Archive for Las Vegas

Your Choice: Be a Zombie…or be Aware.

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2011 by erikball123

I always thought my family was incredibly nosey. I recall incidents when my mother or father would pick up the receiver of another house phone to interrupt my call with my school friend to tell me it was time for dinner. Or, the countless teachers I had that caught me talking in class or doing something silly behind their backs, supporting the theory that teachers have eyes in the backs of their heads. Even my grandmother, on nights I had my girlfriend over to watch a movie, would walk into the room with impecable timing to offer us cookies…or something. (That girlfriend, by the way, is now my wife…and we now laugh at those moments.) Nosey, nosey people. Right?

I’m finding as I get older, that the people I once thought were gettin’ “up in my grill” (to use the street vernacular) were actually just acutely aware. It has come to my attention (pun intended) that society as we know it has becaome less and less aware of themselves. I could put a spin on this post by going on and on about the various medias that probe our minds, or the various technological influences that control our every move. (Of course, I could simply type this post on my iPad, iPhone or one of my three computers. I could even text it in if I wanted to…but that would take too long, and I have crops to harvest on Farmville and tweets to twit on Twitter. So…yeah.)

Instead, I think I’ll let you all assume that the bulk of this post has to do with the fact that times, they are a’changin’…and let’s agree that there are MANY reasons/influences that could be blamed. I’m satisfied with this. I’m not trying to nail down a culprit here. I guess you could say my goal was to merely bring awareness to the fact that we aren’t as aware as we once were. Allow me to elaborate. Here are some every day examples of how society demonstrates that they aren’t aware:

  • TURN SIGNALS – It’s a common argument (when discussing driving etiquette) but I truly have noticed (say in the last three years) that more and more drivers simply don’t use their turn signals. Back roads, main roads, highways, drive ways…it’s absolutely astounding to me. I tried to break into the psychological reasoning behind it. The result is a very selfish one. If you think about it, the only reason a turn signal exists is to ensure the safety of others, primarily. To NOT use it…means that the driver cares MORE about whatever they are doing inside the car (or not doing, for that matter!) is MORE important that the safety and ultimately the concern of others. That’s very bad. Watch the next few times you are driving…you’ll see what I mean. People aren’t using their signals! I looked it up…when turning left or right onto any roadway, parkway or driveway, a driver must have their turn signal on at least 100 feet before the turn. Failure to do so can result in a ticket. Come on police….let’s nab ’em!!!!
  • WALKING – Okay, I live in Vegas. One of the busiest cities in the world (especially when it comes to tourism.) But, with that said, I don’t think it is too much to ask to be courteous when you are walking around in public. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been walking down the aisle of the grocery store and someone (in this example, a crazed Steelers fan with red glasses and Crocs) is walking right toward me….and nearly takes me out like a freakin’ hockey player, only to (seconds before) look up, shoot me a dirty look and walk away. Most of the time these people are on their cell phones, or texting. But sometimes it’s a general focus issue. Take the little kid with the dirty face I met in the parking lot today. I was walking into a store and was nearly thrown to the pavement when he swiped my left leg. He turned and looked at me like I was insane…but what was worse was the mother who just walked by and said NOTHING to him. Just kept walking. I could easily chalk these experiences as being merely rude…but the FOCUS is gone. If these people were aware that they are positing themselves in public areas, where others are co-existing, then we can all go about our days safely. I blame zombie movies. We’ve all adopted that particular mind set, I guess.
  • CLOSING DOORS – When you walk through a door…do not presume that there is no one behind you. Actually look…then if there is, I don’t care how rushed you are…hold it for them. Adults and students alike…you are guilty as charged.
  • PLEASANTRIES – This is a personal pet peeve of mine. We’re all busy. I’m constantly buzzing from one place to another. But, if I’m in a hall walking from point A to point B, and I pass a fellow teacher or a student….or God forbid, a stranger…and I say “good morning,” or “hello,”….is the sky going to rain down fire and brimstone if you answer back with a pleasantry? I’m in awe at this. This social formality is probably the easiest to fix. Just remember, you are not alone in this world…there are others…and sometimes they are nice people who are just trying to be nice. Try to turn on your “common courtesy radar” and drop a “good morning” every now and then. For the love of all that is holy, it won’t kill you!
  • TIME – To all the people of the world: I promise you, I will never presume that my schedule is more jam-packed than yours, if you promise to keep in mind, that in this busy busy life, we all have places to go and people to see. Please be aware of what is going on in the big picture for everyone…not just you. Try not to monopolize time. Try not to presume others have access time to spare. And most of all, don’t drop by unannounced. Unless you’re a beloved friend with a cute daughter who brightens our day with a little smile from next door…It really puts people in awkward situations when they are forced to choose: either accommodate this interruption and figure out a way to work it into what you have already planned on doing, or tell them to leave. For non-confrontation people like me…this is very trying at times.
  • INSTANT INFORMATION – I would say that students today get exactly what they want…when they want it. Every day, without fail, students walk into my classroom and say, “what are we doing today?” Patience is a fruit of the spirit, and I guarantee these children….they WILL indeed find out in mere minutes. But, no. They NEED to know right now. (Why? Because when they NEED to know something, they are so accustomed to getting that info instantly.) When watching a Charlie Chaplin movie with my Clowning & Puppetry class, a student goes “what’s going to happen to him”…right in the middle of the movie. Just shouts it out. I replied “wait and see.” “But, is he going to jail?” They asked. “Just wait and see.” “Yeah…but, is he going to jail?” I don’t exaggerate. If the student was patient, and watched with 100% focus / awareness….they would receive all the info they need to watch the movie.
In church today, pastor talked about the fact that we are all so very fortunate. How we take for granted the unbelievable resources that are not only available to us daily, but completely at our disposal, daily. To think some people don’t have clean water to drink, or a bed to sleep on. I’m typing on a $2000 laptop and I’m complaining about turn signals. What the Sam Hill gives me the right!? Right?!
I suppose my point is, we all are so accustomed to the lives we lead. We are unaccustomed to those lives in foreign lands where people must cope with conditions that are very different from our own. I suppose it unrealistic to expect anyone (least of all, me) to radically change our daily existences to make up for the sufferings / challenges of other countries. But I do think that change is possible, if approached bit-by-bit.
Awareness is something we can all do. (Heck, if this ADD-riddled freak can turn on the radar a little more, you can.) I think the result is a friendlier, more sensitive, encouraging and safer place. We shouldn’t have to live life on the defensive. Instead let’s choose a less-driven path…and focus on being a smidge more aware in this beautiful world. I’m positive we can make a difference.
Until then…I’m going to walk over to the teacher’s lounge for a soda. Perhaps I’ll meet a zombie. If so, I’ll make sure I use my turn signal as I swerve out of their way.

To “B” or not to “B”, minus

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2011 by erikball123

I have had the privileged of directing “Little Shop of Horrors” for Signature Productions these last three months, (my first community theatre directing gig in Las Vegas) and I cannot begin to tell you the personal reward I have gained from the experience. Now…like any theatrical experience I would argue, not all of the moments have been paved with gold. There have been heartache, concerns and moments where I found myself saying “but, I have to do this for the good of the show.” Overwhelmingly, however, the cast is filled with talented, bright (and kind) people…the crew is a bunch of determined, sassy worker bees who have bloodied their knuckles for me…and the executive board of Signature is supportive and trusting. It’s been a very valuable experience.

You can imagine, like any actor / director waiting for public feedback, we were anxious to see what the theatre reviewer had to say. He said, “B-.” (He said a bunch of other things too…but will any of it be remembered? The B- is all that will live in the annals of time.)

