the FOCUS of your audition your talents. I’ve had kids dress like Elvis, in bunny suits, etc. for auditions. They did fine…but ultimately, they were auditioning a notion or gimmick. I rank it up there with those silly auditions you might see in the outtakes of American Idol. Is it memorable? Yeah. But for the right reasons? That’s arguable. Another thing to chew on…an actor never wants to limit a character based on their audition. By dressing “in character” you’re saying “this is what it should be like.” The director may disagree…and then you’ve backed yourself into a corner. Give them something to think about by leaving a little mystery.
  • Where is the line of impersonation and inspiration? Wow. What a mature question. I’d say it’s a fine, fine line. For example, in “A Christmas Story”…a very popular (cherished) Christmas movie that has been adapted to the stage…there will be a certain expectation of the audience to attend a show that will be somewhat reminiscent of the movie. I found myself in a similar situation when I played Gaston in “Beauty & the Beast.” It’s an iconic animated movie. There is an expectation that I tip my hat (creatively) to the original. But…with that said…I think you will be setting yourself up for failure if you don’t take those beloved, cherish moments…and make them your own. (Meaning, find new ways to breath new life into them.) Perhaps the best way you can do this is to research what about the movie version is so beloved (this can be part of your pre-audition research, especially if you’re not as familiar with the movie) and then work on WHY those moments are so memorable. Put your own spin on them! Nobody should resort to mimicry. There’s little creative process in being able to do an effective impression. Even the most skilled impressionists (like Terry Fator) find an outlet to channel that talent through that is completely original.
  • How can you fail with pride at an audition? (i.e. goof up a song, forgot your lines, etc.) Remember, directors aren’t necessarily wanting to know how well you memorize lines (unless specifically indicated.) My advice…stay in character. Stay dedicated. Never say die! Don’t allow something as trite as a line, or a lyric…or an entire song of lyrics…spoil your audition for you. See above…during my “AIDA” audition, I lost the words. I still got a callback. Was it the pride of my auditioning career? Probably not…but I didn’t go down without a fight! I think the directorial staff admired that. All auditions are GOOD experiences, even the bad ones. You can walk away, evaluate things…pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start the process all over again. The only time you are EVER defeated in the auditioning process is when you walk away from it.
  • Do directors notice when people get up on stage and do the same exact thing another person just did…but just try to one up the other person? The audition process is imperfect. It’s subjective. You will NEVER find a process that caters to the way you would like. I’ve auditioned for one person in a room all by myself…and for what seemed to be a crowd of people. I’ve sang for an audition in front of hundreds of people and in front of only a video camera. All processes should be approached with the same mind-set. You need to make the FOCUS of the audition what YOU have to offer. Know the material…focus on your craft….present confidentially and take chances. Have fun! If you are in a room with people who are auditioning before you and after you….fine. It’s doesn’t matter. Do not allow other people’s offerings trip you up. You have something special to offer, right? Well, why would you focus on anything else? I found myself saying “if you see something someone else is doing…and doing well…steal it, adapt it to your dynamic…and make it your own.” I think it’s reasonable to assume that you’ll monitor what others are doing. (We are, after all, human!) If you like what someone else did. Fine. But, don’t copy. Make it your own. Copy cats are as obvious as it gets. Making it your own shows a dedication and a willingness to adapt. Both qualities are things directors love. Oh, and to answer your question directly….yes, we notice it.
  • How can I get into character? I could spend all night talking about this topic. I would advise you to always prepare ahead of time. Get into the script…really get a feel for the pulse of the show. Identify with a character you’d like to audition for. Study the character, practice the character…and work on getting connected with the character (emotionally.) When you are called up to read for your audition…recall those feelings that you’ve practiced and lock in on those emotions. If you’re well practiced you should find yourself approaching your audition in a confident manner.
