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AUDITIONS ADDRESSED

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2011 by erikball123

Every year we have the great fortune to offer four full-length theatrical productions at Faith Lutheran Jr/Sr High School. We try very hard to run the extra-curricular program like a professional theatre company. We attempt in every way to offer a multitude of opportunities to educate and effectively prepare students to succeed in audition and performance situations.

There are four directors at our school and I feel secure enough to speak on behalf of all of them to say that we never give students roles. We grant them opportunities to play roles based on their performances in auditions. (We refuse to adopt the philosophy that “now they are a senior, let’s give them the lead” or “they’ve climbed to the top of the totem pole, so let’s give them a chance.”) Along with the great fortune of being a teacher at Faith (a tuition-based, private school,) I have the privilege to work with some of the most talented students in Las Vegas. They are focused, hard-working and beautiful people who offer a multitude of talents onstage to the glory of God. Students who attend Faith are fortunate. They are secured…nurtured…and very much loved. I would say that the biggest challenge I have with STUDENTS at Faith Lutheran is entitlement. I don’t blame the students. Being an enrolled student there is an expectation of the Faith faculty to offer a quality, Christ-centered education AND a multitude of extra-curricular opportunities to help enrich their interests/goals. I am pleased and proud to do this every day. It is my greatest joy.

As we approach auditions for “A Christmas Story” (the loveable, popular story of Ralphie and his quest to obtain a Red Ryder BB Gun, based on the popular Christmas classic) I look into the eyes of dozens of hopeful students as they prepare to take to the stage, and bring forth the fruits of my instruction. I expect them to prepare in advance. I expect them to work hard on characterization, relationship and dedication. I expect them to brush up on audition etiquette and the support, encouragement and positive reflection toward their fellow student. I expect them to pray and give thanks to God for their talents and the opportunity to glorify Him.

What I don’t expect from my students….is perfection.

Auditioning is a process. There are no professional audtioners. Everyone must be adjudicated and assessed before earning an opportunity to add to the dynamic of a production. Trying to wrestle the notion that a theatrical play/musical is ultimately generated for an AUDIENCE, (at least in the professional industry) is very hard to do. In high school…this should be an educational experience…period. Part of that education is a formal audition process, that will appropriately put students in roles that will exemplify the demands of the part, add positively to the dynamic of the show and position the student, the cast and the production as a whole for success. Bottom line.

My job in the equation…is to be trusted to use my schooling, experience and knowledge to make informed, performance-based decisions that will flesh out these production demands without compromising the process or hurting the individual student’s approach to their passion for performing.

It’s never perfect. The process is subjective. Like a football coach standing on the sidelines in the middle of a fevered game, we have to make judgements, and act immediately, based on what we think would be best. There is a huge element of trust that goes along with that. I can tell you stories of students….bloody talented students who we invest our heart and souls into….students we care about VERY much….who have left an audition / performance bitter, angered and upset about how the audition / performance turned out. They feel robbed of an opportunity, tossed aside or ignored. It becomes personal, fast. Auditions are what give me the most joy…and they break me in two.

One of the joys of being a theatrical arts educator is watching students grow up and realize the amazing gifts God has blessed them with…and then realize that they have been put on this earth to use them to glorify Him. It brings me SO much joy to watch them flourish and thrive and receive applause. The demands from parents, the expectation of a looming financial burden so that students can attend a quality institution, and the pressures of an exposing audition in front of peers with the like conditions is enough to bring any “normal” student to the edge of insanity. (And that’s before the Anatomy homework!) It’s no wonder people prefer to run Track or go out for one of the 57 football teams we have on campus. It’s really hard to be a student actor.

I will never make light of the unbelievable pressures of auditions. I look forward to auditions this Wednesday. I asked students in my Musical Theatre class to write out questions they have about auditions. This is not the last time I will talk about auditions. It’s an ever-growing, multifaceted topic that demands tons of attention. I argue that an actor should NEVER, NEVER be satisfied with their craft. One of the greatest joys of performing is the demand, and the desire to continue to create. Finding new ways to approach auditioning is just ONE way an actor (student, or otherwise) can find great joy in performing. I hope that the simple offering in my answers below can offer some insight to questions you may have about the topic.