When I read the review online at 2:30am…yes, I’m a freak…at first I felt my heart in my throat. Immediately my mind raced to all the shows I watched this year…especially the ones rated “A” shows…and I picked them apart. (I suppose that’s human nature, right?) But then…after the fevered flashback, I scratched my pug, ate about half a pint of bitter Ben and Jerry’s. It didn’t help that much. Finally I thought to myself…..this is exactly what I needed.

Please allow me to say that I appreciate the review and commentary, and I believe the reviewer in question has every right to rate us according to his thoughts and expertise. (After all, we invited him!) To him, thank you for coming and I look forward to offering you more opportunities to adjudicate more shows under my direction.

But, for the sake of my cast and crew, whose “A+” spirit reflects months of hard work, a determined and fun edge to the story’s approach, and creative prowess that extends beyond any mere review…I argue that this opinion is a very good thing. Yeah…I said it. This “B-” is a GOOD thing. (I would also argue that I wouldn’t be writing this post if we did receive an “A!” Ha!)

You see, theatre is so wildly subjective. A spring poking the patron’s butt….a speaker on stage left that’s “too loud”….or the fact that the concession stand ran out of Snickers….all of these things can seriously manipulate any theatre-goers experience before the curtain even rises.  It’s not hard to imagine that some of these musicals (especially ones that are often done) are ones a reviewer might attend as part of “a day’s work.” I respect this critic…and I’m sure this critic respects the hard work and energy that went into the piece. That’s not arguable. I think what everyone would love to see is this critic’s rubric. The standard by which all of the shows rated this season were held to. (And if you’re lucky…maybe you’ll get a chance to meet the wonderful wizard behind the curtain too. As if!) It isn’t going to happen.

The fact of the matter is, I was hoping for an “A” as a means by which to boost morale. That’s all it’s really good for, internally. From a marketing perspective…I like to think a “B-” in many ways is perhaps even better than an “A” (especially considering all the “As” I’ve seen handed out this year! And congrats to all!) I hope theatrical patrons will want to check out the show to develop their own opinions. I guarantee you (having been in many shows), a theatrical review is absorbed by a performing cast…and challenged. I can’t wait for you all to see the show!

I guess I’m old school. Because I now think this B- is a blessing. Surely the show isn’t “bad”….I mean, by school standards a “B-” is “above average.” That’s good, right? By theatrical standards (and I would argue, society’s standards)  …anything less than an “A” is unacceptable. (And we wonder why our students aren’t well-adjusted nowadays.)

I could break it down. I could argue that the reviewer’s last three shows all got an “A.” An arguement could be made that Signature Productions won “Outstanding Theatre Troupe” two years in a row…and this year all three shows garnished a “B.” (Gotta break up that trend!) It could even be said that the reviewer doesn’t like “Little Shop” (and everyone knows that!) But, I refuse to suggest any of these things. (Even if they rattle in choice ensemble members’ heads as they wait for their cues in the wings.) Instead, I’m going to suggest something else. (And it’s wacky!) I’m going to suggest that this show was adjudicated effectively by a person with the credentials to do so. It’s a crazy notion, I know!

Maybe…just maybe…the man is doing his job and calling it as he sees it.

Maybe…just maybe…there isn’t any underlining drama or influences.

Maybe…just maybe…my initial mindset (and grumbling) about the rating is exactly what’s WRONG with the community theatre mindset.

I have been overly excited to be an audience member this year on numerous occasions…catching many of the shows previous reviewed. I have a tendency to agree more often than not with the reviewer’s assessment. (Not always, mind you…*insert specific examples here*….but I won’t, because I’m trying to make a point.) Call me an eternal optimist, or a hopeless romantic…or just someone who wishes for a better way of doing things in general…but I would hope that other theatre companies would WANT productions to thrive and succeed. No one is driving home to their elite mansion (purchased with the revenue made from these shows) after each production. Pretty much everyone is putting these shows on because they love to create. They love bringing people together, and collectively generate something good, for the sake of theatre.