  • Why is it that people shoot snippy looks at you during auditions and how do you prevent people from getting into our heads? People are mean. Not all people. But, yes, there are mean people in the world. Mainly members of the Third Reich, Zombies and those who attend auditions. In all seriousness, I would be a fool to say that there will never been people who sit right in front of you and shoot you daggers in the hopes you fail. It happens all the time. I auditioned once for a scholarship with one of my best friends. As I sang “Put on a Happy Face,” one of my dear friends made faces at me from the second row. Now…he was a dear friends, but in my head, this dude was auditioning for the same scholarship that I was…and that sucked. Whatever reason it happened, it doesn’t matter. There will always be someone out there who is upset that you are in the spotlight. Remember why you are in the spotlight: to glorify God with the talents He blessed you with. All other things are secondary. You don’t need the approval or applause from the zombie in the audience. Let them shoot daggers. Be confident in your work and you just watch those daggers drop right in front of you. You will be unaffected. My advice…never sink to the level of dagger shooters. Be above that. Support others…congratulate others…be happy for others. Worry about your craft. There is a saying by Esther Lederer that I love, “Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.”
  • How does one know what kind of character your should go for? Like, how do you decide if you should go for a bigger or smaller role? Part of your preperation is a thorough understanding of the show and characters. Then you need to have a thorough understanding of who YOU are, and what you can thoughtfully offer. Know your limitations and see what you could add to the show. Everyone in high school wants the leading role…but think about it this way…if the director gave you the leading role, would you be confident in your approach? If the answer is “no,” then maybe look at a secondary role or ensemble role. Those roles are just as important and have a completely different set of demands. Thousands of actors have lifelong careers doing nothing but playing ensemble roles, character roles, dancers, etc. Figure out what special talents you have to offer, and then make that your “special talent.” Figure out what part of the show your special talent would be best utilized.
  • I’m so pumped to work on bigger roles, and I know I can do it, but I can’t seem to make roles bigger than just ensemble parts. What is something I could do or work on to break out of my “ensemble role” shell? I would start with an analysis of your audition process. What are you doing REALLY good? What needs work? Also…take it a step further…those that ARE receiving leading roles, what are they doing REALLY good? I argue that leading roles are usually the roles with the MOST demands. (Vocally, musically and dramatically.) A firm understanding of your limitations is essential. If you’re packin’ a bag of small apples and a sling-shot…it’s gonna be hard to reach a leading role target a hundred yards away. There is NO SHAME in identifying what you’re good at, even if it means an ensemble role. I will NEVER say that an ensemble role less glorious than a leading role. They are JUST as important, JUST as needed and JUST as fulfilling, personally. I have a dear friend who refuses to audition for anything BUT ensemble roles. Why? Because she loves being the “superglue” of the show. The ensemble holds everything together. I’m not saying settle for ensemble roles. Rather, take great pride in any role you receive, knowing that there are always kids who are not cast who would die for that ensemble role. Instead…work hard…always, always, always continue working on expanding your craft. Know that God has a plan for you.
  • When auditioning is there such a thing as being too bold, going too far, or making too many choices? Of course. If you went out there and screamed like a banshee and lit your shirt on fire….I’d constitute that as a bad thing. In all seriousness, it is important to educate yourself to the dynamic of theatre. One easy way to do this is to WATCH a lot of theatre. All types. See how actors approach the storytelling element in their performance. They’re bold, strident and daring…but they are never “too much.” Be exaggerated and take chances. I would argue that it is VERY important to invest TRUST in your own instinct. Go with your gut. You never want to walk away from an audition regretting that you didn’t offer something. Give it a shot. If you find yourself doing something “just for a laugh,” then it probably had little to do with the scene itself. If you present a glass of orange juice in a crazy glass with umbrellas and shish-ka-bobbed fruit sticking out….it’s still all about the orange juice.