  • Why do we get so nervous at auditions?  Stage fright is the most common plight of EVERY high school actor. First and foremost, it’s natural. We have human nature defense mechanism that reacts based on a “fear of failure.” We all fear failure. We want to do well. We want to make our parents, friends, directors, etc. proud of us. We are standing in front of a group of our peers so that we may be “judged.” It’s very exposing, and before we even open our mouths we find ourselves scared to pieces! The bottom line is (and in answer to your question) we get scared….because we desperately CARE about what the director / fellow classmates think about us. (I blame society.) If you can wrap your head around the fact that the director is TOTALLY rooting for you to succeed…and that your classmates will be in the very same boat you’re in…it gives you courage. That courage fuels your confidence…and that confidence will calm your fears. Just remember…I’m very proud of you. Even if you personally don’t think you hit a home run with your audition….a triple still scores runs. You can do it. If you are your own cheerleader…then you can start on building up that confidence…now.
  • Mr. Ball, every time I step onstage (alone mostly, I’m good in groups) I get all choked up and can’t force any sound to come out. I love to belt it out at home and I tell myself I’m not nervous but I just can’t get over this. Take a gander at what I had to say about about stage fright. First thing you need to know…you are not alone, and this is a very common thing. I recall an audition for “AIDA” that I worked very hard for…practiced again and again…I felt very confident…I found myself auditioning in a room, in front of people I knew and respected (and for the most part, comfortable in front of) and to my great surprise….I FORGOT THE WORDS! I kept singing…I made up words (something about chasing my son up a tree!! I don’t know!) and then stood there completely stoic. The director said “thank you, Erik.” I left the room….and about died! It was a terrible experience. But, I’ll tell you what I took away from the experience. I found out that even the most trained, rehearsed, poised actor needs to be on their toes and “nervous.” I thought I was ready. Maybe I was. But, it’s part of the process. The “on guard” mind set that you have to bring with you to auditions….the uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, needs to be a part of what you do. It’s how you manage it that structures the fabric of your process. Use that nervous energy to bring to the table an energetic, passionate, full-of-life (including nerves) offering. Bottling up (or in your case, choking up) is a reaction to those nerves. You’re closing up. It’s a conscious reaction. Think if it like this…if a monster approached you…would you curl up in the fetal position and hope he goes away….or will you make a loud noise and emote in an exaggerated manner, facing that monster? You may be scared to death of the monster…and he may eat you OR run away…but, you will have FACED the monster either way.
  • Why shouldn’t a person dress like the character the are auditioning for? This is an easy question to answer. Bottom line…you want the focus of your audition to be what you have to offer. Not what you’re wearing. There is a funny moment in the musical “A Chorus Line” when a busty character muses on the fact that she seems to be getting more work every since her plastic surgery. (I won’t go into it in any further detail!) In the professional industry, yes, you will be cast in some things STRICTLY because of your “look.” I encourage all actors to embrace who they are. There are a million roles out there…and because of what you bring to the table, physically, you’re going to be PERFECT for a LOT of them! But, for a high school (or maybe a college audition), make the FOCUS of your audition your talents. I’ve had kids dress like Elvis, in bunny suits, etc. for auditions. They did fine…but ultimately, they were auditioning a notion or gimmick. I rank it up there with those silly auditions you might see in the outtakes of American Idol. Is it memorable? Yeah. But for the right reasons? That’s arguable. Another thing to chew on…an actor never wants to limit a character based on their audition. By dressing “in character” you’re saying “this is what it should be like.” The director may disagree…and then you’ve backed yourself into a corner. Give them something to think about by leaving a little mystery.
  • Where is the line of impersonation and inspiration? Wow. What a mature question. I’d say it’s a fine, fine line. For example, in “A Christmas Story”…a very popular (cherished) Christmas movie that has been adapted to the stage…there will be a certain expectation of the audience to attend a show that will be somewhat reminiscent of the movie. I found myself in a similar situation when I played Gaston in “Beauty & the Beast.” It’s an iconic animated movie. There is an expectation that I tip my hat (creatively) to the original. But…with that said…I think you will be setting yourself up for failure if you don’t take those beloved, cherish moments…and make them your own. (Meaning, find new ways to breath new life into them.) Perhaps the best way you can do this is to research what about the movie version is so beloved (this can be part of your pre-audition research, especially if you’re not as familiar with the movie) and then work on WHY those moments are so memorable. Put your own spin on them! Nobody should resort to mimicry. There’s little creative process in being able to do an effective impression. Even the most skilled impressionists (like Terry Fator) find an outlet to channel that talent through that is completely original.
  • How can you fail with pride at an audition? (i.e. goof up a song, forgot your lines, etc.) Remember, directors aren’t necessarily wanting to know how well you memorize lines (unless specifically indicated.) My advice…stay in character. Stay dedicated. Never say die! Don’t allow something as trite as a line, or a lyric…or an entire song of lyrics…spoil your audition for you. See above…during my “AIDA” audition, I lost the words. I still got a callback. Was it the pride of my auditioning career? Probably not…but I didn’t go down without a fight! I think the directorial staff admired that. All auditions are GOOD experiences, even the bad ones. You can walk away, evaluate things…pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start the process all over again. The only time you are EVER defeated in the auditioning process is when you walk away from it.
  • Do directors notice when people get up on stage and do the same exact thing another person just did…but just try to one up the other person? The audition process is imperfect. It’s subjective. You will NEVER find a process that caters to the way you would like. I’ve auditioned for one person in a room all by myself…and for what seemed to be a crowd of people. I’ve sang for an audition in front of hundreds of people and in front of only a video camera. All processes should be approached with the same mind-set. You need to make the FOCUS of the audition what YOU have to offer. Know the material…focus on your craft….present confidentially and take chances. Have fun! If you are in a room with people who are auditioning before you and after you….fine. It’s doesn’t matter. Do not allow other people’s offerings trip you up. You have something special to offer, right? Well, why would you focus on anything else? I found myself saying “if you see something someone else is doing…and doing well…steal it, adapt it to your dynamic…and make it your own.” I think it’s reasonable to assume that you’ll monitor what others are doing. (We are, after all, human!) If you like what someone else did. Fine. But, don’t copy. Make it your own. Copy cats are as obvious as it gets. Making it your own shows a dedication and a willingness to adapt. Both qualities are things directors love. Oh, and to answer your question directly….yes, we notice it.
  • How can I get into character? I could spend all night talking about this topic. I would advise you to always prepare ahead of time. Get into the script…really get a feel for the pulse of the show. Identify with a character you’d like to audition for. Study the character, practice the character…and work on getting connected with the character (emotionally.) When you are called up to read for your audition…recall those feelings that you’ve practiced and lock in on those emotions. If you’re well practiced you should find yourself approaching your audition in a confident manner.
  • Why is it that people shoot snippy looks at you during auditions and how do you prevent people from getting into our heads? People are mean. Not all people. But, yes, there are mean people in the world. Mainly members of the Third Reich, Zombies and those who attend auditions. In all seriousness, I would be a fool to say that there will never been people who sit right in front of you and shoot you daggers in the hopes you fail. It happens all the time. I auditioned once for a scholarship with one of my best friends. As I sang “Put on a Happy Face,” one of my dear friends made faces at me from the second row. Now…he was a dear friends, but in my head, this dude was auditioning for the same scholarship that I was…and that sucked. Whatever reason it happened, it doesn’t matter. There will always be someone out there who is upset that you are in the spotlight. Remember why you are in the spotlight: to glorify God with the talents He blessed you with. All other things are secondary. You don’t need the approval or applause from the zombie in the audience. Let them shoot daggers. Be confident in your work and you just watch those daggers drop right in front of you. You will be unaffected. My advice…never sink to the level of dagger shooters. Be above that. Support others…congratulate others…be happy for others. Worry about your craft. There is a saying by Esther Lederer that I love, “Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.”
  • How does one know what kind of character your should go for? Like, how do you decide if you should go for a bigger or smaller role? Part of your preperation is a thorough understanding of the show and characters. Then you need to have a thorough understanding of who YOU are, and what you can thoughtfully offer. Know your limitations and see what you could add to the show. Everyone in high school wants the leading role…but think about it this way…if the director gave you the leading role, would you be confident in your approach? If the answer is “no,” then maybe look at a secondary role or ensemble role. Those roles are just as important and have a completely different set of demands. Thousands of actors have lifelong careers doing nothing but playing ensemble roles, character roles, dancers, etc. Figure out what special talents you have to offer, and then make that your “special talent.” Figure out what part of the show your special talent would be best utilized.
  • I’m so pumped to work on bigger roles, and I know I can do it, but I can’t seem to make roles bigger than just ensemble parts. What is something I could do or work on to break out of my “ensemble role” shell? I would start with an analysis of your audition process. What are you doing REALLY good? What needs work? Also…take it a step further…those that ARE receiving leading roles, what are they doing REALLY good? I argue that leading roles are usually the roles with the MOST demands. (Vocally, musically and dramatically.) A firm understanding of your limitations is essential. If you’re packin’ a bag of small apples and a sling-shot…it’s gonna be hard to reach a leading role target a hundred yards away. There is NO SHAME in identifying what you’re good at, even if it means an ensemble role. I will NEVER say that an ensemble role less glorious than a leading role. They are JUST as important, JUST as needed and JUST as fulfilling, personally. I have a dear friend who refuses to audition for anything BUT ensemble roles. Why? Because she loves being the “superglue” of the show. The ensemble holds everything together. I’m not saying settle for ensemble roles. Rather, take great pride in any role you receive, knowing that there are always kids who are not cast who would die for that ensemble role. Instead…work hard…always, always, always continue working on expanding your craft. Know that God has a plan for you.
  • When auditioning is there such a thing as being too bold, going too far, or making too many choices? Of course. If you went out there and screamed like a banshee and lit your shirt on fire….I’d constitute that as a bad thing. In all seriousness, it is important to educate yourself to the dynamic of theatre. One easy way to do this is to WATCH a lot of theatre. All types. See how actors approach the storytelling element in their performance. They’re bold, strident and daring…but they are never “too much.” Be exaggerated and take chances. I would argue that it is VERY important to invest TRUST in your own instinct. Go with your gut. You never want to walk away from an audition regretting that you didn’t offer something. Give it a shot. If you find yourself doing something “just for a laugh,” then it probably had little to do with the scene itself. If you present a glass of orange juice in a crazy glass with umbrellas and shish-ka-bobbed fruit sticking out….it’s still all about the orange juice.

