Archive for Signature Productions

Caped Crusaders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snarth Vader

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

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

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

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

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

“My King and I”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2009 by erikball123

Sitting through hours of “King & I” auditions, carefully watching every flinch and then transcribing my thoughts regarding their worth in a useful way so that the director can decipher my thoughts…is, quite frankly, exhausting. And this coming from a dude who would spend nearly every waking moment plotting, planning and executing live theatre.

One of the responsibilites as a board member for Signature Productions here in town is to support the effforts of the directors and staff during the audition process. Now I’m not the creative team for this one…but I did anticipate a little bit of paper shuffle in the process. I was shocked when they wanted me to sit in on auditions and evaluate with them. They didn’t have to ask me twice, and I took off my “helper” hat and popped my “director” cap on. (I put it on backwards….rally cap, I know, but I’m not directing, just offering my thoughts to the director. I thought it would be rude to actually wear my director’s cap in he usual fashion.)

Things went very well for the most part. Two of my students auditioned and I couldn’t be MORE PROUD of them if I tried. (I see them growing in front of my eyes…in height and talent.) In both of them I saw “something wonderful.”

Tonight was callbacks…which are always filled with jitters, anticipation, hopeful energy and excitement. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly actors turn into sharks when you dial up the pressure! Sheesh. But, overall they were an impressive group and I was glad to position the camcorder at them.

During my drive home, I was indeed “whistling a happy tune”…but I was also thinking about how stiff my neck was in relation to the audition process in general. How this one might differ from ones I might conduct…or in relation to Broadway turn-outs.

Those hopefuls, so full of excitement and nervous energy, standing in front of us…all they want is a chance. The glow of the spotlight is very cozy, and whatever life-altering ting brought them to the theatre that day to shed their outer skin and expose their raw talent to a table full of strangers, is enough to give anyone a stiff neck. I read somewhere that there is a constant 80% unemployment rate for working actors. Hm. Why do it, then? Why work so hard for a moment SO brief…all of which is at the mercy of the director’s subjective mind. Why do it? I can only think of one answer….because you love to perform. You love the CHANCE to find yourself in a position to challenge yourself to create something you didn’t think you could.

I’m working toward my next audition right now. It’s really hard to get up every day and force myself to do what it takes to prepare myself to the point that will boost me OVER the top and make myself a stand-out in the director’s eyes. But, I like the challenge…and I look forward to the audition. And I’ll kill it!

And if I don’t….that’ll give me something ELSE to look froward to. The evaluation…the re-group….the preparation….and the next audition…..where I’ll kill it!

What if you had to audition to be a Christian? Wouldn’t that make things interesting? I wouldn’t imagine God would want to be put in the same category as Simon Cowell…but suppose in order to deem yourself a Christian man or women, you had to “audition” in front of the one who was ultimately “in charge.” All of a sudden that would put a different spin on things, hmmm? People who would TRULY want to consider themselves a Christian would be doing homework, and stretching spiritual muscles that haven’t been used in a long time. Or, maybe they wouldn’t and say, “well…I’ll wait until the next audition. Besides, I don’t know what He’s looking for.”

I wonder what life would be like if Christians were as unbridled as an industry performer. Those performers who REALLY REALLY work hard to just get that opportunity to create. They’d have to prepare….strengthen themselves….study and work hard…and then when the pressure’s on and they were faced with adversity….spread the word of the Gospel. They may win they’re audience over….or maybe not. But, even then, that’ll give them something ELSE to look forward to. Apples and oranges? Maybe not.

Have you ever found yourself trying to make an impression on God? Trying to win him over with a good work, or feverish Bible study…or voluenteering at your church for everything under the sun? Have you found yourself patting yourself on the back? Are you sure that’s what God wants you to do?

I’d say 80% of being an actor is the preparation. What goes on before and after you step onstage. It’s hard work…thankless….and sometimes, unrewarding. But, you do it because you believe in the work, and you want to get better so that you can do more work. You want to create.

Shouldn’t that be the goal of our walks with Christ? Shouldn’t we strive to create clean hearts not only within ourselves…but in others as well?

As someone who wants to spread the word of God…I would hope nobody would perceive me as being “unemployed,” simply because I’m not sitting in a pew at church.