I always like to end things with a crazy analogy. Heh.

If you have a question about AUDITIONING…please leave a comment or email me at ERIKBALL123@GMAIL.COM.

Measuring Down?

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2011 by erikball123

The last time I made cookies, I had to throw the batter away half way through the cooking process. I tested the first batch, of course, and nearly choked. I obviously measured something wrong. I didn’t pay that much attention, as I’ve made cookies before…and thought, what the heck. (I’ve been watching Food Network. It’s souring my thinking.) It was a true lesson that it is not a shame to pick up a measuring cup. (Maybe I should just leave the cookie making to my wife!)

I guess some things CAN be measured. Let me restate that. Some things SHOULD be measured.

I have been thinking a lot about my students this week. It’s been a busy week. (And I forgot to tell you last week about my middle school student who, during group work, tapped me on my shoulder. I turned round. He was wearing a paper mustache and goatee. Cooly, he stated in a dark Guatemalan accent, “I don’t drink often. But when I do…I prefer Dos Equis.” I almost wet myself. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in months.) Anyway…I digress.

My students are literally the highlight of my day, and the most concerning part of my approach TO my day. Let me explain. Faith Lutheran High School (the best school in the country) is a caring, nurturing supportive, and safe exception to any student’s Middle School / High School career. I love it there. I find myself spending hours nit-picking little tiny things to complain about daily…simply because it is such an amazing place to be. Isn’t that funny? I kick myself daily, saying “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” At the ends of my days (good days and bad)…I walk to my Nissan Cube, and I find myself worried about my students. Why should I worry about these kids, who are in our care, behind decorative gates and stone walls, sharing the good word of Jesus Christ? I’m proud of my students. I have faith in my students. I’m scared for my students.

I think sometimes…we don’t allow our students to fail.

There is an onset expectation when you purchase something, and that is, you’re going to GET what you paid for. If you grab a Sierra Mist, you know you’re getting ice cold, citrusy goodness. If you purchase a new car, it darn well better fill you nostrils with new car smell. If you purchase a Happy Meal, gosh darn it, there had better be a toy in there! You GET what you pay for. I think there should be NO EXCEPTION with that mind-set when you enroll a student in a private school for a quality education. It’s part of my philosophy as I approach my classroom everyday. I’m fulfilling my end of that expectation. Is this a reasonable expectation when we’re dealing with impressionable young people? People with personal goals, dreams, fears….and unique dynamics? I wonder.

Every time I post a cast list, and one of my students allows the ensemble role that they thought would be a principle role alter their self-control…and they begin bad-mouthing a fellow student…I break down inside a little.  Every time I witness the rules bend ever so slightly for a student so that they may be allowed to play a sport, or participate in an event….because that parent called the administration, and maybe, just maybe, this is the “least disruptive solution”….I question my approach to these kids, a little. Every time I see a student cut in the lunch line…get caught…and then don’t react with remorse…I feel a little lost.

“Wow, Erik. There are teachers in some schools walking the same halls where drug deals are being made, and your dissecting a situation regarding cutting in the lunch line?? Dang, you wussy.” Well…in my defense, this is all I know. I feel very badly for third world countries where people go to sleep starving every day. I will pray for them. But, I cannot fully understand that world, or affectively “deal” with it either…because this is the only world I know. So, in the sterile lunch lines of Faith Lutheran…yeah, these things affect me.

What are we doing to our students? Teaching them. Right. But what? Reading, Writing and Arithmetic? What about winning AND losing? Right AND wrong? Good AND bad? They surely know WHAT these things are….but do they know HOW these things are?

We do not affectively prepare our students for the real world, if we don’t ALLOW THEM to fail sometimes.

There is this saying, that I love, that goes, “Try your best. Even if you fall on your face…you’re still moving forward.”

Students are going to mess up…get a C- on their AP English homework…forget to turn an assignment in….get a detention for necking in the hallway…smoke a cigarette. All students mess up…they are all TEMPTED to compromise the free will and self-control that is gifted to them by God. It’s not the messing up that is important….it’s WHAT THEY DO AFTERWARDS that will surely define their characters, and generate exceptional, private school students…and even better, lay the ground-work for brilliant young Christian leaders after high school.