Like any clay sculpture…or lyrical dance….or Blue Man Group performance….there will always be someone who goes “AWESOME!” and someone who goes “WHAT THE….???” Always. If the goal in theatre is to appeal to everyone, then we are doing ourselves a disservice and shooting ourselves in the foot before we even begin. It ain’t gonna happen. All we can do is trust our creative spirits, work hard, and find joy in recreating these fantastic worlds every night, in the hopes that audiences will want to get lost in them for a while. Who could ask for anything more?

A “B-” says to me “this is an above average musical, that I found a few faults with that held it back from being superior.” It could’ve been worse. Far worse. This rating does not say “avoid this show.” I take pride in knowing that this show is being perceived as above average from a reputable critic (even if, just barely)….and that the heartbeat of the cast and crew are still pumping at a superior level. The rest I will leave up to the audiences. I think that some will love this show…and some will not. I didn’t need a theatrical review to tell me that.

It’s unfortunate that audiences don’t get to see the special moments that go into shows like “Little Shop.” That one rehearsal where Carnell’s head was the stand-in for the small plant puppet. That one moment when Jake nailed those notes for Skip Snip after a nearly 7 year theatrical hiatus. That one moment when our leading actress looked me in the eye and said “I have restored faith in myself.” Those moments are magic…and the ONLY real reason I love theatre so much. I wish audiences could see that “heart.”

I’ve always viewed theatre as kinda the mad scientist experiment of the performing arts. So subjective…so wonderfully imaginative. Every time I direct a show I feel like I’m piecing together a macaroni collage, or something. People usually don’t understand what I’m doing until I get everything together. Even then, I feel like there are times that people stand back and look at the finished product and go “well, yeah…but it’s still macaroni.” I never think about the macaroni. Ever. I think you’re missing the point if you think too hard on the macaroni. It’s what you do WITH the macaroni that’s important.

To read the review, CLICK HERE. I hope you all come to see “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS” at the Summerlin Library / Performing Arts Center. It runs through August 27. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.SignatureProductions.net.

I love my cast/crew…and I couldn’t be prouder of them. They don’t need an “A”….they have “life experiences!” Heh.

Perhaps it’s my ADD…perhaps it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a group of people on “Little Shop” that is professional and talented enough to make me think this way….but in my house, if you get a “B-” on your macaroni…that goes up on the fridge, for all to see.

I’m going to finish my Ben and Jerry’s now. I betcha it tastes a lot better.

Pawn My Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find these concepts particularly interesting to me lately.

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

A long disheartening year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I WANNA BE A “PRODUCE”-ER

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2009 by erikball123

It got to a blistering 108 degrees today in Las Vegas and I thought my beaded, metal necklace was going to burn a rope mark onto my chest as I walked through the parking lot.

I was at the grocery store getting the weekly goods and found myself spending a lot of time in the freezer section! Upon lugging our frozen waffles and crusty French bread home in doggy-walk bags, my wife and I decided to clean out the freezer. That’s when Emily found it! Not Jimmy Hoffa’s body… (I still truly believe the corpse can be found in the bottom drawer of my teacher’s desk at school)…but, rather,  a bag of frozen broccoli from 2006. We didn’t even live in this house in 2006…how did that happen!? It’s 2009. That’s three year old broccoli. (They say it loses it’s nutrients when you boil it. Hmm.)

broccoli

Got me thinking: What ALL do we forget about? Mind you, I’m not digging for vast philosophy here…I’m merely suggesting that in our daily clouds that are muddied with Americano chugs, “sup” nods and dress shirt pressing, we have a lot tucked in our proverbial freezers that we forget about. It sits there…frozen. It was at one point in time something significant, or useful. Something that we planned for…desired….obtained or toiled over…and then forget. Tossed aside, cozy against the Otter Pops and Pizza Rolls.