I suppose it’s wishful thinking to think that all the people I jotted down on my mental “who I would cast” list will make it into “The King and I.” But, who knows. I can say that some of them truly won me over! There was sparkle…there were golden moments….there was talent….”etcetra, etcetra, etcetra.” I’ll be honest, and say that I was living a little vicariously through them.

Acting is fun because if you use the talents God gave you to glorify him…always…then it’s a double whammy. You’re doing something you love…and you’re doing something He loves.

So, I’ll wait for that cast list to be posted to see if my prediction are true and I’ll continue to prepare for my next audition as well. And while I would never consider myself “unemployed” right now…I will say that I’m looking forward to the next audition…and I’m preparing and praying so that I may look good in the director’s eye….but mostly in my King’s eye.

Congrats to everyone who auditioned.

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.

PASSING GASTON. (Getting beyond the role, and focusing on Ensemble.)

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2008 by erikball123

Opening night came and went like the wind! Surprisingly there was little brew-ha-ha about it, unlike most opening nights. (Not that I didn’t totally appreciate the cake and balloons provided by Signature….ya’ll just rock!) But, I’m talking idle chatter. Rubbed elbows. Butterflies. Etc.

My wife always gts me an opening night pineapple. I love my wife.

My wife always gets me an opening night pineapple. Why? Long story. I love my wife.

Perhaps it’s because this is the second go-around for the majority of us. I’m sure the touring company of “Lion King” didn’t bust out champagne after a successful “opening” offering city after city. Not that I needed a big “to-do” to give me a booster shot. More so….it’s like watching a GIANT 747 land. The wheels are out, the engines roar…and you KNOW the wheels are gonna make that funny squeaky sound when they make contact with the pavement….and then….they don’t. Hmmm? The 747 lands perfectly…quietly. One might scratch their head.

Our fearless director, in a graceful manner congratulated us in traditional fashions, and then offered insight as to what still needs work. The second performance of the run, Saturday….we all re-approached our collective offerings and attempted to muster up something fresh. And, as a result…last night’s performance of “Beauty and the Beast” was fantastic! Everyone on stage felt better about what they were doing and the audience beamed. Phil, our director….beamed.

So, the question remains….why so icky an Opening Night? I thought about it. Rather, I dissected it. (Something my director tells me I do WAY TOO MUCH when approaching my character.) Could it be the Beast’s hurt back? Lumiere’s hurt knees? Perhaps it is the various forms of sickness being passed back and forth. Were my eyebrows filled in too dark that night? It wasn’t the quick changes…although I nearly lost an eye holding a wig for Belle. (Elbows, people….elbows!) It wasn’t the fact that for some bizarre reason my right armpit sweats a heck of a lot more than my left one during the Beast fight. (Strange.) Hmmmm. I couldn’t put my finger on WHY Opening Night was….Odd.

Gaston and the cutlery.

Gaston and the cutlery.

Finally, I decided to NOT think about it anymore. Of course, our collective directors gave us a lot to think about. Phil, Lisa (our Musical Director), Keith and Stephanie (our Choreographers) often help us to take two steps back in order to re approach something for the first time, so that the story being offered is vibrant and fresh. That’s one thing that is far too often NOT done by many directors: CONTINUED INSIGHT. Opening night…the show is yours, right? Never. It continues. It grows. It lives. And Phil never lets us forget that. He’s the type of guy who will call us early on the day before closing night to run Act 2, Scene 4 because we “something just wasn’t working last night.” I love that about him. He’s a visionary. You never have to understand a visionary (and most of the time you don’t) but they always wind up creating something magical. And most of the time the cast shows up on time…ready to rock that scene, and drop about 3 lbs. of sweat into reworking it so that it reads better to the audience. Ninety-five percent of us involved in this show is doing it pro bono…that says a lot about the caliber of “performer” that is involved in the process.

So, opening night was odd…Phil and the other directors, gave us renewed confidence and we re approached the “BEAST” as we attempted to travel through “uncharted” woods. Saturday, we made something magical happen, and now our show has been transformed.  I love theatre.

Sevyn backstage.

Sevyn backstage.

With that said, I need to be very clear about something. (And to those in the cast…call me a copy cat, I don’t care.) I need to offer acknowledgments to those who help me do what I do. I cannot create anything onstage alone. That’s why theatre (and this show in particular) is so unlike anything else in the world. It forces ensemble…you MUST work together. (My argument has always been: that’s why people pursue theatre. They’re satisfying a void in their life by participating in forced ensemble and embarking on a mission, then celebrating together. All of this reading I’m doing…sheesh. It leads to ideas….and thinking…..Ewwwwww!)