I sat four young men down after a middle school class this week. They were talking out of turn, disrupting the presentations of their classmates, snapping rubber bands and playing on their cell phones. All within 10 minutes. (I told you we had multi-tasking, talented kids at Faith.) I pulled them aside and said “look…I don’t want to give you a detention. YOU don’t want me to give you a detention. I need you to be respectful in class. If not, the school’s rules state that you must receive a punishment, which in turn makes me the bad guy…which in turn makes you unhappy with me, which makes me sad. So…here’s the deal. I’ll give you your phone back. The rubber bands I’m keeping…because, frankly, I’m out of rubber bands….but we’ll start fresh next class, with a clearer understanding of my expectations. If then, we continue to have problems…. detention. Understood?” Three of the four kids apologized. I accepted it….and waited. The fourth got a detention today. He continued down the same path. I asked him to stay after class…and then I asked him to fill out the detention form. He did it sharply and quickly…and accepted it. I think that was VERY good.

I’ll tell you something. The process of MAKING good cookies is always the same. Mix the proper ingrediants…bake them for a certain time…allow them to cool. We can measure what NEEDS to go into each cookie, very carefully. But, what happens if we make an error? I don’t blame the process of making cookies…and I certainly don’t stop making cookies altogether. Instead, I learn from my mistakes, restart and try again. I learn. Hopefully, I’ll wind up with better cookies.

If we (teachers and parents) take time with our students…nurture their needs as individuals (as we all know that God made each of these little ones by hand…there were no cookie cutters up in heaven)….and then be a part of the clean up process when they fail (continuing to nurture)…then maybe we’ll wind up with a batch of really well-prepared cookies.

And who doesn’t appreciate a well-prepared cookie?

Frequently Masked Questions

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by erikball123

Today I mourn with hundreds of Faith students, parents and teachers at the tragic, unexpected passing of one of my students. She died in an accident while on vacation. We just started the new school year…and already my heart is heavy and I’m kinda mad at myself, because I find myself (in my efforts to make sense of all of this) questioning my own mortality. I suppose that’s a natural knee-jerk reaction. But, I’m mad because I feel like “how dare you focus on YOU at a time like this!”I suppose when tragedy occurs, the coming together of friends and family is what gives us peace. It centers our focus so that we may commiserate together. I look forward to a tough Tuesday as we head back to school.

For the record, this young lady was a student in my class…a hard-working, creative, clever, fun-loving beam of sunshine in my every day. I loved that she considered herself unique and had a will of steel. She was determined, she loved her friends and she never hesitated to stop me in the hall for a hug. On top of all of this, she loved her Lord, and I can sleep at night knowing she’s with her Father in heaven right now.

I remember when I was a freshman in college and my parents got divorced…I got so angry. I prided myself in having a great family life and this particular bomb, just blind-sided me. I couldn’t forgive my father for walking out. “This decision was obviously fueled by a mid-life crisis situation and a desire to find happiness”…I kept telling myself. How dare he be so selfish. I have always said, and I will continue to say, you create your own happiness. I was so angry at my dad for giving up on us.

Flash forward to today and the current tragedy…I continue to struggle with the question “why?”…I find myself in a similar spot. I’ve always said (from an ignorant Lutheran’s point of view) that it is okay to question God. It’s okay to go to God in anger, fear, resentment, frustration and sadness. Questioning is okay…so long as you DON’T STOP looking for the answer. That’s why I love God’s style. It’s a selfish man who demands results RIGHT NOW…but a caring, contemplative man who is willing to wait for the answer to unfold over time. God’s blessing of free will and patience is something I take for granted, especially when I want something. I want answers about this young lady’s death. The same investigative mind-set is snooping Facebook searching for details. (I had to physically shut my computer off in order to knock some sense into myself.) The bottom line…this tragic accident shouldn’t have happened to such a wonderful person, and I’m angry. At first I thought…you know what, it’s out of our hands, it’s God’s will. But you know something. That’s not right. God’s will does not include brilliant 16-year to die a tragic death. In Genesis, God didn’t want people to die. It wasn’t until Satan stuck his nose into things that the first tragedy occurred. It’s NOT God’s will. I’ll tell you what it is….it’s God’s PROMISE, that no matter what the devil does to us…no matter what tragedy befalls us…if we trust in the Lord and we know with our mind and our hearts that Jesus is the only way to heaven…then we will be saved.