I always like to end things with a crazy analogy. Heh.

If you have a question about AUDITIONING…please leave a comment or email me at ERIKBALL123@GMAIL.COM.

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Measuring Down?

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2011 by erikball123

The last time I made cookies, I had to throw the batter away half way through the cooking process. I tested the first batch, of course, and nearly choked. I obviously measured something wrong. I didn’t pay that much attention, as I’ve made cookies before…and thought, what the heck. (I’ve been watching Food Network. It’s souring my thinking.) It was a true lesson that it is not a shame to pick up a measuring cup. (Maybe I should just leave the cookie making to my wife!)

I guess some things CAN be measured. Let me restate that. Some things SHOULD be measured.

I have been thinking a lot about my students this week. It’s been a busy week. (And I forgot to tell you last week about my middle school student who, during group work, tapped me on my shoulder. I turned round. He was wearing a paper mustache and goatee. Cooly, he stated in a dark Guatemalan accent, “I don’t drink often. But when I do…I prefer Dos Equis.” I almost wet myself. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in months.) Anyway…I digress.

My students are literally the highlight of my day, and the most concerning part of my approach TO my day. Let me explain. Faith Lutheran High School (the best school in the country) is a caring, nurturing supportive, and safe exception to any student’s Middle School / High School career. I love it there. I find myself spending hours nit-picking little tiny things to complain about daily…simply because it is such an amazing place to be. Isn’t that funny? I kick myself daily, saying “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” At the ends of my days (good days and bad)…I walk to my Nissan Cube, and I find myself worried about my students. Why should I worry about these kids, who are in our care, behind decorative gates and stone walls, sharing the good word of Jesus Christ? I’m proud of my students. I have faith in my students. I’m scared for my students.

I think sometimes…we don’t allow our students to fail.

There is an onset expectation when you purchase something, and that is, you’re going to GET what you paid for. If you grab a Sierra Mist, you know you’re getting ice cold, citrusy goodness. If you purchase a new car, it darn well better fill you nostrils with new car smell. If you purchase a Happy Meal, gosh darn it, there had better be a toy in there! You GET what you pay for. I think there should be NO EXCEPTION with that mind-set when you enroll a student in a private school for a quality education. It’s part of my philosophy as I approach my classroom everyday. I’m fulfilling my end of that expectation. Is this a reasonable expectation when we’re dealing with impressionable young people? People with personal goals, dreams, fears….and unique dynamics? I wonder.

