Archive for Performing

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.

HUMAN AGAIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That routine will be missed.

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

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

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

“…Every Outing is a Bravura Performance…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s segue…for a minute.

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

Lynn

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

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

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

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

Yet another segue.

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

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

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

Honey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love that.

The

The dude just freaks me out a little.

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

Fountain

I never tire of the Bellagio fountains.

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

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

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

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