There’s a cheesy moment in the movie “White Christmas” when Bing Crosby and what’s-her-face is sitting around a fireplace guzzling buttermilk and singing about how we should all count our blessings. I’ve never tried to actually sit down and count my blessings. I tried. First and foremost…hand-writing a list is something I haven’t done in a while! (Welcome to the age of technology!) I got to about #54 before stopping and thinking….this could go ON AND ON! There is a never-ending amount of blessings that we should all sit back and think about. Little ones, like my dog, the roof over my head, my car with working air conditioning, a job to look forward to every day, clothes on my back, food in my stomach and an amazing wife who I get to share life with. There are blessings we forget about…like my friend Joel in NY, who throughout all his schooling and travels and spunky, care-free nature, still takes time to reflect how none of it is possible without the Lord. He’s what I call a “secret witness.” Or even, the beautiful children being born every day! Or the beautiful people of this world who so desperately want to have children, but cannot. Silly things, like television shows that make us laugh. That songs we play over and over again on our iPods that makes us feel “normal” again. The feeling of peace and quiet that moment just before you fall asleep at night. The hot shower that soothes your aching, aging bones. The friend who does something nice for you (like, bringing you a Starbucks!)…or that Grandparent who still drops a letter in the mail for you every now and then.

I could go on and on. I cannot begin to tell you all the things I have to be thankful for…that I take for granted every day. Walking the halls of Faith Lutheran, I look into the eyes of hundreds of students. Students with goals, and dreams, and hopes and fears. I guess what’s hardest about all of this, is the fact that God’s plan is not necessarily laid out for us to interpret. I suppose it’s not expected of us to understand God’s will.

I think I need to study up. I feel myself confusing God’s perfect will with something else…a “Just Do It” or “Trust No One’s” soceity that tells us…”oh well, it’s God’s will.” God has bigger better plans for us. Those plans do not include accidents that claim people’s lives. I can trust that this young lady’s faith in Christ has delivered her to her Father, and that the devil has lost this one.

I guess that’s what I’m struggling with. I’m a power-hungry, control freak…who has to trust in God enough to relinquish control of this situation. To put this (like all my doubts, fears and frustrations) in God’s hands. I’ll try.

To the parents of this young lady…God’s blessings to you. I promise I will continue to pray for you and your family. I will not, even remotely, attempt to try and understand the grief you are experiencing. But I will say this…your daughter was beloved on earth, as she is beloved by our Father in heaven. I will miss her terribly.

Just so you know…my dad and I did make up. It wasn’t too long before I thought to myself, “well, you can’t stop loving your father simply because you can’t understand or, rather get-over a situation.” We talked it out. (It was rough at first.) Down the road he remarried. She a very nice woman. (Her name is Chene…I call them “the old Ball and Chene!” He hates that. It makes me laugh.) But, we do talk, and he and I have a very respectable, loving relationship now. I may not ever truly understand why he decided to get the divorce, but part of life is taking the good and the bad…wrapping it up tight in your head, praying about it…and then attempting to generate something productive with it. I think that’s what God wants us to do.

I will continue to try and do that with both of these situations.

Everyone needs a father, especially in times of struggle. Rest peacefully, knowing that you always do…and He always has an answer…whether you fully understand the questions or not.

