Archive for theatre

Brilliant Moments in the WOODS

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, REVIEWS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by erikball123

My favorite line in INTO THE WOODS has always been the Witch’s “I was just trying to be a good mother.” It’s widely received (on the stage anyway) as a laugh line to transition a moment. But in Rob Marshall’s version of this story, it’s a poignant, remarkable bookmark that made me almost tear up sitting in the Red Rock Regal Cinema. You see, everyone LOVES Sondheim. (And if you’re a theatre person and don’t…we’ll stone you to death.) But, the thing is…WHY do people love Sondheim? As a patron, is it his release from formulaic musical convention? As an artist, is it the challenge of skillfully crafted material? As a young actor, is it the blood, bad buys and nuances that are so much fun to love of hate? I think the answer is YES on all accounts. But, I would ask you to look past all of this for one moment…and look at the relationship between WORDS and MUSIC.

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Bernadette Peters (the Original Broadway WITCH) rehearses with Stephen Sondheim.

 

I’ve argued with anyone who has ears that Stephen Sondheim is a poet. The words he uses in his songs are cleverly and perfectly set to the moment. High schools across the country have presented INTO THE WOODS…heck, there is even a Tumblr site dedicated to low-budget Milky Whites, that I find most amusing. (https://www.tumblr.com/search/lowbudgetmilkywhites) From a producer’s perspective, INTO THE WOODS has a wonderfully twisted ensemble with parts for skilled vocalists, up-and-growing “green” performers, and optional ensemble parts. It has little dance (which is always a concern for drama groups) and costuming, set and prop elements can be as simple and complex as you’d like. The only tricky element is the source material, which in turn bookmarks this musical as a perfect example for those theatre groups hoping to engage students in lessons about simply telling a good story. (And for those who have a hand for creating transportive theatre, the show is a wealth of opportunity.)

Rehearsal for Faith Lutheran's INTO THE WOODS (2005). Andrew Eddins and Cash Black portrayed the tormented Princes. (Please Note: Kelly Odor and several lunch tables are in the background!)

Rehearsal for Faith Lutheran’s INTO THE WOODS (2005). Andrew Eddins and Cash Black portrayed the tormented Princes. (Please Note: Kelly Odor and several lunch tables are in the background!)

I’ve seen about a dozen live INTO THE WOODS productions. (Including one I directed in a high school gymnasium.) I’ve seen wild variations. One included a minimalist production told in an aristocratic living room during a thunder storm, as each high-society snob acted out the parts in turn “making up the story” as they went along. Interesting. I’ve seen video projections, puppetry, one told inside a closed book store and even one production where the Witch transformed from beautiful to ugly (instead of the other way around) and they played it off that the Witch preferred it that way. Hm. I’m sure there was an intended creative choice there and an accompanying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” message they were trying to send (much in the same light as Violet’s invisible scar, in Violet – The Musical, maybe??) Lots of fun to be had with characters we all know already…which is why I think directors feel magically compelled to “reinvent the wheel” (as snobby critics say) in their artistic vision of this particular musical. (Which is why it is so often regarded as a “good musical to produce.”)

The Central Park INTO THE WOODS.

The Central Park INTO THE WOODS.

 

The Original Broadway cast was superb…I show the filmed production to my classes…and it served as a springboard for Bernadette Peters to be cast in platinum as the production’s “forever Witch.” (Much in the same way that we’ll compare everyone who plays Elphaba to Idina.) The Broadway Revival, which started out in L.A. and featured a GIGANTIC giant foot that stomped on patrons waiting outside when it transferred to New York was wonderfully bland. I blame Vanessa Williams as unconnectable Witch, but that’s just me. (Loved her in Ugly Betty!) The British version wasn’t really well-received and included the new song “Our Little World.” (I can take it or leave it. I usually disregard it. The show is long anyway. Do we really need to lament more on the Witch and Rapunzel’s relationship and combing her hair?)  The Central Park, free admission production offered about 4 years ago was untraditional and offered a creepy Witch, a jungle-gym of a set and a Little Red in a bicycle helmet! I can hardly wait to see the Roundabout Theatre variation that is slated to head to Broadway very soon. (I’m ga ga over the piano concept in their minimalist design. Wackadoodle!)