My friends who I have the privilege to share the stage with night after night are the continued inspiration behind what I can offer.

Kari Curletto (Belle) is the most humble, genuine, complete antithesis of what a Broadway Diva is…that’s I’ve ever met. (And I’ve worked with family!) She is a brilliant Belle, and her delicate nature and unwavering support and encouragement sets the bar for me every night. I’m a better actor having shared the stage with her.

Evan Litt, (Lefou) is a continued source of high ideals. He’s physicality, self-discipline and sense of humor, is an inspiration and inspires me. Evan, you are a true onstage partner. Thank you.

Sevyn Mindoro is a big teddy bear. He’s an amazing Beast. He’s sensitivity mixed with brute force makes for the most unique Beast I’ve ever seen. I love sharing a dressing room and daily thought-provoking conversation about our collective crafts with him. I also think that our renditions of early 90’s hair-band songs, could go on tour! You’re an amazing talent, my friend.

Steve Huntsman (Lumiere) is one of those actors you just can’t take your eyes off. He’s dynamic, funny, graceful, and quite brilliant. And you’ve got to hand it to him…he spends 95% of the show sans hands! I share many of the same theatrial philosophies with Steve, so it’s always a treat to watch him execute those passions.

Joe Hynes (Cogsworth) is a very funny guy. That’s a blanket statement….perhaps. But, I’m serious. Quick witted, sharp, and poignant. His gun is always loaded with a glance, or a quirky gesture, or a smart remark that lightens the scene or moment. He’s a great singer, actor and all around nice fella. I’m very glad he’s part of the cast.

Let me take a moment to talk about the thrilling Shannon Cook. (Mrs. Potts) What a bloody talent. She’s got a powerhouse voice, she adds warmth to Potts that helps bring our story around full-circle, and she genuinely loves what she does. All the while, she’s trapped (in Elephant Man like style) in a shape-shifting pose the entire show. She may be a little tea-pot, but her “poor” spout….dang… I could never do what she does.

Jennifer Del La Torre (Babette) is just delightful. Aside from the fact that we’ve been in two shows together and have never had a scene together!…it’s the discipline she offers that I admire. She’s poised, friendly, and never one to sweep things under the rug. She’s a hard worker and will go to every length to ensure that her character is as fleshed out as it could possibly be. Her interactions with Lumiere are very funny. (There’s always something new…a little glance…a tiny pout…..every night. I love watching that scene.)

Brett practicing for his day job.

Brett practicing for his day job.

Brett Buschell (Chip)…Brett and I go way back. The long car rides together to the warehouse and making fun of that darn golf course banner…and Bar-B-Que sauce man! Ha! For a 6th grader….this guy is somethin’ else. Now, I’m not going to go on and on about him….(Because he has to fit that head of his into a teacup each night)….but I will say that as a 6th grader, he has more onstage instinct than some adult actors I’ve worked with. Bloody talented kid.

Inara Michele (Madame de la Grande Bouche) is another newcomer to the cast, and I’m so very glad! She’s got a beautiful voice, an amazing presence, and her shoot from the hip humor backstage is something I look forward to every night. It’s my pleasure to help her ROBE, and DISROBE her WARDROBE during costume changes! Ha! In all seriousness, she’s become a very good friend and I love watching her perform.

Inara and the famous Bouche "fish face."

Inara and the famous Bouche "Fish-Face."

Josh Meurer (Maurice) is a charming Maurice. Aside from having a great wig (ahem) he adds a sentimental element to the show that helps any audience member connect to that one family member that we would all lay it on the line for. He’s classy, funny…and stinkin’ talented. I love working with him.

Chris Hermening (D’Arque) shares my favorite scene in the show with Evan and I. Talk about a class act. Chris is a quiet, patient, “silent…but deadly” actor. Seriously. He’ll be in the room, quiet as a mouse….but what he offers onstage is as big as the world. He’s kind, sensitive, generous…a very good friend, and a heck of a performer.