Psalm 18:2  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Caped Crusaders?

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2011 by erikball123

There is something about masks that I’ve always found very intriguing. I don’t think you’re a true theatre person if you don’t like the occasional trip to the Halloween store and the smell of manufactured latex. From a theatrical stand-point, I’ve always been intrigued by the function of a secret identity and how it plays into a story, character or circumstance? Fun stuff. Superheroes immediately come to mind. Halloween too. Bank robbers, I suppose fall into that category.

Then I thought about how that particular “art” imitate life (to take a giant slice out of that drippy, cliche pie.) Then I started thinking about the masks we all wear, everyday.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a phenomenal cast and crew of “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS” for the past few months. The show runs until August 27. (Summerlin Library / Performing Arts Center – For Tickets: http://www.SignatureProductions.net.) With that said…it doesn’t feature any superheroes (although I suppose that’s arguable, in the figurative sense)…no references to Halloween…and no bank robberies. But, I’ve found the exploration of the main character, Seymour, to be very much like how we go about our lives: trying to reach that unattainable goal, scared of the circumstances, and ultimately hiding our true selves in the process.

Seymour, the meek geek of a botanist, doesn’t know how to effectively relate. He only has “life experience” and it hasn’t been a very good life thus far. So, his options are limited. In walks Audrey…a prim, perky package of pep in a tight-fitting dress. She’s a delightful caricature and has a strong-hold on Seymour’s heart. (Is it because of over-exposure? After all Seymour doesn’t get out too much. Or is it because she desperately needs rescuing…and Seymour desperately needs to rescue something because of his circumstance. Who’s to say!) One thing leads to another and before you know it, Seymour’s feeding bodies (limbs of the people who were obstacles in his mission) to an alien plant who talks. (Oklahoma it is not.)

Seymour is an underdog. Someone an audience member would want to root for. He’s brow-beaten. He’s only known the gutter. And here walks in a beautiful young lady who is simply out of his league. She’s abused, humiliated and a tower and a dragon away from being a textbook damsel. Any audience who wouldn’t yell “grab a sword, Seymour and rescue yon maiden!” is missing something. The plot is what one might call…a bit predictable.

The reason I like the musical so much has to do with Seymour. Sure, it’s a plight we’re all accustomed to. Sure we can imagine what might come next. But, here’s a guy who is willing to change his ways, and ACT on his feelings…to do what he thinks is right. You see it doesn’t matter if it IS morally right…or ethically right. All that really matters is that the character THINKS its right. That’s what creates such affective heroes and villains.

The mask I wear in front of my high school drama students is not the same mask I wear in front of my boss, or my next door neighbor or a police officer who just pulled me over. All are different (and perhaps a simpler) adventure then, say, Seymour’s…but the act of donning a different personality to do what’s “right” is very much the same.

Okay, now let’s take two giant steps back.

Ever been to Comic Con? I haven’t. I don’t collect comics…but I find them amusing. I have a deep respect for those who love comics, science fiction and fantasy. I think there is a place in this world for those whose energies are drawn to projects and efforts that are outside the realm of reality. In my eyes…that’s a hiccup away from theatre.

You ever wonder why people get such a thrill from dressing up and invading these conventions with their painted squirt guns and way too tight tights? “Whoa! Don’t get too close to that crazy chick who is spilling out of her unitard and trying in vain to convince us she’s Firestar! The situation may be combustible.” Yes. Combustible. Heh.

I sure have to give credit where credit is due, however. You cannot say these people aren’t passionate about their loves. (I mean, have you ever argued that Superman is better than Batman with any Super or Bat fan? By the way…Batman is WAY better.)