Roundabout Theatre's INTO THE WOODS.

Roundabout Theatre’s INTO THE WOODS.

INTO THE WOODS is everywhere, which was why I went into the theatre today curious. I was pleasantly surprised at Marshall’s “CHICAGO” and I liked…not loved…liked, Burton’s “SWEENEY TODD.” What was going to become of another one of my favorites, and arguably a more often produced musical (moreso than CHICAGO and SWEENEY TOOD) at a high school level. I’m always worried how the non-theatre-going demographic is exposed to theatre in general. Live theatre is the most essential storytelling device we have in the world today. Music is the only thing we as a culture universally share as a binding agent. (We all love music.) Put the two together…and we have the opportunity to move mountains. As a director, I have the privilege (and burden) of shaping a production in the manner in which I hope to offer it up to an audience (full of the most critical theatre-loving critics and first-time theatre goers). When you take a musical that already means so much to you, personally…and redevelop it as a movie…the opportunity to loose integrity is great. (I would argue that the elimination of the chorus of pie-eating patrons in the Sweeney movie made the London masses, a collective character and important voice in the story, made the movie more about a monster of man…instead of the fact that we all might have a little bit of a monster inside of us. “Isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?” How do we know to think about that, if we don’t have a collective voice telling us? But, I digress.)

The cast of Rob Marshall's movie version of INTO THE WOODS.

The cast of Rob Marshall’s movie version of INTO THE WOODS.

The Rob Marshall INTO THE WOODS is quite possibly the best theatre to film adaption I’ve ever seen. It’s a wonderful story, presented thoughtfully without any loss of integrity. Those who love the musical will love the movie. Those who have never seen the musical will not miss out on any “inside jokes” or thematic elements potentially lost int he translation. There aren’t any. It tricks you. It’s not a movie-musical….it’s a musical-movie. On three different occasions I burst into a round of applause after a musical number, forgetting that this was a movie, not a musical. It nips and tucks in all the right places, and while I’ve been hearing a drone of “I wish the song NO MORE was included” among my theatre friends, I would argue it was not needed. The handling of the Mysterious Man was well-done, and the elimination of the physical Narrator (replaced wisely by the voice of the Baker, foreshadowing the tear-jerking final moment…which was BEAUTIFUL) made the song a bit redundant. They covered what they needed to cover…and good news!…you can still sing that song in the musical! Other missing musical elements are minimal, but as you’ll note, they were all connected to theatrical devices within the story that were eliminated in the movie. Nip tuck, nip tuck. (It’s a movie…without an intermission.)

What struck me as the most profound choices in the film were the choices. Allow me to highlight a few. *SPOILER ALERT*

  • The fact that there wasn’t a single title or credit at the beginning of the movie…brilliant. Immediately it plunked us down into this world. Before we could blink an eye…we were 20 minutes into the film and all of the exposition was laid out for us and we were actively engaged.
  • The contemplative “On the Steps of the Palace” was whimsical and perfectly staged as a moment in time. How often have we scrambled our brains to make a decision in a heartbeat…millions of times throughout a day? How wonderfully theatrical of our director to present this song in such a way, and deconstruct the moment that we all know as a simple act of leaving a shoe behind. Fun stuff.
  • The Princes’ song “Agony” (a borderline stereotype portrayal of the rugged and babyfaced Princes we all know from their respective stories) found two very likable characters temper-tantruming through splashy waters as they gaze upon their kingdom. It was thoughtful, well-filmed and hilarious. You INSTANTLY championed these two devise characters.
  • There is a danger in putting Johnny Depp as the Wolf. Who doesn’t love Johnny Depp? Those not familiar with the show may be heart-broken to only see him for ten minutes of screen time and catching stills from the set prior to watching the movie made me nervous. In performance, traditionally the Wolf is either portrayed as a personification of the age-old lesson of “don’t talk to strangers” or as a evil man of some kind, because all men are dogs…or, rather, wolves. The publicity photos saw Depp as a sort of Zoot Suit wearing gigalo. (Aside from the addition of some fun fur…Depp kinda looks like he was taken right off the street in his usual wears and onto the movie set!) I was pleased to see that HOW Depp portrayed the Wolf. It was very wolf-like…darting between trees to catch a glimpse, his trademark sneer when offering a sprig of flowers to the girl….it was VERY fun. I didn’t care how he was dressed…all I cared about was the fact that Depp was “the wolf” and how it was related was acceptable to me. Sometimes I wonder if I analyze stuff too much. HA!