Teresa Fairweather, Mikey Phillips and Lauren Basch (Silly Girls) are some of my favorite people in the world. Each of them has a different approach…a different vision….and a very genuine, kind and sincere nature. First and foremost, they all have crazy good voices. They are all collaborative workers and constantly are working with me on how to make our scenes better. On top of that…they’re nice people. Teresa, it is my pleasure to throw you around the stage! (You’re like, pocket-sized….no, no…FUN SIZED!) Your smile, positive words, and energy and friendship……it’s such an inspiration. Mikey…even though you talk about football all the time (a language I don’t speak), you continue to brighten my day by making the tiniest nuance of every scene come to life, even if it is backstage while we wait to go on! (Be Our Guest…c’mon, girl. Bring it back!) You’re amazing fun to work with. Lauren…when we’re not collectively throwing up on things (you have to be there) you are a bloody wonder! You’re the definition of a crazy talented actress, who just doesn’t know how talented they are! You’re funny, exciting, and very good at what you do.

The Silly Girls and I in rehearsal on the back loading dock. Good times.

The Silly Girls and I in rehearsal on the back loading dock. Good times.

ENSEMBLE – Courtney Broadbent, girl, your wry wit is always fun to be around. You’re a leader in the truest sense of the word. I appreciate your help, your insight and your talents. This Sharpie marker is for you!

Joel Abersole, first and foremost…DON’T LEAN BACK! Secondly, your sense of humor, selfless nature and flair onstage and off is contagious. Our ritualistic chest bump before each show is something I rely on to pump me up every night.

A sideways picture of Joel. (I couldn't figure out how to rotate it.)

A sideways picture of Joel. (I couldn't figure out how to rotate it.)

Alison Haeberle is just SWEET. She is the kindest person you’ll every meet. I love her style, I love her continued encouragement, I love her voice, and I love her sugar bowl! Allison doesn’t get much credit, but if you’re looking for a cast member who is 100% loyal to the vision of the show…someone who will always commit, and follow-thru….Allison is your girl!

I admire Jeremy Bowen for his vice-grip lock on focus. He’s a great talent, a funny guy offstage…but the way he rehearses is something else. He’s so focused. (And if he truly isn’t….than dang….he’s a good actor.) Keep it up, dude. Love workin’ with ya!

THE GAR-GOILS: Jacqueline Melendez and Vicky Best. Jack, you are a very good friend and a constant source of encouragement, I appreciate that so much. You have a brilliant voice and a drive to succeed that is unequaled. You’re a snazzy dresser too! Vicky…your sarcasm is NOT appreciated! (Did you catch that? Irony.) You’re a delight and a CRAZY good dancer! I also LOVE your laugh. (She’s like a little, tiny thing….but her laugh fills the room!) It is a pleasure unzipping your Gargoyle heads each night.

Spooky.

Spooky.

Jason Bailly, you are always there to offer that “pep-rally” word of encouragement. After each scene you buzz around to make sure everyone felt good about what they just did. Who does that?? You’re a gifted actor who is so amazingly consistent! I admire that. Thank you for your continued support.

Christian Escobar…let me just say that no one wears that CORKSCREW HEAD like you.  No one! You’re a bloody talent performer dude, and I’m so glad I got the chance to get to know you during this run. You have this uncanny ability to speak mountains with just a glance, and your support, talents, and delicious produce is a blessing.

Ashley Nunes and Kristen McKusick…let me just say that you two are SO DAPPER! I mean that. You’re Dapper-licious. Dapper-lightful. Dapper-Lapper-Woo-Woo! We could be passing in the hall or passing off my blunderbuss…whatever…you two are always so very cheerful and kind. I’ve never hear either of you say an unkind word about anyone! What an amazing positive influence. I appreciate that. (And the muffins your mom brought one night!)

T.J. Thomas….you are great fun to have around, even if I have to keep reminding you that I’m the NUMBER ONE HOOK. (Got it!!!) Just kidding. You’re energy, talents, (including piano…holy smokes!)….and friendly nature is a delight to be around.

Kate Harris…my fellow schoolteacher! You are such a wonderful inspiration. You share so many similar philosophies with me, and your perseverance, forward thinking, and amazing voice exemplifies what I teach in class everyday. Thank you.

Finally, Glen Riggs. I left you for the end for a reason. You see, a lot of outsiders will never know this…but Glen is the SUPERGLUE of the show. He understudies every part (I mean….EVERY part.) He builds sets, constructs props, conducts vocals backstage, picks up U-Haul trucks, etc., etc. There isn’t a think he HASN’T done for this show. On top of all that, he is a very genuinely kind man with a big heart. He’s talented but never let’s it get to his head….he’s supportive without making you feel small….and he’s a good friend of mine. I look up to him. (And I’m taller by two inches.)