One thing that I’ve noticed about these Comic Con crazies is their willingness to don a mask (physical or otherwise) to completely immerse themselves into a character for the sake of an event…or rather a “coming together of like crazies.” This fascinates me, but not for the reasons you think. For the same reason I can enjoy the occasional Renaissance festival, but I would never keep an outfit of guilded, rustic armor in my hope chest in anticipation for the next event….I think Comic Con, Renaissance festivals, and even the first day of school (which is a mere week and a half away for me….yikes) all fall under the same category: they are meetings of like individuals, with common passions and a willingness to don a mask so as to create an acceptable character in the hopes that the performance will be well received. Arguable? I bet you ever teacher at Faith Lutheran has purchased their new outfit for the first day. My shirt (costume) is red.

Whether you are the actor portraying Seymour Krelbourn in the story “Little Shop of Horrors” (and an effective piece of theatre) or a scared freshman looking forward to embracing the trials of high school (again, an effective piece of theatre!)….everyone wears a mask. I think it is expected, appropriate and ultimately what brings people together. But just like every masked character, they go forth with the firm understanding that they will face conflict. (Otherwise, why wear the mask?)

As you waltz into Comic Con as Firestar (or rather, Math class as Jeff)…take a look at the wonderful fun house that surrounds you. All the lush characters and fun masks. Please remember that underneath each one lurks an actual person….with passions, feelings and secrets.

Perhaps if we embraced this…it would bring worlds together and make wearing capes socially acceptable! I don’t think you need superpowers, Excalibur or a stage to do that.

My Favorite Things

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by erikball123

I find myself blogging when I’m blue. Perhaps it’s because I’m Mr. “No Confrontation” and when I’m blue I like to be alone. Perhaps it because I like to express myself and this is a solitary forum. Perhaps Word Press is just cheaper than a shrink. I don’t know.

We’re a mere week away from holding our doors back and sweeping in a new group of students who are currently wiping Chronic Taco from their chins and avoiding their summer work.  Just seven days until P.M. duties…staff meetings…progress reports…and that beast of a paper cutter in the photocopy room. The thing is my nemesis. I don’t like it for the same reason I don’t like horses….they try to bite me. I swear if they ever find my cold, dead body in the hallowed halls of Faith Lutheran….there will be a trail of blood leading back to that stinkin’ paper cutter. Rrrr.

Anyway…I suppose I’m a bit discourage at myself. You see last year, I got an administrative write-up. (Insert joke here…yes, things haven’t changed that much from when I was in high school!) But in all seriousness, I was quite taken aback by the whole matter. First and foremost…I deserve it. Let’s lay the cards on the table. I don’t mind that people know…partially, because it was for something unbelievably stupid: I didn’t routinely turn in my attendance…and I skipped out on a few lunch duties. That’s it. Some may argue…”what the heck….give me a break.” But, I accept my write-up….and while I blame my absent-mindedness I agree that if I prioritized things a bit better, life would have been fine. And the attendance thing….well, it was one of those things that fell to the side in the bustle of my day. (What’s sad…is that I always took attendance in my gradebook…just forgot to turn it in!) “Get your head in the game, Ball!”

So, at the end of last year I took my medicine…prayed a lot….and I’m looking forward to making some different priorities this year.  It’s okay to screw up, I think. Just so long as you learn from the mistakes, right? (I invested in a red pen and some Post-It notes…let’s DO THIS ATTENDANCE THING!) That’s all I can do, truthfully. But, on top of it all…I remain blue.

You know…I cannot begin to tell you how blessed I am. We have a 792-seat Chapel/Performing Arts Center here…we offer four full-length productions a year….I have a thriving International Thespian Society troupe…and I get to spread the word of God, openly and proudly every day with my students. (That, AND I’m a stone’s throw away from my wife every day!) My salary and benefits are great…I work with a faculty and administration that steadfastly redefines what it is to be a charitable Christian, and I have a pug. I should be pretty freakin’ satisfied.