depp

  • The kids were GREAT. Daniel Huddlestone as Jack and Lilla Crawford as Little Red were perfect fits. (I would have loved a bit more snarkiness from Red…but, I’m being picky.) Emily Blunt is a superstar as the Baker’s Wife. James Cordon is adorable and sympathetic as the Baker. Everybody loves Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick IN Pitch Perfect. They were quick to critique her in this film…but I would argue that she gave Cinderella the exact amount of torment. I was initially worried that she’d be too contemporary, but she was wonderful in the role. Tracy Ullman, Chris Pine….shoot, the entire cast was simply well-suited for their roles. Is there an award for CASTING a movie?
  • Now let’s talk about Meryl Streep. Preface: I’m a huge Bernadette Peters fan. I’ve always thought Streep was a great actress, but I never understood the tidal wave of hype about her. (In the same breathe…what’s up with the torrent love affair with with Barbara Streisand? I like her…but I don’t get the obsession. Another blog post for another day.) With that said…I cannot imagine another actress who could have played the role better. She sang beautifully and extracted from us the perfect about of sentiment and emotion. We loved her…we hated her…we feared her…and (most importantly) we found ourselves feeling sorry for her. In the song “Children Will Listen” (which is a song that could stand-alone as the show’s landmark) we were transported from the world of many characters’ strife to the inner struggle of a would-be mother and her desperate struggle to connect with her child and shield her from the dangers of the world. It’s beautiful. I LOVED “Last Midnight” for the same reason. I love how I can COUNT ON my students getting pissed off when the Witch disappears at the end of the Broadway version. “Did she die?” they ask. Maybe…maybe not. She’s definitely gone. They HATE unresolved. (Remind me to never read them the folk tale “The Lady and the Tiger.”) The Witch is at the center of this story…and Streep connects in every right way. (And I love the blue hair.)

I’m thrilled that another generation of could-be theatre goers will be exposed to this movie variation. It tells a great story and more importantly it relates (through WORDS and MUSIC) that truly no one is alone in their pursuit to communicate, be needed, protect and survive tragedy together. It’s a bedtime story and when the Baker is telling the tale to his son in the final moments…and the camera peels away…you desperately want to remain, a part of the audience. But no…our director takes us out of that world…and then for the first time presents the title: “INTO THE WOODS” reminding us it’s just a story. Wow. Brilliance.

INTO THE WOODS is the story of all of our lives, (whether we’re Bakers, Princes, Witches or Giants) and can effectively remind us that at the end of the day, we’re all going into a world that presents dangers, and only together can we survive and more importantly thrive.

I sit, poised and ready to purchase the Blue Ray upon its release. I have the projector in my classroom warmed up.

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CABARET – A Review

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2014 by erikball123

*A humble review from a theatre-lover, not necessarily a theatre-reviewer. 


CABARET – Roundabout Theatre Company – STUDIO 54 

cabaret01

Cabaret first appeared on the Broadway stage in 1967 and solidified Joel Grey as a mega-star on Broadway and many remember the 1972 film version, again starring Grey and Liza Minelli. Several revivals (both in the West End and on Broadway), six in total, have been presented since then…and I must say it remains a musical I widely took for granted. The clicky and grungy Kander and Ebb tunes in the show have always served as resources for other avenues in my theatre walk. (Audition pieces, opening numbers, stand-alone offerings.) I was thrilled to finally see the show at Studio 54, with none other than Alan Cummings (who also won a Tony for the role, and who some say is the definitive Emcee) at the helm. Unfortunately we did not see Michelle Williams play Sally Bowles this evening, but let me say upfront, the understudy Andrea Goss was as bold as a shot of Gin, and as fragile as a mouse. She’s a headliner…not an understudy.