Me and the "Superglue."

Me and the Superglue.

There are many people involved behind the scenes too…and because I referenced the acting element of the show in this post, I’ll tip my hat to them all (directors and crew alike) and say a blanket “thank you” in the hopes that you can read into the sincerity of my words.

You see….you can have flashy costumes…a wild rotating castle set….talking deer heads. You can have it all! But, if you don’t have that ensemble, that trust….you won’t be able to create effectively. Now, I’m not saying “Beauty and the Beast” is the end all, be all as far as perfect ensembles are concerned. But I am saying….we’re a DARN good ensemble. We like one another and like working with one another. We all have fun with the show. And that’s what it’s all about. Shows may offer tales as old as time, and songs as old a rhyme…but if you don’t add that something special night after night…that ensemble effort….you’ll never be able to create magic onstage.

I’m certain. (As the sun…rising in the east.)

“When will my reflection show, who I am inside?”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2008 by erikball123

I get so caught up in my own pride sometimes that I cannot see past my own nose. My little world that revolves around me and my self-absorbed, self-motivated, me, me, me, me, me-ness! How in the world can I begin to exemplify what I teach in my classroom everyday if I cannot regroup with enough dignity and pride-swallowing tact to consider myself even the most remote example to my students? I can’t.

On the flip-side…we’re all sinners. We make mistakes. In our efforts to extend ourselves as mentors, leaders..heck, human beings…we think so far outside of the box, we forget about what is INSIDE the box…which is what’s really important, right?

Enough speaking in generalities. So I got my hand slapped by my boss today. I did something stupid…I knew it…and I feel very bad. I showed an excerpt from an R-Rated movie (Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd”) in my H.S. Drama class before getting a parent permission slip signed by parents granting permission to do so. I usually pass these things out at the beginning of the year, and just keep them on file. I didn’t this time, and due to a time crunch, and a unaccommodating absence (I took a sick day), the film was presented, and the students saw Sasha Baron Conen’s bloody demise. Now, here’s the thing…I’m pretty positive that the majority of the class already saw the film…and I’m not so worried about any of them moving to London, grabbing a leather strop, and beginning a barber’s profession….but I DID know that I should have gotten the permission slip signed first.

Why did I show the film? I guess I don’t have a clear answer. Perhaps in the “big picture” of what happens at Faith Lutheran, I saw this as a small “oversight.” Perhaps, I thought no one would ever know. Perhaps…I didn’t care. I’m uncertain. I do know this…the ultimate reason for that decision was based on a luke warm form of conceit. Whatever the reason…whatever the motivation…I didn’t care enough for a policy I knew about to take a harder, more complicated road. That’s lazy, selfish and conceited.

I’m mad at myself for it. I contacted the concerned parent. I emailed all of the parents in both H.S. Drama classes to apologize and offer an explanation. I even forwarded correspondence to my boss and apologized to him. I suppose this all falls under the category of “do now…ask for forgiveness later.” Dang it.

We all know right from wrong. So why do we so often choose wrong? Why is that little shoulder devil’s voice so loud? I wonder if my inner monologue is getting drowned out by what I WANT to do, and the secular world that so willingly encourages me to do so. Ah….now I’m skirting blame. No, no…this is something that I’m toiling over…dealing with and sorry for. But that doesn’t right the wrong. Every tiff I engage my wife in usually ends with her saying “I’m sorry doesn’t necessarily erase the past.” As crazy as that sometimes makes me…she’s right. She’s right.

I was also angry last Saturday because tonight was the first Preview night for the musical I’m in, “Beauty and the Beast” with Signature Productions. Saturday they blocked the curtain call. I found myself quite upset about where my character was placed in the order for bows. (I know…”How arrogant!” I’m with ya.) I actually pouted. I would not say a word during the blocking of the curtain call…and did my job, but afterward, inside I felt I deserved better. (Even typing that makes me ashamed.)

I look back at that moment last Saturday and I can barely fathom how I could have been so childish…so selfish…so unappreciative. This role and opportunity is a privilege. The costume was made for me…the lights are adjusted to highlight a scene featuring me…the program has my name in it…and hours of time, talent and effort were afforded to me is unimaginable. How dare I snuff out all of those efforts for the sake of a post-show lineup! I DO get a curtain call…that’s more than some people get! My sincerest apologies to my fellow actors/directors. I love you all, appreciate you all…and would never take a second of recognition away from any of you. I promise you that is NOT why I do what I do…and I am ashamed I thought that way. Hindsight is 20/20. I guess I need to get my eyes checked.