Today, I worked with a student for an hour on acting technique. He called me out of the blue and said “can we just go over a few things? I wanna brush up.” What kinda student takes that sort of initiative? Other teachers have to worry about drugs and gangs…I have to worry about a senior who “might be getting dusty.” Sheesh. I’m on the Board of Directors for a brilliant family-centered theatre company in town and I’m currently assistant directing a classic musical with a brilliant cast and crew.

I have clothes on my back…food in my stomach…my hair needs a trim, but overall I’m extremely fortunate and taken care of. (That, AND I’m a stone’s throw away from my wife every day!)

Have you ever found yourself mad because you can’t seem to break out of your “blue-ness?” Which in turn frustrates you…which leaves you tired….which add to the blueness. It’s a never-ending cycle! No wonder I squeal with joy when I watch the Cosby Show and Cliff narrowly sneaks the hoagie sub past Claire. Sheesh.

But I’m not writing to vent. Nor am I dumping my issues into cyberspace in hopes for a little attention. (God knows my “audience” isn’t big…and Aunt Bailey, stop commenting that my posts are “cute.”) But, I was reminded today that the “big picture” world is in need of my contributions (and yours) more than I (you) think.

“The Sound of Music” is the show I’m assistant directing with Signature Productions…and the cast is amazing. (You should HEAR these kids….they have the voices of angels!) Anyway…one of my students chimed in on my Facebook post that read “Not sure what to think” by saying “think about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.”

VonTrapp children rehearsing for "THE SOUND OF MUSIC." Click here to visit the Signature Website: http://www.signatureproductions.net

I laughed it off and moved on…but then, as I hot-glued a poster to the wall, I thought about the vase of fresh flowers my wife always refreshes and keeps in the living room…and how much joy that simple pleasure brings her. I thought about my cat, Montgomery who currently has a nasty bacterial infection in his nose. Nothing too crazy or anything…but his sinues have given him a raspy purr and we’ve affectionately referred to him as Snarth Vader.

Snarth Vader

I recall a cookie-dough laced electric beater my wife swung around the corner of my office the other day like Excalibur. She said “take….eat.” And I did…and it was good. I had a mocha from Starbucks yesterday (even though I know I shouldn’t because it goes RIGHT to my hips!) But it was yummy. I’ve also had a very weird craving for Jell-o lately…and I’ve been slurping it down like crazy! I think about the fun I had with my friends watching Damn Yankees at Super Summer Theatre and literally breaking bread together…sharing stories…laughing…and huddling together when the sun went down. I don’t care what it is….Red Bull, Reeces Cups….whatever! What are your favorite things? What are the joys in your family/friend’s lives? How can you capitalize on those “rays of sunshine” to ensure that you are a positive part of their every day dynamic?

I think that my school year blues is a topical reaction to a disappointing end to last year…and a fear that the routine of the upcoming year, may overshadow the joy I find in electric beaters and Snarth Vader. I think I’m looming over the past….and while I’ve already accepted and “taken” my own personal attendance, I need to do my job and invest in the future.

So…now that I’ve analyzed the situation…what’s the prescription? I know for a fact there are family members of mine that need a ray of sunshine a HECK of a lot more than I do. I have friends who are saddened today as well. I hold a heavy heart for them all. So, in general…perhaps the answer is as topical as the would-be symptom: Find something that will affect you positively….and invest in that. There’s nothing you can do about the past. I can’t argue my way out of that write-up…I can’t change people’s approaches/attitudes/passions/investments….there will always be stuff you don’t wanna do and I will always find myself running away from the paper cutter…that’s not the point. Even on the best days we have a tendency to be critical and overshadow the positive with the simplest thing. The point is there is always a bigger picture…and if we can remove ourselves from the immediacy of the situation, if we can just remember our favorite things….then we won’t feel so bad.

Sounds stupid and “kindergarten,” right? Well…I just got a paper cut (really…I did, on a Post-it note…not the paper cutter!) And right now I’m going to go eat some Jell-o. (Really I will.) I assure you…life will get better soon.

Thank you my friends for reminding me of my favorite things.

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