Allow me to set the stage…the atmosphere is intimate, and a grey stage with an extended thrust juts out surrounded by tiny dining tables. A swarm of small red lamps accompany the seating all the way to the back of the house. We see exposed fly rigging on one side…a lump of wooded chairs haphazardly (or maybe hastily) stacked in the side stage right…and above the stage hangs a giant, tarnished frame that leans to one side, like some awkward watch dog tilting it head, hearing something in the distance. All avenues are adorned with old-school marquee lights…some working, some broken. Actors, musicians (or are they riff-raff that wandered in from the alley?) mill around the room and stretch onstage…or warm up their instruments. I especially liked watching the efforts of one boy who gestured and beckoned to someone from the balcony…all efforts were thwarted, of course…but it was fun to watch him never give up, up to the start of the show.

cabaret set

And what a start. If you’ve never heard the opening number, “Wilkommen” then you are not, nor you should consider yourself to be a “theatre person.” It’s a staple of musical theatre and I was sitting theatre church, pew # 204 in Row EE, and it was the gospel according to the Emcee, Alan Cumming, a magician, whose simple thrusts and cozy jaunt is like watching a friend onstage. He’s so bloody comfortable and poised…always joking and winking, and hiding that mischievous smile that says “I’m the keeper of all things Dramatically Ironic!” He captains this vessel….and steers us, nose-first into a world that we’re uncomfortable with, but desperate to know more about. You feel naughty for laughing at parts, and even more interestingly, you find yourself relating to nearly every curiosity and devilish tactic our host present. The Emcee can been seen in nooks and crannies of the set at every turn, watching with us, the series unfold. His Scooby-Doo disguises as German soldiers and can-can girls are expected and noticeable, not quite the magic trick I think they were going for, but I don’t care. It makes him even more fun…and we listen to every single word he offers….why? Because he never abandons us. He’s our safe place. He’s so influential that if I met Cummings, after the show, on the street and he said “hey you…take this briefcase to Paris for me”….I would.

This story offers us Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer (and somewhat currently-blocked novelist) Cliff Bradshaw, as he checks into a Berlin boarding house and checks out Sally Bowles, “the toast of Mayfair” at a nearby and seedy Cabaret. This is a doomed relationship from the very beginning, but something about the hope and cigarette smoke that lingers in the air offers us an air of mystery, and I find myself magically encouraged to hang on, to see if the illusion of true commitment and formidable buried self-worth will even see the light of day. Through the intimate setting and the up-close dynamics of this gritty world, we see glimpses of the new dawn…the light….but at every turn, we’re kept lingering in the shadows, a voyeur, trapped behind a red, tasseled lamp shade, never able to offer any answers.

That’s the finesse of Cabaret and the reason why Studio 54 is the perfect place for this musical. It makes you part of the action by immersing you into the world. You can see their hearts…hear the clothing rustle…and smell the sweat. (And I was with the poor people in the Mezzanine.)

There is a sub-plot involving a wealthy and elderly Jewish fruit market owner Herr Schultz and the keeper of the rooms, German Fraulein Schneider. (Both Linda Emond and Danny Burstein….especially Burstein, were brilliant and nostalgic, like warm tea.) My wife made fun of me, because even during their romantic and “awww” worthy exchanges / duets, she noticed me checking out a player stage left, pulling the ropes of the never-practical fly rigging, bringing the mirror-ball and “romantic air” out of the scene at the end of the number. That’s what is so special about the show…the attention to detail. The crotch grabs and the nipple rubs are silly and stupid…but part of the moment….it’s the soft lighting that shows the ensemble member wiping their brow….or the strategic placement of Cliff in the audience during a scene that uncomfortably traps several audience members who now have to see things through his eyes…..it’s genius. They don’t even give you playbills at the beginning of the show. They don’t want people rustling through pages. (Which is actually compelling to see an audience HAVE to talk to each other during pre-show!)