EXAMPLE: How many birthday’s did you forget this year? (And the term “forget,” in this setting, refers to something that you didn’t plan for or look forward to. Not necessarily forgot completely.) I can’t remember how many times I’d be watching TV and see a Father’s Day commercial or something, and find myself going “hmm…Father’s Day must be coming up.” And it was Father’s Day. Or, I recall my mother saying to me, “your cousin’s husband just lost his grandmother. They we’re very close. A phone call would be nice.”  I forgot. I never called.

Yeah, that broccoli could easily be something that you purposely avoid…because it’s something you have to deal with and can’t be bother by the insignificance of it all. After all, who wants to eat broccoli anyway, right?

It might be the weekly war between the church pew and the snooze button. It might be the backyard lawn and the hedges that you can’t manage to find time to trim. It could be the “thank you” letter that you forgot to write….or PLANNED to write, but found that re-run of Scrubs more enthralling and the chaise much more comfortable.

That bag of 2006, frost-bitten broccoli could be anything.

I saw a dude pull into the supermarket as I was pulling out. He had a Great Dane in the back seat. I thought to myself  “he’d better not leave him in the car and run in.” Of course he didn’t…because if I didn’t think that, I would sleep at night. But, there ARE morons who do that sort of thing. For those morons…for some reason, at that moment…that broccoli is not as important as whatever he needs to do in the supermarket. People who leave pets in cars are immediately  inconvenienced and are too lazy to deal with it.

That broccoli could be one-more beer past the time you promised to be home. That broccoli could be the prayer forgotten about as you lie half-asleep, actually thinking about how you didn’t pray. That broccoli could be forgetting to say “thank you.”

Forgetfulness in general, is not a happy thing. I visited my two grandmothers last week in Michigan (and it was GREAT to see them both!) and one of them celebrated her 90th birthday. As we visited, I struggled in my communications with her using a college-ruled notebook and an over-exaggerated mouthing technique I call “BALLTALK.” (I usually talk that way anyway.) She’s forgetting a lot. It’s hard to watch someone you love struggle to find a single word so that they can complete their thought. It was a work-out for her.  She had so much to say…and with us living in Las Vegas, expressing herself otherwise is close to impossible. The visit was like watching her struggle to play that Clock Game on the Price is Right. She had to get all she wanted to say out, before time was up and we had to leave. Broke my heart.

The struggle with that sort of “forgetting” is something I can appreciate and lovingly forgive from a third party perspective. But, the “thoughtless” forgetting (for lack of better words) is something we should all strive to work on. It is closely related to a catch phrase that I find myself less willing to accommodate as I get older. It’s called “WHATEVER.”

I have a guilty pleasure. It’s called Judge Judy. I don’t know how to explain it. I certainly do not apologize for my TiVo-ing every episode. I don’t apologize for laughing at the litigants. I even like Burd the Bailiff.  I find great entertainment in watching Judith Sheindlind set traps for the defendants…and then watch them walk right into them. Boo-ya! It’s like a modern day, 12-minute Miss Marple. I try to figure it out before she reveals it. I don’t know….it’s a guilty pleasure.

I find myself in CONSTANT awe at how people get SO wrapped up in their own selfish lives. Granted, I’m no saint! I put off work today for a nap. I find loopholes and “easy way outs” all the time, just like the next guy. But, I can’t explain the number of times litigants simply don’t have answers to simple questions like “why did you do that?” or “when were you going to pay her back?” They truly don’t know…and don’t care. Strike that. They DO know…but hoped that “it” would expire, and then years down the road when someone noticed “it” they were hoping they would simply throw “it” away.  (Did you follow me there?)

I laugh and enjoy the show…and then go back to my own finger-pointing, sinful life doing the exact same thing in differing degrees.

Let’s call it “selective forgetfulness” or rather the need to find daily obligations conveniently forgotten. It’s not the right thing. It’s how dog’s get left in cars…teenage students get pregnant…and broccoli get left in the freezer. We know…we just don’t care ENOUGH to act.

