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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.

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What are We Worth? A. Something B. Nothing C. Bunches D. None of the Above

Posted in THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by erikball123

Officially, this is my first on-location blog! I’m literally standing in the Student Center cafeteria at Faith Lutheran right before lunch, listening to the scribblings and growling stomachs of the 9th grade future leaders, as they complete their PSAT test.

I watch these sharp as tacks….bright as bulbs….self-proclaimed (in some cases) under-achievers as they hurl themselves at these standardized booklets and fill-in-the-dot sheets….and I wonder if they are really “here.” You know what I mean. Either you’ve “dealt with” or “been” one of those students who checks out the second the room falls silent. The occasional volleyball player takes a a glance up…so that she can concentrate on how to find the area of the triangle. The lack-luster wrestler shifts so that he can get a better look at Suzie, who is sitting two rows over. It’s hilarious. People-watching…that’s what I’m here for folks! But, really…is standardized testing the answer? Are the definitive conclusions to WHAT WE KNOW going to be discovered through structured involvement in a testing process that forces students out of the classroom for an entire day and into a 30 page booklet?

My argument is this: We assume that dead silence in a “controlled” environment is the key to ideal performance conditions. How ludicrous. Football players need to “pump up” before a game. Boxers need sound advice from their coaches and taped-up wrists prior to a fight. Ballet dancers need a bunch of stretch time. What to test-takers get? A nice, hard lunch table….dead silence….and a 10-minute break to enjoy their stale muffin. And we huff over an our ranking in the percentile. Sheesh.

I teach performance-based classes. I’m a drama teacher for crying out loud. Why can’t we measure the breadth of a students knowledge based on performance? Not an easy thing to propose, yes, I know. But, isn’t that part of the problem? Do we all too often take into consideration HOW we do things instead of WHY we do things? I think a YEAR-LONG observation of what a student DOES with what they’ve learned, would be a good standardized test. Talk about a crazy task….but that would certainly be getting to the root of testing what students know…am I right?

Being able to regurgitate information is not enough. Who cares WHAT you throw up….but do you know WHY you threw up?!

These poor, poor students. God love ’em. With their pairs of #2 pencils….their graphic calculators. (One is pink and bejeweled. Props to Hillary.) I wonder what will happen to these students. I wonder if they’ll grow up to be nuclear physicists, or oceanographers, or lion tamers, or hippies….or whatever! No one knows. There is a wealth of personality, creativity, freedom, and LIFE in this room right now. They don’t know it yet, but these freshman….they’ll be someone, someday.

It’s in God’s hands.

First choice of college…second choice? Who knows…but I guarantee the vast majority aren’t thinking about that when they’re trying to meet the 6-8 sentence quota for the short answer section of the English essay.

Some are done already. They’re looking at me. Hmmm. They shouldn’t be done so soon. Funny. From the looks on their faces, they know that. They know they could have concentrated harder. ….And yet. I don’t know that I don’t blame them.

Can paper and pencil and a morning of filling in tiny dots be what determine one’s worth? Arguable.

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