I also need to speak on the orchestra…who we all know is also “beautiful!” They are…in sound and sight…and here’s the thing, I know that I’m going to catch grief for this…but it needs to be said. In my travels (and through my experience only) I need to ask musicians who desire to work in the theatre to take note…when a musician dons a character and tells a story through the accompaniment or underscoring…it uplifts the play. When you acknowledge them as characters, or part of the action of the scene….then they are characters. But, I would argue, that the two should ALWAYS be the same. (Whether they are shirtless on Broadway in the Kit Kat Club….or in the darkened orchestra pit, below a stage.) Often times in amateur theatre, the musical accompaniment is offered in a perfunctory way….rote playing what is on the sheet. There is rarely an attention to draw them into the play. And I’m not saying costume them up and put them onstage with the same burdens as the actors. Rather, require of them the same FINESE that the demands of the show require. Broadway employs professional musicians who LIVE and BREATHE their music….their stake is JUST AS REAL as the storytellers onstage. Cabaret was an impressive example of musicians fighting desperately to ensure the era, the desperation and the hope of these characters are absorbed at every turn. Bravo.

Few shows render me quiet. Cab rides are usually filled with endless gibber and / or gabber about how cool the set design was or how that one actor was handed a prop by another in a split-second and “did you see that!!” This show’s forward momentum, bleak but perfectly tempo’d second act…and final moment (which was both clever and shocking) forced me into silence. (Which was the goal, I think.) The management of still-relevant topics like self-worth, tolerance, inner beauty, expression mixed with a history lesson of the rise of the Nazi party as told through a fish-net, thigh-high stocking is the conflict of the show. You want to laugh AND cry….you want to feel sexy AND wronged….you want to let loose AND hide. It’s captivating.

I hear the show is extended through January of next year. Get out and see it, if you can. In this day and age of processed food and too-social social media…allow yourself passage to the Kit Kat Club, where “there are no troubles” and “life is beautiful.”

cabaret rating

 

The Process of Creating: Handle with Care

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2012 by erikball123

There are element of the process of developing a character that is worth sitting down and taking notes on. I would also argue that the deconstruction of any audition is worthy of spending countless hours on. The preparation before an audition, rehearsal or show is the nuts and bolts of an actor’s process and what puts the fuel in the ‘ol gas tank, as far as I’m concerned. A person’s reflection of the piece (actor, audience or otherwise) is the greatest joy and one of the most rewarding experiences theatre has to offer. But most importantly, I think is the fundamental art of storytelling. Above all things…did the audience walk away having been educated or entertained by an effective story?

All of these concepts, and more, are stations in a student actor’s process.(When I say student…I mean teen, adult, seasoned professional, etc.) Some advance on them like a mighty general leading an army. Other at least acknowledge them.

I’m in my ninth year of teaching high school theatre, and I want to say on the onset that my reflections in this post carry the weight of the culminating years. I don’t want to put any specific class of students under the microscope, but there needs to be something said about all students of theatre at a high school level…I suppose because I’m curious if there is a common thread in America. If so…perhaps my brain won’t explode.

You see, I teach bloody talented students. It sickens me sometimes how blessed they all are with talent. Therein the problem lies. I think they know their talented…and for me, I’m consistently distracted from teaching theatre, and find myself herding talented sheep back to the pasture so that they may continue to graze…whether they believe they need to or not.

Flashback. I remember a group of high schoolers with a fairly average skill set, who enjoyed tackling rinky-dink productions. There was really nothing terribly special about the after-school drama program in my home city. We all did it because it was fun. I supposed in the very end, I can look back and say that we weren’t challenged enough, I suppose. I recall a production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”  my freshman year. The adaption of the play left a lot to be desired…and I remember the name of the director was Jolly, which I thought was funny…but what I remember most was this one ensemble member. He was a townsperson and didn’t really have a large part…kinda kept to himself. At first, being the sensitive guy I was, I thought he was kinda a dork. He was always rehearsing by himself…thinking up new “moments” to create onstage. He didn’t really relate with the others much…but when directed to do so in the scenes, he was careful, polite and professional. I remember his freckles. He was always trying to dig for something more substantial in his character…which I (at the time) found silly. His character didn’t even have a name in the program! (Oh, but his character had a name onstage! And fears and quirks…and business cards! I’m serious…the dude made business cards!) He was always taking creative chances. Some worked…some didn’t. Okay, most didn’t. I recall Jolly being frustrated with him because of his over-zealousness on several occasions and he was the butt of many jokes. When the show opened…I remember thinking to myself…”he’s so over-the-top.” And that first night when the Ensemble stepped forward to bow…the audience roared. That young man made a definitive impression upon the audience in an overall lack-luster play. I don’t recall him upstaging anyone. I just recall a genuine, honest dedication to the part. And while Tecumseh, Michigan probably isn’t best known for it’s appreciation of the fine arts, I will say that the relationship between actor and audience is an honorable bond and I learn a valuable lesson in that show. That bond is one I take for granted all too often. I did back then…and I still do today.