What a sad existence. Hm. Makes me wonder what it would TAKE to light that fire under my butt TO care? I mean, I bought that broccoli in 2006…planned on eating it in 2006…and I imagine I saw it in there from time to time. It HAD to be moved from one house to another when we moved 3 years ago. Yet…I didn’t care enough to strap on my hounds tooth hat and portray “Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Expired Broccoli.”  It remained…comfortable…cozy….forgotten about in the recesses of my temperamental freezer. (Maybe the ice cubes are sending me hidden messages when I ask for cubes and get crushed.)

So, what’s the solution? Should we take a vow of of fresh produce? I don’t think it’s necessary. We’re human and change our minds often. Working out the details in life is something I think God would want us to do, right?

Onstage it’s our job as actors to find moments to make the structure of the story we’re offering live, and thrive…and extend to the receptive audience. The role is one thing…the relationship is another…but it’s the choices we make as performers that binds it all together, breathes new life into it, and propels it forward. If we start character analysis at the beginning of the process with a bag of broccoli…we can do whatever we want to with it…except forget about it. That would be like denouncing the stir fry in which it was originally intended!

I don’t think it’s a crime to change your mind. I think we live in a fast-paced world. It’s okay to feel bad that we can’t communicate effectively with our grandmas like we used to. It’s okay to struggle with a part onstage. It’s okay to find it “hard” to read the Bible, go to church and find time to talk with God. It’s okay.

Again, I’m not digging for vast philosophy here. I just think that we have a natural tendency to find it all too convenient to forget to clean out the freezer from time to time. We shouldn’t assume that nothing actually “goes bad” when it’s frozen.

“…UNTIL THEN, WE’LL HAVE TO MUDDLE THROUGH SOME HOW.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2008 by erikball123
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Outside the Faith Lutheran Chapel / Performing Arts Center - Dec. 18, 2008

I wonder if non-believers of Christ handle fragile, glass Christmas tree ornaments with the same “in heaven’s name, don’t even BREATHE…or it may break-like” care as they do their equally fragile, and (some would argue) sensitive beliefs? I betcha they break a few. I also bet…when they do, they simply thrown them away and buy some more.

That’s what is comes down to, isn’t it? A secular Christmas. At least it is for those who have a problem with the inclusion of a religious symbol, a Christmas Carol or even a simple “Merry Christmas.”  Some passers-by are as droopy as the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. And what about those who sit comfortably in their chairs at home watching A Charlie Brown Christmas? If they decide they don’t approve of Linus taking center stage….they don’t simply sit, endure and complain. No, no, no! They simply press a button and change it to something else, that appeals to their liking.

Christmas is becoming a private holiday that we have to celebrate behind closed doors in order to avoid offending anyone. I mean…it’s “JOY TO THE WORLD” not “joy to those who believe exactly what I do, and appropriately demonstrate it through worship and outward like-mindedness.” That doesn’t have the same snappy ring to it, does it?

It’s as if every cry of “Joy to the World” is accompanied by an  icy snowball in the face of those not wanting to receive it. What’s the matter with proclaiming JOY at the coming of our Savior? Even if you don’t believe in my Lord…what’s the matter with wanting to spread JOY? If you don’t even want that…you can hit the mute button, you know, or change the channel.

Thirty of  my students (the school’s drama troupe) and I wanted to spread the joy and sing carols at a local BORDERS bookstore before sipping cocoa and sending each other off for the Christmas Break. The store we wanted to offer our sleigh-driven merriment was a big BORDERS bookstore located in an area 2 miles from the school next to a BEST BUY and a BED, BATH and BEYOND. A perfect place to fa-la-la-la-la while freezing our freshman fingers off, I thought. We spoke with the manager (and for his protection, we’ll call him Penjamin) who told us that because “only a small amount of Border’s customers are of the Christian faith, we’d be upsetting the others” and he turned us away. (Let’s just forget the fact that the last poll I read marks 82% of U.S. Citizens claiming to be Christian.)

