Archive for Super Summer Theatre

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:

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.

Willy Nilly

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , on June 15, 2010 by erikball123

The presenting of a world that cannot be logically explained is called Theatre of the Absurd. Where an actor’s voice and body should remain the spectacle, that is something we call Poor Theatre. Usually referring to several unofficial theatre companies performing challenging or controversial works at the same times, theatre goers have referred to this type of theatre as Fringe.

So then, what does one call a musical that is reverent, challenging, imaginative, and poetic…yet poorly written? “Theatre of the Suck?” “Bad Theatre?” How about, “The Dumb Show?”

I have a hard time exercising a notion that anything derived from a beloved children’s book could ever be dumb. I mean, 90% of children’s literature has us chasing run-away meatballs or galavanting off into the woods with Whosits and Whatsits galore! This isn’t Shakespeare madame!

My friend, the brilliant Shawn as Wonka...some goon in really fly shades...and the equally brilliant Madalyn as Veruca.

I’m currently playing Mr. Salt and The Candyman in the musical stage version of Willy Wonka at Spring Mt. Valley Ranch in Vegas as part of the city’s Super Summer Theatre program. I have been having the time of my life which challenges my inner-most intellectual actor. You see, the script for the musical (offered by Music Theatre International) is…well….bad. It’s not good. And while I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of “making chicken salad out of chicken poop” as my friend Chris likes to say, I find that my normal approach in this project has been somewhat rattled with conflict. What do you do with a bad script?

I recall a time before I even auditioned, sitting in a dressing room, aging myself to look like a forlorn sheriff, listening to Bon Jovi on someone’s far away CD player and taking theatre, slipping in cliche’ terms to sound important….and mentioning the upcoming auditions. “Well the show sucks” commented a friend who on more than one occasion I’ve taken advice from and who often uses bigger words than “sucks.” “And I’m NOT gonna be a freakin’ Oompa Loompa!” They hinted at the fact that the stellar dancers would all wind up Loompas…and in fact they were right.

I was convinced that while I loved the movies and books…I would not audition. Later, while I quickly shimmied out of my peppermint striped pants and into my grey shark-skin suit during my quick change, I thought to myself “this is a challenge!” At the time I was referring to my foot. (It didn’t want to go in the leg hole! Go int he leg hole, you foot! You only have 30 sec. for this change! Go in the leg hole!!!!!! Aaaahhhh!!!!) Luckily my dear friend Amanda was there (she volunteered to be my changer…a move I attribute to the fact so that she can mess with me) and she guided my foot….then sha-zam! I was dressed in no time.

The familiar songs / lyrics are there and I truly have the priviledge of singing “The Candy Man” in the show, which is the best song of the show in my opinion. (Love ya Sammy!) But, the mess is made in the translation of the beloved movie version to the stage. There are obstacles that need addressing that are simply glazed over, and there remains segmented musical tid-bits that are as long-lasting as a single spearmint Chicklet. Some may say disappointing. But, compared to what? Wonka appreciates the fact that no everyone will like EVERY candy bar. I can’t imagine there ISN’T a child out there who would prefer a Slugworth Sizzler. And you know what…who cares if there is! We can only work on creating what WE believe in..and HOPE others will enjoy as well.

I leave a great deal of room for the respect I have for the creative team on this project. Anyone that has a bad word to say about Phil Shelburne, Shannon Cook, Rommel Pacson and Tim Cooper will have to deal with me!

Perhaps I’m being too critical. I mean, obviously someone thought it was genius. Music Theatre International wouldn’t publish and distribute just anything…would they? So, I give great credit to the laborous hours we spent toiling over the subtext and the meanings and intentions before, after and behind the words in the script. Were we successful? Who can tell really…and the reviewer seemed as vanilla as single scoop ice cream…bland on opening night. Perhaps a Laffy Taffy joke would have helped.

But that’s the point, I think. There is a line in the Tim Burton version when Mike Teavee is challenging the grinning Wonka and says “what’s the point of all of this! It’s pointless!” and Charlie Bucket turns to him and says, “it’s candy. It doesn’t have to have a point.”

The hidden smile behind that notion is what brings me back to the present day. I genuinely look forward to Wednesday and performing in this bubble gum musical. I think it is because of the amazing ensemble I have the privilege of working with. The children in the show alone are full of life and recharge my batteries every night. I admire their professionalism and cannot express how their energy makes me a better actor. (Even if the one keeps wiping his nose on my pants.)

Another reason to brave the dusty trails of Spring Mtn. Valley Ranch and endure the love-wrought brays from the burros in the hills, has to do with the audience. We’ve been working full houses…and they truly seem to enjoy it. (The children do anyway. One kid squealed so loud it scared me.) Granted the movies have done a great deal as far as helping us market the show, but I like the idea that the audience might be there for the sole purpose of wondering what’s behind the next corner during the factory tour as well. It’s compelling to me to think that regardless of whether or not our Oompa Loompas are CGI generated or merely lanky community folk in purple spandex…the audience will accept it. It’s theatre…and there is always an element of imagination and forced perceptions. Right? Perhaps that what I like about the show. It’s simple…and sweet…and stupid. And people like simple, sweet and stupid.

My friend Keriann as "Peppermint" and the Candyman...we shop at the same store.

Challenging theatre is rewarding and a thrill to do, when done well. But, there is something to be said for theatre that wraps itself in “possibility” and offers a light offering of fun, creative, and lively theatre that transports audiences to a simple world of silliness, double-bubble burp-a-cola, and Snozzberries. It’s good, clean nonsense. And compared to “legitimate, good” theatre that I’ve done, and walked away from burdened (for whatever reason)…I will willingly accept the jab in my gut from my little Veruca and pass out paper mache lollipops to my scene mates until the fat Wangdoodle sings!