Students at my school don’t have enough outlets for their talents. I would argue that on average the students are renaissance men and women. Some play instruments, some play sports, some are involved in outside activities, some perform in community theatre, some write music, short-stories or poetry, some sing opera, some tap dance…and some are the most compassionate, caring, God-fearing, lovely people I know. I will go on the record to say that the last nine years have been the most rewarding of my life, as I grow and learn from them daily. With that said…I cannot understand, with the wide spectrum of opportunity lying at their feet…(and if you’ll excuse me as I narrow the scope a bit, as I focus on just theatre) why don’t they thrust themselves forward with the enthusiasm of a puma pouncing a gazelle? One thing is for certain…the school I teach at has limitless resources and opportunities for them to succeed. (I might argue that we could use about two more drama teachers to satisfy the current demand, but I’ll leave that personal sob story and political soap-box program proposal for another post.) I want to name just a few resources that I have the pleasure of surrounding myself with daily.

  • Students attend class in a large drama classroom. (That doubles as a green room / reception space.)
  • Students perform in a 792-seat Chapel / Performing Arts Center with a state of the art fly-rail system, sound board and lobby.
  • Students work on producing shows in a large, scene shop, costume storage room, two dressings rooms and a set-building scene shop patio…all at our disposal.
  • A four-show theatrical season, a summer theatre program, a structured budget, a chorus of after-school activities that include middle school mentoring opportunities, service events, International Thespian Society, trips to California to attend the Musical Theatre Competition of America…and I could go on and on.

“…these students HAVE talent…they DO succeed…they WILL “bring it.” The problem is…they don’t have to CARE about it.”

What I’m talking about today is simply this….I think we are seeing a new dawn of students growing up in a world where they don’t HAVE TO care about anything. I love my students. Believe me…these students HAVE talent…they DO succeed…they WILL “bring it.” The problem is…they don’t have to CARE about it. Please note…I’ve worked in this school for my entire teaching career. I don’t know any other dynamic and I can imagine that my statements could very well be challenged. Please regards my musings with the open-mind that this school…this classroom…these students…this is all I know. Perhaps I’m ignorant. I’m actually okay with that. Pastry chefs are usually quite satisfied spending their entire careers working on pastries. Please forgive me if I offend schools with diminishing theatre programs (or no theatre program!) In the big-picture, I’m blessed beyond what I deserve…and so are my students. I hope you can ponder with that in mind. I’ll get back to the pastry kitchen now.

Students don’t have to care. Now, this is not including some exceptions of course. There are always those who are wonderfully careful about every faucet of their high school existence. But, overall the students in the private Lutheran school I teach at wear a cozy blanket that keeps them safe and warm. This same blanket provides them with reassurance that their days are filled with comfort and security. It shelters them from being weathered and is a soft place to fall at every corner. I think our school/faculty does a great job of providing a quality education to all who enroll and anyone who attends Faith Lutheran is a better person because of it. What I’m talking about specifically is ART. The ART of doing theatre. The appreciate of the strength, courage and sacrifice it take to learn and perform good theatre. It takes an artist who is willing to drop their inhibitions, sacrifice their senses, wander into uncharted territories every day and face a challenge that will beat them down again and again before picking them back up and regenerating them with faith, knowledge and rivers of creativity they never even knew they had. I’ve seen this magic work in high school students. It not a pipe dream…and we’re not talking Vegas smoke and mirrors. The problem is, it requires the student to lose their cozy blanket and expose their creative hearts, unsheltered.

I find that often, my students are unwilling to do that.

