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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.

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Again…I Say Rejoice!

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2008 by erikball123

Why is it that every time I want to rant about something…every time I find an opportunity to get nasty….every time I need to vent about how badly I was wronged….something swoops down and dissolves the mood? Can you believe I’m complaining that I can’t find an opportunity to be upset. That’s irony folks.

My apologies for not posting in a while. On the heels of a very exciting, very busy week, I find myself sitting in my church clothes on a Sunday afternoon…finally taking a breather. Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once and a while, you could miss it.” True dat. Despite the fact that earlier this school year, at some point, I sneezed and found myself in the middle of October…I’m a week away from opening a musical….and I’m looking forward to the first official week of utilizing the new Chapel / Performing Arts Center as a fully functioning space….I think I should take time to talk about what makes me happy. (I’m about due. I looked at my previous blogs….Surgery, Death, Boo-Berry Cereal….sheesh. I’m one depressing dude!)

First and foremost, in the spirit of spreading joy…. Chick-O-Sticks….ever heard of ’em? I’m finding that alot of people haven’t. This is probably the most under appreciated candy bar ever. (I’d rank it up there right next to Jelly Beans as MOST under appreciated candy of all time. Not Jelly Bellies….darn that stupid buttered popcorn!!!!…..Jelly BEANS.) But, Chick-O-Sticks….I love them. They have a delicious, crumbly crunch and wonderful peanut butter taste, toasted coconut….they’re orange and have nothing to do with Chicken as the name would imply. Stinkin’ awesome. I find that if I keep one of these timeless puppies in my glove compartment…on those days when you just don’t know how to deal with life….a Chick-O-Stick makes life a little bit sweeter. (Figuratively and literally.) I don’t expect you to rush out and grab one, (But if you do, get me one!) but I would ask that the next time you see one….try it.

You know what else makes me happy. Seriously…RAFFI’S “Banana Phone.” It’s a stupid little children’s song that I happened upon when two of my students did a musical number routine to the song in full banana costumes for their Thespian Society inductions. I downloaded it and reserved a corner parking spot for it on my iPod. On shuffle, every now and then, I’ll stumble upon the song, and it instantly puts a smile on my face.

I love my dogs. We have four total. Two are officially Emily’s (because, quite simply, she’s laid claim to them) and two are mine…because they’re not Emily’s. Actually, that’s not totally true. Penelope the Pug is all mine. (A birthday present from 7-years ago.) I love her so much. She’s so…..simple. Like her papa. Everything is always brand new to her. There is never a clever moment for this pooch…and as they say, ignorance is bliss. She’s wild, snugly, noisy…and she’s all mine! My other joy is Beatrice. My 12-year old, blind, toothless, diabetic Chihuahua. She carries on like a headstrong senior citizen and shuffles through her every day with her little tongue sticking out. She’s my gummy bear. Dogs are funny. They’re completely dependent on you, they are loyal to the max, and they bring you such joy…a joy that cannot be described. I’ve actually talked to my dog while snuggling with her on the couch. Have you ever done that? At first you think to yourself…”what am I doing?”….then you figure “who will ever know?…then you realize “she’s actually listening to me.” Dogs are special because they do listen. They don’t know what you’re saying, but they will respond. Try to find another living thing that will immediately respond to you without hesitation or agenda, every time you look them in the eye. I look at my dogs in new ways everyday because of that.

I love performing. Yesterday we had a weekend rehearsal for “Beauty and the Beast” which is opening in a week out at Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center. Click here for more info. (Hope you can make it!) Let me tell you something…trials and tribulations aside, there is something special about theatre. I was sitting next to my friend Kari (she plays Belle) and we were watching a scene onstage, and we talked about how there is nothing like theatre. Where else do you take something REAL, scale it up or down, dress it up really pretty, dissect it, analyze it…and then try it on for size…and then offer it to a willing audience? Where else can you find such raw dedication? (And the funny thing is, the audience accepts it!) There is just something magical about it. When two set piece are put together and suddenly you have castle doors. When a lighting effects stretches the imagination, and suddenly you’re in the woods. When a shift in dynamic accented with music, evokes emotions and suddenly the audience is a part of the “mob scene.” Dang…I love it. It’s hard stinkin’ work putting up a show. Time, effort, money…patience. Sheesh. But, at the end of the day, it’s something that was a part of you…and a part of the audience. You can never take that away. I’ll never be a pirate…but for one night I was Captain Hook. I may never see the Broadway stage, but for one night I was a choreographer in a chorus line. I may never be a gallant suitor…but for one night, I climbed a castle and fought a Beast! As long as I live, theatre will be very, very close to my heart.