Every time I post a cast list, and one of my students allows the ensemble role that they thought would be a principle role alter their self-control…and they begin bad-mouthing a fellow student…I break down inside a little.  Every time I witness the rules bend ever so slightly for a student so that they may be allowed to play a sport, or participate in an event….because that parent called the administration, and maybe, just maybe, this is the “least disruptive solution”….I question my approach to these kids, a little. Every time I see a student cut in the lunch line…get caught…and then don’t react with remorse…I feel a little lost.

“Wow, Erik. There are teachers in some schools walking the same halls where drug deals are being made, and your dissecting a situation regarding cutting in the lunch line?? Dang, you wussy.” Well…in my defense, this is all I know. I feel very badly for third world countries where people go to sleep starving every day. I will pray for them. But, I cannot fully understand that world, or affectively “deal” with it either…because this is the only world I know. So, in the sterile lunch lines of Faith Lutheran…yeah, these things affect me.

What are we doing to our students? Teaching them. Right. But what? Reading, Writing and Arithmetic? What about winning AND losing? Right AND wrong? Good AND bad? They surely know WHAT these things are….but do they know HOW these things are?

We do not affectively prepare our students for the real world, if we don’t ALLOW THEM to fail sometimes.

There is this saying, that I love, that goes, “Try your best. Even if you fall on your face…you’re still moving forward.”

Students are going to mess up…get a C- on their AP English homework…forget to turn an assignment in….get a detention for necking in the hallway…smoke a cigarette. All students mess up…they are all TEMPTED to compromise the free will and self-control that is gifted to them by God. It’s not the messing up that is important….it’s WHAT THEY DO AFTERWARDS that will surely define their characters, and generate exceptional, private school students…and even better, lay the ground-work for brilliant young Christian leaders after high school.

I sat four young men down after a middle school class this week. They were talking out of turn, disrupting the presentations of their classmates, snapping rubber bands and playing on their cell phones. All within 10 minutes. (I told you we had multi-tasking, talented kids at Faith.) I pulled them aside and said “look…I don’t want to give you a detention. YOU don’t want me to give you a detention. I need you to be respectful in class. If not, the school’s rules state that you must receive a punishment, which in turn makes me the bad guy…which in turn makes you unhappy with me, which makes me sad. So…here’s the deal. I’ll give you your phone back. The rubber bands I’m keeping…because, frankly, I’m out of rubber bands….but we’ll start fresh next class, with a clearer understanding of my expectations. If then, we continue to have problems…. detention. Understood?” Three of the four kids apologized. I accepted it….and waited. The fourth got a detention today. He continued down the same path. I asked him to stay after class…and then I asked him to fill out the detention form. He did it sharply and quickly…and accepted it. I think that was VERY good.

I’ll tell you something. The process of MAKING good cookies is always the same. Mix the proper ingrediants…bake them for a certain time…allow them to cool. We can measure what NEEDS to go into each cookie, very carefully. But, what happens if we make an error? I don’t blame the process of making cookies…and I certainly don’t stop making cookies altogether. Instead, I learn from my mistakes, restart and try again. I learn. Hopefully, I’ll wind up with better cookies.

If we (teachers and parents) take time with our students…nurture their needs as individuals (as we all know that God made each of these little ones by hand…there were no cookie cutters up in heaven)….and then be a part of the clean up process when they fail (continuing to nurture)…then maybe we’ll wind up with a batch of really well-prepared cookies.

And who doesn’t appreciate a well-prepared cookie?

“Excuse Me, I Have to Take This Call.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by erikball123

One of the shows that I used to watch as a kid was The Cosby Show. I still value the wisdom and humor of Bill Cosby as one of the most influential forces in my life, personally. The show itself, which featured the life lessons of the loveable Huxtable family, lives in the annals of time as one of the most beloved television shows ever, and I can recite half of the episodes word for word. Sometimes I wish life was a little bit simpler, perhaps more “scripted” and decorated with life lessons, like that one episode where Theo was getting ready for college and he had to buy back is bedroom furniture…or the brilliant episode where the husbands of the Huxtable woman challenged each other to try and purchase the most romantic gift ever. It’s a half an hour of feel good moments that I cherish.

When I think about time, and how my time is spent…and this day and ages’ “normal day”…for some reason, I capture the image of Heathcliff Huxtable, the hard working obstetrician, trying with every fiber of his being to catch just a few winks on the family room sofa before having to go in for another shift at the hospital. This last round of unexpected call ins has kept him busy for hours…and at the height of the scene, Heathcliff rolls over and exclaims to little Rudy, who has interrupted his sleep, “Rudy, I just delivered over 100 babies…I need some sleep.”

I guess we all get to a point to where we feel like there is just no catching up on rest…and others’ perception of our plight is just simply not understood. (No matter how noble the cause.)

Now, I don’t deliver babies….ha! Yeah, God bless doctors…I can’t even stand the waiting rooms….I’m a simple High School Drama teacher…but I do feel sometimes that times are changing and expectations are extremely high with regards to how much time we are expected to spend in the efforts to be the greatest school on earth. Now, I promise this won’t turn into a sob-fest…but rather I’d like to take note that times they be a-changin’. Today, the parents of the students I teach are people my age, which means that I need to appreciate what these people are going through as they manage the trials of their children’s school careers. Yet, I don’t. I find myself frustrated…and pointing fingers.