I’ve stood in front of them like a starched, spectacled Patton…I’ve delivered masterful speeches, riddled with fancy, encouraging words telling them how proud I am of them. (And every word I spoke was the truth.) I’ve seen them succeed in so many way…I’m losing buttons on my shirt I’m so proud! And in the grand scheme to things, you might be able to step back and look at my argument as a nit-picky, trite commentary. I see it differently. I see students who want so badly to be told that what they are doing is worth something. I see students who find homes in the theatre because it’s the only home they know. I see students who are gifts from God. (And there can be no other explanation.) I need to find a way to SHOW them that the ART of doing theatre….the ART of effective storytelling…the ART of doing the art, is what is the most rewarding thing of all. It’s a sense of urgency one gets when they are without a warm blanket…standing naked in the cold.

I think the problem is everybody has instant access to everything nowadays. I mean EVERYTHING. If I wanted a pizza, right now…I could have one. If I wanted a bear trap right now…I betcha there is someplace in Vegas I could get one…right now. It ridiculous really. I mean…how am I supposed to appreciate anything? And I grew up with parents and grandparents who did a GREAT JOB of making sure I didn’t grow up with an inflated sense of entitlement. What about the kids today? This is all they know. They are LOST without their conveniences. I can’t imagine any of my students in an impoverished school situation attempting to accomplish what they do in the drama program at Faith Lutheran. Heck, I can’t imagine what would happen to them if i didn’t allow them to have lunch in my classroom every other day.

I want it to be know that I can’t blame them. This is all they know…and this is what they’ve grown up with. But, is that good enough? I argue…from a creative aspect…no. If you want to perform (or work in any industry that requires you to create) you must learn to appreciate the process of creating. If you cannot see the worth in it, then you will find yourself resentful and finding shortcuts to get jobs done that you once took great creative pride in doing before.

I had a nightmare two days ago. My wife was a psychology minor in college and when I can remember my dreams, I like to share them with her. Perhaps she can see into them more clearly than I? I was onstage…a big stage…and people were applauding. I recall feeling rushed. I ran offstage and someone threw me towel. It hit me in the face. I wiped my face (I was sweaty) and I ran into a hallway and threw the towel down. I remember more than any other detail that I was upset about the applause. Not mad…not sad…just very upset. Unsettled. I woke from that dream and had a hard time getting back to sleep. The next day at school I couldn’t escape that feeling…and later talked about it with my wife.

“The recognition you receive for doing what you love sometimes comes at a great expense, especially when that same audience doesn’t see or understand what happens before, after or backstage during the show.” I thought there was wisdom in that. She thought the perfectionist in me is constantly fighting for the chance to create…and when the opportunity presents itself, any challenges in the process, and especially afterwards there is applause. But they are applauding for a character in a fictitious situation…not a grand effort by a hardworking artist. (Can you remember the name of the artist off the top of your head who painted “American Gothic?” I can’t. It’s just an example.) There is always someone standing just offstage who is unwilling to simply offer a towel…some relief. Rather, through expectation, it is thrown at me. Forget the fact that we’re fortunate enough to even have a towel. My “throwing the towel in” as I storm off, unsettled…is probably what made me feel so upset when I woke. I didn’t allow myself the chance to see what I did next. I ended things with me giving up.

All to often we get wrapped up in the immediacy of things, that we cannot see the forest from the trees, creatively. People forget that beyond the rehearsal notes…beyond the red scarf or the poofy shirt….beyond the “things” that make up theatre….there is a story being told by a storyteller. The art of telling that story is so hard…but it’s such a beautiful, fulfilling thing.

It was probably the most vivd dream I’ve ever had…and you know something…there are probably a million holes in our analysis of the dream itself…but if you think about it, whether my interpretation carries water with any of you or not, the bottom line is I’m no better than what I accuse my students of.