Changing subjects…I found a box of Jello Pudding Pops in the ice cream aisle yesterday. I freaked out. I haven’t seen these puppies in years! Seriously…if you haven’t tried these things….they’re amazing! I unwrapped the creamy treat, and took a bite. Nostalgia melted on my tongue and I was in chocolate-covered heaven! What a treat, and surprise.

Another unexpected surprise…I received a phone call from MIKE LOGAN. Mike is my best friend from high school. I haven’t spoken to him in 8 years. Why? I’m not sure…we kinda parted and went our separate ways. There wasn’t much explanation…and when we talked, we both felt terrible about the past and looked forward to the future. I have only good memories about Mike. I remember our misadventures, our trials, and the differences in our personalities that evolved into a deep respect of the others philosophies. I missed him and I didn’t realize just how much until we talked again. I’m glad he took the initiative to call me. He didn’t have to.

What a stud. Rock-hard expression and slick white jacket. Miami-Vice...look out!

What a stud. Rock-hard expression and slick white jacket. Miami-Vice...look out!

I suppose life is kinda funny in the sense that when you are burdened by a hefty agenda or when you are star-struck by your status or personal goals…you always have the opportunity to make GOOD. The option is there. Sometimes making GOOD means dealing with the bad…and who wants to do that, right? But, nobody said life was going to be easy. But, around every situation…good or bad…there lies that hidden surprise. That “something” that you weren’t expecting. That maybe small…maybe big, life-reward, that you are presented without expectation.

Call it a silly Pudding Pop…or a rekindled friendship……maybe it’s more like, a true understanding of WHAT you did wrong, and the opportunity to reflect on it….whatever it is, these “surprises” are part of your walk with Christ. These moments are what shapes and builds your character, and it’s always what you DO with these moments that makes you WHO you are.

I cannot help but feel badly about my mistakes the last couple of days. Perhaps I’m brooding. But, “sorry” doesn’t erase the past (whether it was yesterday or 8 years ago)…all you can do is look forward with anticipation. Re-thinking that lesson, re-approaching that curtain call, re-starting where your friendship left off, or re-visiting a yummy-ness of a chocolaty past….all are gifts from God. These reflections are what you can grab hold of and run with, inside or outside of the box…if you’re willing.

“And we, who with the unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the spirit.”

– 2 Corinthians 3.18

I thought it only fair I put my Senior Picture on here too. First an foremost...could my tie knot be any smaller? Secondly...look at all that lovely hair!

I thought it only fair I put my Senior Picture on here too. First an foremost...could my tie knot be any smaller? Secondly...look at all that lovely hair!

The Transformation of “Beauty and the Beast”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2008 by erikball123

Kari Curletto (Belle) and I during a particularly harrowing rehearsal during the first run of “Beauty and the Beast.”

When I first went into rehearsal for P.S. Production’s version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast last April (’08), I found myself very excited to jump into the colorful role of Gaston. This classic Disney tale has long been my favorite Disney movie, and I was thrilled to be a part of what was sure to be an amazing show. Rehearsals started with the usual aligning of schedules, theatre games and exercises and day-to-day rituals of choreography, vocals and blocking. Things went just fine for a while. I was feeling confident. But, then after about a week or so, (particularly when it was my time to beging in-depth character development), I found myself getting frustrated about what I was able to offer in my scenework. (Or, rather, what was being received by the audience…aka: the director.)

If you never met me, or are unaccustomed to my work ethic…allow me to detail my mind set. I’m a very energetic, passionate dude, who admits to an occasional A.D.D. fueled speed bump, but will always give 100%, all of the time. (Simply because productions demand that…and because I love to perform and consider the opportunity a great priviledge. It is my way of offering thanks…my devoted time, efforts and talents.) I try not to be arrogant…but I think the performing profession demands a level of confidence in order to be successful, so I try to over compensate that with an even greater level of gratitude and support for others.

I love working with others because I feel like I can take away ideas, processes, disciplines, etc. that I have not thought of before. There is no sense of “leading role vs. ensemble” in my little world. (Yeah, right, you say.) I truly believe that the best work comes from a strong, unified ensemble where everyone is there to build a perfect story. Anything we can learn from one another becomes part of that ensemble’s efforts, and anyone lucky enough to be in the room at that time should benefit from that.