You ever find yourself mad at someone, just because they’re going home at 3pm…and you have to stay for rehearsal…or an after-school activity. That’s all. They didn’t DO anything to you…there isn’t any REAL reason to be angry….but ooooo! They get to go home…and rest, and stuff. And I’ve gotta stay…and do stuff. Dang it! Shoot!

I have only to blame myself for being committed to many things…I like to stay active and involved…I love attention…I love working with the kids outside of class…and I bring it on myself. But, I get increasing annoyed with the 24/7, on-call status that I feel I sometimes am expected to maintain as a teacher. The emails I have to answer up to midnight from students and parents…phone calls I have to return…make-up test/assignment arrangements I have to make and attend…make-up auditions and “meetings” before an after class to “discuss” stuff. We’re on-call counselors, curriculum directors, tutors and mentors. On top of that…I work at the most wonderful high school in the country. A private school where I don’t have to worry about getting shot in the hallways…face drug deals in the bathrooms….and worry about gangs. And I sit here…annoyed and tired. Shame on me, right?

I guess I think about these sort of things because of the ways of the world that I recall when I was growing up. I recall my parents making me going to school no matter how sick I was. I would have to be puking or running a fever before I was allowed to stay home. Today…kids “don’t wanna” go to school…and they spend the day at home. (And I won’t get into the numerous unplanned vacations that are taken throughout the school year. That’s a subject for another blog.) I don’t understand the mind set of some parents. Perhaps they justify things because it’s a private school…and when you pay enrollment, there is a certain expectation. “I pay for this school…if I wanna pull my kid to take them to Hawaii…well, darn it, I’m gonna.”

I guess I’m not arguing about a lack of rest…or a desire to have a nightly vacation from school to recharge. I guess my concerns come from a lack of responsibility that we don’t enforce in today’s students. These are teenagers after all. The same ones that come up to me in class during group work and say, “Mr. Ball, where is some white paper.” “Um…right there.” “Oh, yeah.” Open your eyes…look around…and find the paper. If you cannot find it…after HUNTING for it….then ask. I’m afraid everything nowadays is being served up on a silver platter…and all our teenagers know how to do is ring the little bell and request another “thing.”

I guess what I’d like to see more of (because I always tell my students to stop complaining unless they have a solution!) is parents making their students more responsible for things. The text book stuff…it’s very important…but dude, even the smartest of smart people have to admit that some of the most important stuff you can take away from high school is the collaboration…the ensemble efforts…the trial and error of the everyday interactions. How can students learn how to identify a true success, if they don’t fail every now and then.

Hotlines are important. I think they are an integral part of society and should exist for many worthy causes. But have you ever noticed that hotlines exist primarily for urgent needs? I mean, rarely do you find a go-to source for mundane, everyday things? I feel like the age of technology and the turn of the decades (and this age of parents) expects teachers to drop everything for their students. I guarantee you….we do. (And for the most part, we WANT to.) But, when it’s after hours…or if it involves a hired worker to go above and beyond their expected punch out time…I beg of you to remain cognizant of the fact that this is not normal. If you get your hands on a teacher willing to spend time with your kid…this is a major good thing.

I can’t get mad at those people walking to their cars at 3:15pm. I can’t. God bless them. I don’t necessarily consider myself Heathcliff Huxtable either…trying to catch a few zzzs on the sofa before the next round. After all, I step into the classroom and take on these extra commitments myself, knowing full well what is expected of me. I just want the students and parents to know what is expected of them too. Perhaps that’s unreasonable. But, then again, I would settle for a half an hour of old-school life lessons from the Huxtable household. I guarantee you, unless little Rudy was puking or running a fever….girl would stay home.

Help the “needy.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2009 by erikball123

Whoever invented the term “inner beauty” should be hunted down, bound with used Slinkies, towed to the nearest cul de sac and beaten with large sticks.

I know full well that by shouting from the rooftops that I’m a Dr. Phil fan will strongly effect my creditability in this posting. Some view this dude as a complete sell out, phony bologna with clinical advice as accurate as his painted-on smile. To a small degree, I agree. Anything on the boob tube needs a little make-up to remove the shine. But, in the big picture, I think Dr. Phil is a decent person who wants to do right, and puts things in the spotlight so that they can, at the very least, get attention. The dude makes a bundle doing so, granted…but I don’t think that deserves character lynching. That’s just being guilty of wanting to earn a really good living. Some of us would kill for some of that right now…so I won’t begrudge him.

Today he was talking about the “sexualization” of teens and how media is totally influencing those who do not have role models at home. I find this topic AMAZINGLY interesting. As a high school teacher in an upper-class, private high school I deal with student entitlement issues, social out casting and an overflow of arrogance as thick as the wallets they are used to receiving handouts from. It’s an uphill battle in some cases. But, you can’t get upset over things that ultimately aren’t within your control. These students are used to a certain way of life…and cannot be faulted for NOT thinking otherwise. They don’t know an “otherwise.”

I watched a promo for the upcoming Gossip Girl episode. (A show I admit I’ve never seen.) It showed a young man and women in bed…in a steamy, kiss-filled embrace followed by a discussion about how the girl might have accidentally married the boy’s best friend…and was he jealous??? Then it showed that they were in high school. They look 25!!

It’s farce. It’s all farce. It’s unrealistic to think of little Mary in my High School Drama class in a black thong (Why black? Well…I saw it on the commercial) in a steamy embrace…and talking about accidentally marrying someone because she replied “si” instead of  “I do” in a drunken stupor. It’s downright unimaginable.