Even after we offered to include secular songs into our “play list” (who doesn’t like a rousing offering of FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, my niece’s favorite.) still, no dice.  I guess the fine print his mission statement includes: No Manger, No Menorah, No….whatever Kwanzaa peeps believe….No Lawsuit. He said that Borders is “very concerned about potentially offending their customers,” but they continue to sell ANY book to ANY person, ANY time. A contradiction, some may say. I found it even more interesting when I visited the Borders website that on the front page there is a large section highlighting the Christmas and Christian books. Under shipping there are several options to get your order there BY CHRISTMAS. And under the staff picks…I found a variety of Christmas CDs and books. Other religious-based offerings were shockingly missing.

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Located on the front page of BORDERS.COM - Dec. 18, 2008

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BORDERS Shipping Options - From Website: Dec. 18, 2008

Granted…I’m sure Penjamin (Santa’s little helper working inventory on the second shift), doesn’t speak for Borders world-wide and I don’t hate Borders…per se. I was just disappointed.  I can’t help but hope that there are businesses, companies, and individuals who still wear their “Merry Christmas” on the sleeve of their coat, laced through their coats arms like mom used to thread our mittens so that we don’t lose them.  But then, my question is, why do people continue to bury their heads in the ground when faced with religion? With all the holiday buzzing and running here and there all around the square…why do people only pause a moment to holler “STOP?”

Wasn’t it Tiny Tim (Dickens, not ukulele) that said he hoped that people would see that he was crippled so that it would help them remember who made the lame beggars walk and blind men see? Why should we be any different? Shouldn’t we be walking, living, breathing examples of the saving grace of Christ? Are we all JUST AS CRIPPLED as poor Tim? Even Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree was transformed when a bunch of people CARED for it.

“Even Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree was transformed when a bunch of people CARED for it.”

Why should anyone else have a say in it? By law there is nothing unconstitutional about displaying religious symbols (I looked it up), and I can’t imagine any non-Christian grabbing a torch and leading a movement to replace the pluralistic Mall-of-America with a secular one. It would be too much work. Then again, so is getting up out of our chairs to change the channel, right? Without the remote, we’re lost.

I want people, young and old, good and bad, frozen as an icicle or warm as a chestnut…to know who my God is. I want them to see that there is a hope of salvation through Jesus Christ…and I want that joy to be the fire that ignites their Christmas spirit.

Did you know that we can all enjoy EGG NOG year ’round? Sure! I know, I’ve seen it in the stores. We don’t need Christmas to come around to sprinkle the nutmeg. “Joy to the World, the Lord has come!” is a call to action. A battle cry! A prayer. A mission statement. A comfort. A reminder. And that sort of thing doesn’t just come around once a year.

We had snow in Vegas yesterday. Lots. Today school was canceled and I celebrated my first Vegas “snow day.” (I also spotted a winged pig in the air too! Ha!) I sat at home looking at the snow falling steadily thinking, “I would have never thought this could happen.” (Then I turned over and went back to sleep!)

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When I woke back up and thought about it…I was reminded that when the Lord comes again…we won’t expect it. There is no Weather Channel that forecasts the coming of Christ.  That moment will surprise us…then we’ll all have to stop for a snow day.

So, why should we allow those that are too busy dealing with economy ruin our Christmas? Why should we let those afraid of minor, potential backlash cancel our merriment? Why should we let things like the weather, the gift-buying, the travel, the unsettled family matters….the hurt, the resentment, the hate….the fear…..why should we let that SNUFF out Christmas, like Scrooge extinguished the Ghost of Christmas Past? We shouldn’t. Ignorance is fleeting…passions soar…emotions run deep…and like any director tells his/her ensemble of actors, “you’ll never appease every audience member.”