With that said, the frustration I felt came from the inability to provide what I felt was being demanded by Belle and LeFou, my scene partners. (Both of these actors, by the way are very good friends…and brilliant. I mean it. I have no reason for false flattery.) I found myself at war with…myself! I wanted so badly to provide the nuance, the look, the gesture, the posture, the motivation…the whatever!…so that the moment in that story reads well to the audience, and adds to the show.  We worked and worked and worked. We tried games and exercises…we switched roles and even sat and had in depth discussions about the characters.

I will tell you the director’s name. It’s Phil Shelburne, and he’s amazing. For weeks this sort of frustration brewed in me. Over time it bubbled and grew into an acute determination to make something out of a character I had trouble connecting with. Phil never gave up on me, and even in the moments when I felt completely removed, he would ask me questions like “how did you feel about that?” I would answer. And he would simply look back and smile and say, “okay. Let’s do it again.” And we would. And I would be tired. And I would be stressed. And out of that repetition…out of that unwillingness to compromise….out of that “tough love” for lack of better words, Gaston slowly crept out. I remember at one point Phil looking over to me during a final dress rehearsal and saying “…now that was something. Why must you battle me, Erik!” That felt so good. But it also made approaching this second run of Beauty and the Beast that much sweeter.

I look at this upcoming second run of the show as my opportunity to work with what I already know in a very different way. My instincts tell me to remain comfortable and rely on already engraved processes, connections and discoveries. But, I want desperately (and so does Phil) to reinvent this character.

This week when I began character development work with Phil and others, I felt myself slump back into that same frustrating rut. (Dang it!) It doesn’t help that I was having a “bad” week. (Locked my keys in the car, incidents in class with students kept my frustration levels high, etc.) But, let’s be honest. Those are excuses. Theatre is an escape from reality. But, especially last Friday I noticed something I never realized before. My roadblock…or rather, oversized speed bump…was the fact that I was thinking about it too much. (Phil says this to me all the time. That I’m the very definition of a cerebrial actor. Someone who thinks too much. Imagine that. Wish my high school career was peppered with comments like that! Phooey on you Mr. Glenn!)

But seriously…I would be in the middle of a scene and instead of LISTENING to my partner….I would be thinking about what I should be doing. Instead of REACTING to my partner….I was thinking about how to react. Silly, isn’t it? Some may say….well, just STOP DOING IT! But that’s what’s going on…I notice myself THINKING, and I’m struggling with myself to STOP THINKING, during the scene! Yikes! It’s a bad, bad thing. Sounds crazy, I know! But add on top of that a wildy enthusiastic personality who ONLY wants to do well for the show and make his fellow cast members and director proud….and you’ve got a fine, fine mess. On a Friday, no less! (I even bought cookies!)

I’ve been there. Someone once said that a true actor find’s the difficulties of the actor’s art infinite. (I think it was Stella Adler. Correct me if I’m wrong.) Well, I suppose I’m on the road to being a true actor, because I’m frustrated. I slept in until 10am yesterday hoping to put to rest those icky feelings and re approach this week with new found vigor.

I suppose the show would sit differently with me if everytime I walked in the room, everything came completely natural to me. I always thought the thrill of theatre was watching a character or a scene or an ensemble develop and come to life on stage. I witness it as a director at my school all the time..but as an actor in someone’s else’s vision…I have a deep sense of responsibility fueled by a restless determination. I find myself like a lion tamer most of the time, attempting to put on a good show while keeping my restless self at bay. (With a whip….’cause they’re cool.) I am determined…you’ll never see me give up. The discipline and challenge of the theatre haunts me…but I’m not scared. My horns are down and I’m ready to charge.

Whoever said the art of acting is easy needs to be hit in the head with a snow shovel. I will let ya’ll know how things turn out this week. I’m in training. I’m drinking figurative Gaston protein shakes, and pumping Gaston iron on the road to a beautiful new Beauty and the Beast production. I’ll get there. But I promise I’ll try not to think about it.

___________________________________

“New, and a bit alarming. Who’d have ever thought that this could be? True, that he’s no prince charming, but there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see.” – Belle

DISNEY’S BEAUTY & THE BEAST is playing at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center throughout the months of October and Novemebr ’08. Click here for show information. Click here to purchase tickets.

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