I think it’s likewise unimaginable to think that ANY of my students are sexually active. But…and I’m impressing my “I suppose” theory here….I’m sure that’s not the case either. I bet there is a LOT I don’t know. To be blissfully naive sure seems nice on the onset, but when I look in the eyes of these kids who I have the pleasure of teaching everyday…do you want to know what I see? I see someone who has a fundamental void in their life that needs to be filled. Something is missing, and these impressionable hopefuls are filling these voids with what they KNOW. AKA: Gossip girl poo-poo.

I watch as they distribute off-hand insults on a daily basis. There are plenty of rolling eyes. Even their lingo. I’ve even used the word “creeper” in class. But, in a year that word will most likely follow suit to many other words of yesteryear (aka: “snap,” “Gangsta,” and “word”) and find a backseat to the next big trend. It’s a living, breathing, evolving mess of “whatever happens to stick to the wall at that particular moment.”

What they say…what they do…certainly what they wear…and how they “act” (in class, with friends, in social situation, and in gaining acceptance from members of the opposite sex) are all a part of this whirlwind of commitment that these “needy” students cling to. It’s what gets them through Anatomy class and any thing else that’s more than a mere speed bump in their day.

As a drama teacher, I have the great fortune of providing an outlet to students who are “needy.” Performance offers an opportunity to do something fun, in front of an audience, with the support of the ensemble that is usually followed by praise from the adult supervisor. Subconsciously isn’t that what every kid wants?

I watched as the parents of this 14-year old on Dr. Phil sat in a short skirt and tall boots, slathered in make-up as Dr. Phil and mommy argued about her rolling her skirt down to show her thong. Mommy retorted, “Well, it’s not her thong that she rolls..it’s her skirt and that’s what I have a problem with.”

I’m sitting there going….“how about NOT letting your 14 year old wear a thong.” Maybe I’m old fashioned. Maybe I’m conservative. But, I know I’m not crazy. I’m a full-grown man with eyes and ears in the public like everyone else. Everybody has innocent crushes with a make-shift celebrities. The media demands it. (And don’t say you DON’T. Do I even have to go there, you Twilight fans!!??)

But, must we surpass reason in order to supply evidence that we’re all “in tune” with what society throws at us? Have we forgotten our moral and personal, family standards…or are we just sitting on them because it’s easier than cooking a family meal and sitting down together to talk about how the day went?

Another thing…I’m NOT a parent, so one could make the argument that I have no basis for comparison…but, it seems to me that mommy dearest on the Dr. Phil show has her priorities completely out of whack! This is a young lady that is desperately seeking something…anything. And you’re arguing about her thong. Honestly. Mommy is complaining about how hot the sun is on Earth and she’s standing on Pluto! The big picture concern is that mommy is not in touch with her daughter.

What I think we all need is an outlet.  Something that takes us away from what is “expected” of us and allows us to do something for us instead. People have hobbies, have guilty secrets…but, until we can find a way to channel these “needs” that are suppressing what is truly deep down inside of us…instead of letting them control us like a robot to suit the demands of a PLASTIC society…then we will fill these voids our students with empty hopes and invisible promises.

With that said…I think parents need to be huge participants…no, no…ADVOCATES in helping to find and encourage these outlets.

Every night this last two weeks I’ve been putting make-up on in preparation for the onstage role I’m playing in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Tonight a young stage hand asked me with a roll of the eyes, “how long does it take you to do that usually.” I answered about a half hour. She couldn’t believe it. It’s hard work making every line…ever contour and feature fit the mold I’m trying to create so that I might offer an effective character. For the theatre…that’s time spent in preparation for a show. I argue, in life…it’s now different. Whether it’s make-up or self education, manipulation or transformation…that preparation time is something parents desperately need to be a part of.

People use the term inner beauty as a means by which to avoid what is being displayed outside. It’s totally misused. We all have the opportunity to be beautiful. Inner…outer…no matter what you want to label it…it’s all you. And just like the lingering MySpace photo of you holding a beer in a drunken frat party…what you put out there for the world to see…you can’t take it back! This “you” is the only one you get. You get ONE SHOT at life…make it beautiful.

Parents…they need your help. How else are they going to perfect those contours and features?

I’m right…and you’re wrong!

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2009 by erikball123

Fazoli’s has pretty decent food for an Italian Fast Food joint. I’ve always thought that the 10 minute wait in the drive-thru kinda contradicted the idea of “fast”…but all in all, I continue to offer my patronage to the place. It’s the site of today’s topic.

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I pulled up to the window and received my food…and was curious as to why one soft drink was smaller than the other. “I thought I ordered two extra-large drinks,” I commented. What followed could be described simply as a one-way, minute-long, detailed commentary of exactly what I ordered, and why in the world I would even question such a thing, because obviously the drive-thru clerk is doing their job correctly and I’m not doing my job of paying attention.

I didn’t really answer back. I was flabbergasted. (Besides, I think they wanted me to answer back, and I wasn’t going there.) I received my food and drinks and drove away, too afraid to ask for the bread sticks they forgot.

What’s up with people lately? Cities, schools, small business and the like are being frosted with a condescending glaze of “right-fighters.” (An endearing term I respectfully steal from Dr. Phil.) Everyone is right…and don’t you dare confront them, lest you feel the lash of their scornful gaze and acidic rebuttals.

It’s not just adults in the workplace at 4pm on Friday at Fazoli’s…..named Jeff. More so, I fear we’re raising a society of right-fighters who are encouraged to stand firm. It borrows from the old adage of “if someone punches you on the playground…you punch back. That’s my boy!” These concepts, while strong-willed and I suppose in that regard, positive…are fueling an “age of entitlement” that will make everyone RIGHT…and everyone else WRONG, spinning us around in a never-ending rabbit season/duck season argument.