Should we force those with equally wet Uggs and frost-bitten agendas to sit, hear, and learn the story of the Christ child? We should want to, I suppose. We should offer, I bet. We should try, I know. But, as sinful beings I suppose we can ONLY try. In the meantime, instead of stirring waters and challenging the boundaries of any store manager’s “borders”….I’ll don my Merry Christmas hat…stand tall….remember the reason for the season….and take my kids to Barnes and Nobel, who gladly accept us.

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Tale as New as Time…

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2008 by erikball123

The cast of “BEAUTY and the BEAST” take a break after re-learning the song HUMAN AGAIN.

We began as a small group of young people anxious to offer the wildest take on one of the most “known” musicals out there. It started late February last year, and I was at my final callback for “Beauty and the Beast.” I was very nervous (of course)…but a bit uncomfortable as well. I have been called back for Beast and Gaston. And the young lady I continued to read with (as Beast) for Belle, was the wife of the guy I was in competition with for Gaston. (Got that?) Talk about awkward.

I left there thinking…”Sheesh! Even if I get the role…how is this thing going to pan out!” Well, I got Gaston and the cast was amazing. The varied approaches and disciplines were an inspiration, the creative team including  very gifted director challenged me, and the final product was one of the most widely attended musicals in Super Summer Theatre’s history. A success by many people’s definition.

It was a good experience and shortly after, we were all asked to come back and do the show again! Most of us were like “huh?” What do you mean, “do it again?” Signature Productions wanted the entire show to revamp the production for a “back by popular demand” run in October and November. It took most of us a few seconds to give them our answer (after all…it’s a really fun show to do!) but there were others that said they couldn’t come back. We were very uncertain as to how this was going to re-materialize. (Especially after strike and the manner in which the set was struck! Yikes. I thought claw hammers were meant to remove nails! Remind me to pick a few of those up for the second run of the second act and the “Kill the Beast” number!)

Fast forward to last week, the first full week of “second round” rehearsals. We have a new Maurice, a new Cogsworth…and to be honest we’re still looking for a Mrs. Potts! There is also a handful of new chorus members, all of which have helped this ensemble flesh out to be a rather exciting one.  I’m thrilled to say that Evan Litt who played LaFou to my Gaston (and is amazing!) will be returning. He originally didn’t think he could come back! I’m thrilled. We’re a little bigger, a little bulkier…and it’s going to be a BIG, HUGE show.

I run through the song “GASTON” with Evan Litt during vocal rehearsal.

One of the most exciting things about last week was the fact that our director Phil Shelburne, told us to drop our preconceived notions and approaches to the characters. “This is a new show, with new goals, and new approaches,” he said. But as our first read-thru indicated, that wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone (who was in the original cast, anyway) slipped right into the same routine. At break, Phil pulled Kari (who plays Belle), Sevyn (who plays Beast) and myself aside to ask us to really work hard on breaking down these characters to the bare minimum, so that we can rebuild them back up again.

After that read-thru, we spent the rest of the week perched at the edge of our seats, going over vocals. Our vocal director Lisa Fairweather (who’s amazing, by the way) has us relearning everything. Chorus parts I sang tenor last show, I now sing baritone and vice-versa. They are really working hard to make this a NEW show. It’s crazy. We all supported on another and really made the newbies feel like home….we played games…brought up memories from the past…we even stalked and smashed a killer dragon fly who was out of control!

“Who’s the DRAGONFLY now?! Huh??”

So, as I trudge forward this next, very busy week, I will be anxious to see what surprises await me around the corner. One things for sure, it’s not going to be easy. We approached this thinking it was going to be a casual transition back into a comfortable show. Instead, we’re going to take some rude, base “beast-like” notions…go crazy with them over the next two months, and then hopefully transform this puppy into a prince!

CLICK HERE FOR BEAUTY AND THE BEAST TICKETS.

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