I love my students. I have six classes, and I approach each of them VERY differently. Even the two sections of High School Drama…talk about different personalities and atmospheres. I always find it interesting how the time of day plays a huge part in how students approach work in class. Last block before they go home, for instance is very different than second block right before lunch. Teaching has its own rewards…especially in the way that it keeps you on your toes every second of every day. My Advanced Drama class is a unique one this year. It’s kinda hard to explain…allow me to try. Imagine a class of Juniors and Seniors (all of which you know very well…most of which you’ve worked with before onstage) and now put them right next to a group of students who may not have as much experience in performing, but NEED Drama class, because they are wildly creative people with passions that need to be expelled.  (Hey! There’s chocolate in my peanut butter! No, wait! There’s peanut butter in my chocolate!) Anyway…all of these kids I care about very much…but I’m finding myself struggling with them more than any other class. Not because they are bad, mind you. To the contrary…they all want to be a part of something good…and fun. But in heir varied (sometimes impulsive) efforts, the true ensemble effort gets lost in translation and the result is two camps…..ultimately generating two philosophies.

On one hand we have students who desperately want to WORK…..gnash teeth if necessary….to bring their craft to the next level. On the other hand, you have students who want to perform…and have fun doing it. Both groups want to be successful…but neither want the other group to “get in the way” (for lack of better words) of their efforts. A lot of the class/scene work is given a group, “ensemble” grade. Over the last few days, we’ve had to forgo the usual lessons to actually sit down and talk, as class. (Something I think is WAY underdone in classes today.) The results were very good. Everyone was forthcoming, everyone had an opinion…and now we’re working toward a better tomorrow, together.

Will it be perfect? I don’t anticipate that. But I do know this…where else can a teacher go to a “troubled” class and sit down with them…look them eye to eye, collaborate, and together….regroup. Even MENSA meetings wind up in arguments over why the Oreo cookies should be arranged in vertical rows and who owns the second series of NUMBERS. You see…I love my job. I know that, as a class, we’ll get there…and we’ll do it together. If we have to trample on the “routine” of teaching that class, and approach this self-disciple in a weird, awkward way to do it….so be it. I’m ready, and I have the privilege to work with students who WANT to get ready too.

I could go on: Grandmas, my wife’s smile, the smell of freshly cut grass and freshly pumped gasoline (I know, I’m a freak)….and there more! Plenty of stuff I have to be thankful for, and find great joy in. But I would like to end by mentioning something that I presented in a Children’s Chat at church today from Philippians 4:4-13. This scripture, which details the message Paul wrote from prison, reminds me that even in my darkest moment I can find peace in the Lord. I can turn to prayer and know He will hear. I have plenty to be thankful for and a multitude of things in my life that bring me great joy. But, I admit, I have sad moments…I hang my head low and think sad thoughts. During these times it’s a great comfort to me that the Lord is listening and He will help me cope.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!”

Dust Yourself Off…

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , on September 16, 2008 by erikball123

I cannot say that I fully understand why I woke up with a gray cloud over my head. It certainly wasn’t the bed’s fault, both sides of the thing are quite comfortable and I exit either way often.  I believe I got enough sleep…my frown doesn’t need to be turned upside-down…and certainly nothing happened to my corn flakes. It was just a bad day.

I felt bad. I shuffled instead of walked. I found myself chewing my food longer than usual and playing plate hockey with my remaining lunch and spork. I was not very energetic…my self-esteem plummeted…and on top of it all, I literally spilled coffee on my shirt.

Someone once said that nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around! Ha! But, to be honest, I didn’t even really have the “umph” to do that! It was “blah” from beginning to end.

So, I ask you. What next? What do you do when you’re dealt that hand? Fold? Yeah….no. You can’t. If you folded every time you were dealt a luke, warm hand, eventually nobody would want to play with you. They’d bust out the Wii and bowl.