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Conversation…and dare I say, confrontation is like a dance. It takes two to tango, whether your partner wants to dance or not! You cannot engage in an exchange if you’re too busy being right!

As a drama teacher, I’d say this is one of my biggest challenges when working with my students. Entitlement issues are always present. (On the onset of auditions…as they mature from freshmen to seniors and climb the ladder of ensemble member to leading role…even in the most arrogant student and quirkiest wallflower I teach.) They are challenged with the demands of the stage and what it takes out-audition others in heated competition for the opportunity to do what they love onstage.

They are also challenged with living in a fish bowl onstage…and off. In school they walk the halls as the Cat in the Hat, Blanche or Stella, Sweeney Todd and Sandy Dumbrowski. You need tough skin to change into P.E. clothes every other day elbow to elbow with your peers, being referred to as the Magical Mr. Mistofolees. It’s a burden. To counteract that…they wind up protecting themselves with confidence, that sometimes overflows into brazen arrogance and conceit. These wind up being entitlement issues and they present themselves the very first time a prop is taking from the drama classroom knowing that “Mr. Ball won’t mind.” They’re not being malicious…they are just overly confident. This is dangerous ground. That same student will display that same confidence when ensuring a customer at their first job, that they ordered it wrong…and what they’re receiving is 100% correct.

So, what’s the solution? That’s a tough one. As I look at my graying parents and remember my childhood punishments of yesteryear…I recall a strict environment where school work came first and being polite or not was NOT my decision to make. I recall soap in my mouth…canceled vacations…and my father literally “pulling the car over.” I would be remiss to suggest giving someone “the belt” but I don’t think that’s the solution.

We now have a generation of adults, my age, who are raising children that are the product of a “wanna be a better parent” rebound. Parents don’t realize that they can certainly be their son or daughter’s friend…but they have to be their parent first.

I had a student absent from class this week…they were on their fifth cruise this year with their parents. Fifth. Another, a junior, has been home all week, alone. His parents away on business. I was in Marshall’s the other day in the sock aisle and could not believe how a 12 year old was talking to her mother. I actually heard the b-word. I felt embarrassed for the mom, angered at the child…and in totally disbelief that the mostly one-way conversation lasted as long as it did. Suddenly formal, black dress socks weren’t that important to me anymore.

My parents never spanked me as a child. My dad did, however, tell me of this paddle he made out of particle board that he hung in the basement closet. He indicated how large it was, and he said he painted it green. Pretty much a horror story for a 6 year old.

He said that he hoped he would never have to use it. Thankfully, he never had to. Around the age of 17 years old, in a non-related, high-spirited conversation, I asked my father if I could see this paddle. He told me it never existed. I couldn’t believe it. It never crossed my mind that it was made up. While this may be the reason for my sometimes obsessive/compulsive behavior and midnight paranoia about locking the door downstairs… I’m sure of it……it was whole fully effect in hindsight.

My parents had a level of expectation for every avenue of my growing up, and not meeting that expectation was not an option. Did I fall short? All the time. I was a kid…they do that. But, that standard, that house-wide understanding that we were to be at the dinner table at 6pm for dinner (for instance)….that starchness that forced it’s way into my personal teen routine…that’s what is needed today.

Parents today are not evil. They’re not stupid. They’re not careless. They are just…in their minds….right. Who’s job is it to evaluate the individual family’s parenting skills? Where’s that rubric? As a teacher, you can give As and Bs…you can re-do a seating chart…issue a detention. You can even sit down and “have a talk” with a student. But, in the end, they go home to a set of parents who are less concerned about “dealing with the issue with their children,” and more concerned about “skirting the blame.”

Another incident occurred when a student in my school was caught drawing graffiti on the bathroom walls with a Sharpie and given a Saturday detention. The parents called a meeting with the administration to explain how it was the teacher’s fault for letting the kid out of class.

It comes down to ownership. If you’re working in a drive-thru….why are you there? Ultimately to offer service to the paying patron, right? You dishing out pasta for $7.00 an hour. You’re not selling Cadillacs! Is the argument, or rather, forced “right-fighting” worth it? What do you gain? Entitlement?

If you’re a student auditioning for a play, and you don’t get cast…do you issue formal complaints regarding the cast list and the director’s choice? (Trying hard to find loopholes in the process.) Or, do you figure it’s part of a bigger plan and then go back to evaluate your audition offering and see where you need improvement. One is a little bit more pride-swallowing and labor intensive. (Isn’t that part of the actor’s job description?)

As a parent, would you rather support your student’s efforts in working hard to succeed…and if they fail, be part of the up-hill climb as their biggest support in the hopes that they will turn things around and make it o the top? Or, would you rather send a scathing email…leave an insinuative voice mail….or assume the teacher is out to get your child? I assure you that one path is easier to do than another…and I assure you…if teachers didn’t want your child to succeed, then they would have gone into real estate.

The bottom line is, right-fighting doesn’t work. You’re not dealing with the root of any issue. Instead your glazing it over with a sugar-coating that nullifies any positive effort on anyone’s part.

I call it sweeping it under the rug. Some people refer to that as “dodging.” Today I called it, “get out quick before the angry Fazoli’s man eats your face.”

Take the high road next time. Talk it out and work toward a positive solution. Be a part of a solution to find a resolve.  Succumb to the fact that you just might be wrong.

Who needs an extra large soda and carb-filled bread sticks anyways?

“I’d like to thank…”

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by erikball123

A head held high or one for the record books? Which would you prefer?