“It’s shear theatre. Nothing more that cotton candy and treacle.” That’s right. And I think it’s good. And that world tastes good….cuz the Candyman thinks it should.

“And who’d have thought a show could be so good? Not me…”

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2008 by erikball123

I’ve returned from Spring Mountain Valley Ranch Park, and Super Summer Theatre’s third offering “AIDA” which was presented by Signature Productions. It was a beautiful, calm night (despite the initial stand-off with sprinkles) and my wife had a hard time falling asleep tonight…and here I am typing this post at 2:20 am. You know you’re watching a great show, when it affects you to the point to where you can’t settle down afterwards.

My friend, fellow actor and Signature Board member and former director (I worked under him for Peter Pan) Steve Huntsman directed this gem, and deserves a lot of kudos. It was a marvel. The amazing set was awesome. The costumes were brilliant. The concept, design and execution…very, very well done. All in all, I was quite taken with the show, and if you’ve never seen the show before, I highly recommend it. (Of course you can’t see this one…it was closing night!) It’s a very common tale of torn lovers from two different worlds seeking harmony within their conflicted selves and their countries at war. Very Romeo and Juliet. But as simple as the plot structure can be viewed…the tale itself took us on a roller-coaster tour of highs and lows that kept the audiences focused and the most fidgety 4th graders affixed. Heck…baby’s stopped crying! Elton John’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics are captivating and refreshing at every turn and there are three moments I caught tears in my wife’s eyes. (And those were only the times I could tear my own focus away from the stage.)

Am I over doing it? Perhaps. But you so rarely see theatre anymore that simply entertains you. This show is long (especially when played without an intermission…phew! Potty break!) The show could be told in 30 minutes, easy. But the thing is….while simple “on paper”….it’s the type of show that can be brought to life in such a way as to conjure up actual feelings. Imagine that! We’re so used to reality television and instant coffee, that we forget that the purpose of theatre is to allow an audience to escape reality and feel something about some other character’s conflict for a while. Take two steps back and say “who cares about grading my school papers, I need to know that the Nubian King will be set free!” This show accomplished that.

Does it have flaws? Sure! It’s a living, breathing musical. It features flesh and blood performers with stellar voices that work very hard. The pancake foundation is thick, no doubt, and you’d be surprised to know how much hot glue is holding things together up there…but the bottom line is I was entertained….and it was my 4th time seeing it. I sat with my wife and squeezed her hand during the sad scenes. I worried about the princess, toiled over who I should be rooting for…and was very sad when Mereb died. I stood and clapped at the end and we had lots to talk about on the drive home. That’s theatre. That’s what live theatre should be about. It’s relating or NOT relating to what just happened. It’s agreeing or disagreeing…it’s loving or hating. Costumes, Props…pancake foundation…they’re all tools to help a performer offer something real. Is the Egyptian boat, or the plastic sword, or the cordless mic real? Nah. But that moment when I caught my wife tear up , and she looked back and quickly wiped away the tear, half-embarrassed…that’s a moment I’ll remember. The musical helped her to connect to a feeling…a moment…a truth that allowed her to expand, expell and feel. You don’t find that standin gin line for a latte or mowing your lawn. I love that about live performance. Good, bad or ugly…it’s about life….living, breathing life.

Sometimes I wonder if theatre critics like theatre. Not just the singing and the dancing. But the experience. I wonder if they whistle the songs to the show on their scenic drive out to the Ranch. I wonder if they hesitate before getting up to buy popcorn for fear of missing that first chord at the beginning of the overture. The reviewer for this show was luke warm about everything…and commented about stupid little nuances, in my opinion. I can’t help but wonder if the obligation of reviewing a show burdens the wonder and specticle of it all. Make-believe is only fun when it’s unscripted.

There is always something to look forward to and ultimately endure when you go out for a night of theatre. This particular night was no different. Before the show even began a fight broke out in the audience. A full-on fist fight between a drunk guy (you can bring adult beverages with your picnic at the Ranch) and some other dude over….someone else’s baby-daddy. (I don’t know!!!) Whatever. That broke off pretty quick and the whole audience, (including the guy who got hit in the face with a drinking glass) all had a laugh. The burros joined in.

I had the pleasure of working on props for the show, which is a position I never actually grappled with before. Oh sure, here and there for my shows at Faith Lutheran…but a full-fledged position? First time. What a thrill to see my name attached to that particular project. Whoo! To know the Amulet that I made was a tide-turning focal point in the second act, made me very happy and added a personal touch to the evening.

I knew several of the cast members, but became aquainted with al throughout the run of the show and my occasional visits to make sure that swords were in one piece and “spoils of war” were all present and not losing their luster. A former drama student of mine was in the show. This is a lad I fondly recall directing in “Father of the Bride” and “Into the Woods” nearly four years ago. He’s matured, learned how to dance apparently (!!) and has morphed into a grade-A young talent. This guy could seriously walk off the stage and onto another one in a heart-beat. The buttons nearly popped off my shirt I was so proud!

Well, with that said…I’m going to try and go to sleep. I will tip my hat one more time to the cast and crew of AIDA. You all had a great run…a very memorable, entertaining show…and I am very thankful to have been part of it. Blessings to you all as you go your several ways. May you find joy, reward and opportunity in your next projects. Real joy, real reward….and real opportunity. None of that fake stuff like they write about in newspapers.

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