There’s another saying that I like a lot: “Pick myself up. Dust myself off. And start all over again.” When a baseball player strike outs, they can think about their actions as they walk back to the dugout. But, what if you were hit by the pitch. Sure the game moves onward and you take your base…but you didn’t ask for that. It certainly wasn’t the outcome you were hoping for. And sometimes it hurts!

Mondays are tricky. People tend to get things stuck in their heads that Mondays are, by nature, the “Bad” day. The day to look out for. The beginning of yet another long stretch of…whatever you do.

So, here’s what I did to over come this blue-ness….this abnormal state of mind. Prayed. SAW THAT COMING, DID YOU? But, let me explain. I didn’t FEEL better. My blue day went on. That power bomb prayer in the morning didn’t clear my head, like Allegra clears my sinuses! I still “sniffled!”

First and foremost, I don’t think it’s fair to pray and say “Lord…please make me less blue.” How selfish. I have a friend who just lost her husband. I have a student who’s sister is very ill. I have a beloved Grandmother who just got out of major surgery and a mother who healing from surgery as well. Me thinks I’d feel a midge selfish in my request when these much more serious “issues” need more attention. Really…how dare I even think about asking for a less blue day.

But…as I sit here in my office crunching out this post…mere seconds away from midnight and the start of another day…I really don’t think small “requests” (for lack of better words) are be a bad idea. I’m not looking forward to facing tomorrow, but every time I’m FACED with anything, a travel through the pages of Scripture seems a heck of a lot easier that a stroll through any other avenue. Poor excuse for cracking open the Word…but, that’s the cool thing about the Bible. You don’t need an excuse.

ISAIAH 40:29-31
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

I guarantee you will wake up one of these days in the near future and find yourself quite miserable. You’ll be sore, and achy. Your coffee will be bitter, the sound of the dogs barking will make you angry for no apparent reason. The radio plays nothing but commercials, your lose your keys, the streetlights turn yellow upon your every approach, and the copy machines at work will jam. Or, perhaps it will be more subtle. Your skin will crawl. Your conscious does battle with your heart. Or, maybe you’re just lonely.

Whatever it is, your personal walk with Christ that day will make an extended long day seem short and approachable. Try this little trick. You need two people to do the trick. Have one person read the following list of number to you without pausing.

6,7,2,4,5,9,1,0,5,0,2,4,3,7,5,3,8,3,5,7,0,1,5,8

After they are done (without looking back at this post!) name the MIDDLE number. Can you? Off the TOP of your head? It’s hard, isn’t it. I’d be surprised if anyone could do that. But I challenge you to the the following exercise again…but this time your partner will ready you FOUR sets of numbers.

6,4,8     5, 7, 9      1, 4, 0      2, 5, 7

Now…name ALL FOUR GROUPS’ middle numbers. Why can you do that easier? It’s because your approach is different. You identifying things in a different way. I’m a busy guy and have a million things to do in a day. But, I have found a very cool routine of going to the Lord in prayer NOT ONCE a day…NOT just at night….but many, many times a day. In between classes, before lunch, after a disparaging comment or a sad thought. Standing in front of my class will all eyes fixed on me, I’ve prayed. Like the exercise above, this process is not hard…and it doesn’t have to be lengthy.

As you get into this routine, and dice and slice these “moments” in your day to bits, you will be able to approach a tornado with confidence that the storm will indeed pass.

This is not a quick fix, mind you. God’s not going to smite all things making your miserable. Instead, God will HEAR you and by continually allowing God to be PART of your day by calling on Him, you will be able to face anything.

This method and ultimately my Lord….(*deep breath*)….is my Gatorade on a hot day…my aloe vera for my sunburn….my softest tissue for my sore nose…and the comfy pillow for my aching head. God knows. God believes, God cares. God loves. You just gotta let him in on things. Every single day. Don’t save up your one-on-one “God time” for a rainy day. Start now….in fact, go to the Lord right now. Take a moment.

***PRAY***

May the Lord bless you and your day today…and the many blue days in the future.

“Help me to stand by your grace and look the whole world in the face, and sing your word wherever I go. When the tempter comes around Lord give me strength to turn him down, and help me stand Lord the way you stood long ago.” (From “Help Me Stand Lord” by Jeff)
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