Slumdog Millionaire just won Best Picture. You might have heard about Heath Ledger (saw that coming!) and Sean Penn. Penelope Cruz might’ve surprised a few…but for the most part we watched  yet another predictable telecast of a mostly entertaining Oscar ceremony led by one of the industry’s most charismatic leading men. I liked some of the new formats presented and for the first time in years I wasn’t bored to tears. (Although I admit I was working on a few costume drawing for Seussical the Musical and tore myself away.)

One thing stood out in the program, and ironically is was a simple clip from a vignette and a movie I haven’t seen in a long time. You all remember “Good Will Hunting” right? Robin Williams’ character says “…you have to love something more than yourself…”

I don’t know what it’s like to be a movie star. I can’t fathom the paparazzi, the exposure…the lavish lifestyle and living in a fishbowl. But I can imagine that that sort of thing would certainly come in between what you do as a performer and how you do it.

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Sean Penn, tonight, was praised as someone who doesn’t allow the fame to get in the way of his process, and for the record I have nothing against Penn personally. I enjoy his films. But, I was disheartened to see that on the heels of someone praising his ethics and poise when approaching the craft of creating a character and his unwavering ability to not allow that to be compromised by the heavy chains of stardom, he accepted his award and used the acceptance speech time to get on a soap box and speak about a current political issue on gay rights. Granted the film is about gay rights…but the award is a acting merit award, given to honor the actor and his/her craft. It’s not a promotion. It’s not a platform. And yet, all too often actors (or rather those who routinely gain exposure) use that opportunity to further themselves or their beliefs.

Let’s bring this down to high school theater at Faith Lutheran. We just finished a successful first week run of our high school play. The students did amazing and I felt that the audiences were very receptive. I watched as those bright-eyed students munched on bite-sized cupcakes after the show, still in make-up. These enthusiastic hopefuls, who, at the very least, want to impress and do well onstage made up of a variety of personalities. Some want a career in performing. Some simply enjoy the ride. All too often, as their teacher / director, one of the hardest things I have to do is to attempt to break down that wall that society (and oftentimes their parents and peers) builds up around these young actors. It’s a wall of self-worth, entitlement and pride. I’m guilty of doing it myself.

Acting is appealing in high school because anyone can do it. If you have no arms or legs, you can still be an actor. What separates a good actor from a bad actor is determined by their self-discipline and what others think. It’s subjective. Kids want to fill a fundamental void in their lives by stepping onstage. They’re escaping…gaining acceptance…finding an outlet…utilizing the stage as a surrogate therapy session. Whatever the reason (subconscious or not)…everyone onstage in high school, WANTS to be onstage for a reason. How do you get past that as a teacher, and help those students realize that the craft of acting is MORE than that, and that they need to love it more than themselves in order to truly do it to the glory of God?

My job is part time counselor, theater teacher, drama director…and I carry lots of school keys. Every day changes and shifts into something I never would have guessed. It’s a roller-coaster. The other day I was nearly brought to tears when a first-time actor came off stage and looked me in the eye and said “I’m so happy!” and then rushed away. (You had to be there.) I was also recently nearly brought to tears when I was told a long-time student of mine might consider going to another school, known for the performing arts status symbols and community-recognized talent pool and opportunity.

High School is high school. It shouldn’t be the NBA where kids are drafted or selected or chosen. It should remain a secondary education platform for all students to broaden horizons and expand on things that interest them. We can channel interest, but to focus on a single one and drive it home prior to graduation is setting students up for failure in my opinion.

Leading roles are fun…and exciting, and challenging. But, it’s a supporting role world. Faith Lutheran does not have the best drama program in the country. (It’s DARN close, I’ll tell you!) But, should we even care about that? Is that the goal? To be the best…to get a leading role….to accept an Oscar? If that’s the goal…then count me out. That’s using the talents God gave us as a springboard for our own personal interest and ultimately looking out for number one.

Self promotion gets people in the seats, and I suppose one might argue that you have to be brilliant in marketing before even thinking about opening a show on Broadway or at Faith Lutheran. Entertaining comes with a price. But, the process of shifting focus…redirecting…and remembering not to upstage God…that’s the continuing road every performer must travel.

I look forward to SEUSSICAL auditions in two weeks. In three weeks I will do my duty as grief counselor to those who worked so hard and didn’t get that leading role. It’s all very perfunctory and while I do care for these students and their feelings very much…it’s a very hard job to look them in the tear-filled eyes and explain to them that this is ONE musical. One opportunity…one show…and they are only 16 years old. It’s not about the show…not about the role…not about the opportunity. It’s about knowing why you love something so much, and then investing yourself in that one thing to the point to where you can love it more than yourself. For them, the high school student…it’s recognizing why they wanted that role…and why it’s okay to be upset, but knowing WHY they’re upset. Is it because they lost an opportunity for themselves?

I don’t think I’m there yet. I love the applause at the end. I love the glow of the spotlight. I love make-up and costumes, and props. Love it! Heck, this whole blog post can be construed as my own little soap box! And as a dirty, scummy sinner…I can love my God enough to know that I’m going to have a hard time teaching my students to get past the role and show, and do their best in God’s name, when I struggle to do it myself.

God gave me talents to use onstage to His glory. He did the same to my students and the Academy Award winners. I will pat my students on the back offering a “good show” sentiment, and I can look forward to next weekend’s round two and the auditions afterward. I can maybe even look forward to next year’s Oscar awards. Maybe. But, one thing is for certain…there is no trophy shelf in heaven. As much as I want to be that actor that performs in the name of the Lord…I’ll have to start breaking down my own walls of entitlement and self-motivation.

And even then…how do you pass that down? Loving the art of acting is easy, but loving the Lord more than you love yourself is hard…even in a leading role.

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