I think my students don’t have to care about doing theatre…because they are so used to it just being done for them. All they have to do is show up with their bags full of talents. But, I suppose if I’m going to be any mentor / teacher to them, then I need to figure out a way to ensure that what they show up for is a boot camp. A ground zero settlement of structure and opportunity that allows them to fall on their face…skin their elbows…and callous up! Imagine the joy one might feel after creating a character for themselves. Envision a high school musical generated by the collective efforts of a thriving ensemble who have generated something original, refreshing and telling. Who cares if Jimmy-Bob didn’t splatter-paint the barn correctly?! (The OCD side of me says “I DO!!!” But, I must stifle that side of me!) I need to be willing to allow them to fail so that they may succeed. I believe then and only then…will they see that they have the talent and opportunity to create, and be proud of it, every time.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to truly do this. It the same voice inside my head that compels me to spend 6 hours making a single prop or re-write an entire play in a format that more pleasing to the eye. This inability to give it up to the students makes for twinkly-good productions…but leaves my students entitled.

I need to allow my students to be that freckled-face hopeful who annoyed the hell out of director Jolly! I can play Duck Hunt with every chance they take onstage, shooting down moment after moment, guiding them through every line of dialogue…but if I’m a teacher of theatre, I need to be willing to allow them to fail. I’m encouraged by the fact that I have a talented group of kids who are smart enough to rise like a phoenix in the ashes.

That darned Junior back in high school probably doesn’t know the impact he made on my “Emperor’s New Clothes” experience. I find it funny that while I had a lead in “Emperor’s New Clothes” and nightly I (figuratively and literally) “disrobed” my juvenile appreciation of theatrical arts…today I look back and realize that it was a focused, joyfilled Junior who exposed a more vulnerable heart that I ever could. Jolly should be proud.

Today I hope that lovers of theatrical arts (onstage and off) can take a moment to reflect on what the theatrical arts provides them. How can the risk of burying yourself in a creative process (that requires so very much of you) be both rewarding and some of the biggest chances you’ll ever take.

Students of theatre…you are trusted every day to create wonderful stories. Every day is another lesson in another classroom that you must willingly step into so that you may work. Find great comfort in the opportunities that you have. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, so that you can march into battle with no armor, no weapons, and a trust in your own skill-sets and the help of your fellow cast mates. The victory after that battle will be great. More importantly, the story told will be legendary.

Auditioning for a Musical in High School

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2011 by erikball123

You have no idea how hard it was for me not to do a High School Musical / We’re All in This Together play on words for the title of this post. I suppose I’m more interested in people being attracted to this post for what is it rather than being attracted to the cleverness of the title….much in the same way I’ll never be able to appreciate the Twilight movies because Kristin Stewart is a strung-out mouth-breather and Robert Pattinson is a jelly-headed monkey with sweaty pits. Anyway….(Sheesh! Where did that reference come from? I gotta stop drinking V-8 before bed!)

I’m going to try to categorize the process of auditioning and give some advise in all areas. My goal here is to effectively prepare students (especially those at Faith Lutheran High School…holla!) for their upcoming musical audition. Faith Lutheran is looking forward to “ALL SHOOK UP” this spring…and next year “LEGALLY BLONDE.”

Needless to say these are two very demanding musicals…but I would argue they are amazingly fun too. I hope in the words that follow you can capture a joy in approaching your audition by gaining some sort of peace of mind. After all…this is supposed to be fun, right? I would like to thank the Music Theatre Guild, Signature Productions and my past theatre professors, as they certainly have all contributed to what I’m about to share.

DIRECTORS

There is a common misconception: directors are a roadblock of sorts in the efforts to successfully win the Nascar race that is an audition. While the process of auditioning is certainly a step in putting a show together, I would argue at a high school level (and when I refer to things at a “high school level” I’m talking about Faith Lutheran specifically. Surely other schools have standards that would support or oppose my comments. I argue that after 12 years of doing this I’ve found the processes I describe to be successful, that is all) the director WANTS a student to succeed. Let me give you two scenarios:

  • A student who has done several shows and regularly enrolls in drama classes…this kid might be considered a “drama kid” (a wonderfully stupid label…all kids are dramatic…like, really! Psh!) and has maybe even earned some leading roles. If this student walks into auditions, most likely the director has worked with them before…or the director at least knows of their work ethic. Don’t you think the director would hold them to a high standard, knowing they want to pursue performing outside of high school? Knowing that they are there to re-prove to all the other kids that they are deserving of the role (a tough speed-bump to approach, believe me)…knowing that even though they’ve had an opportunity to do a leading role before, they are a human being with desires, dreams, goals and hopes (just like the boy or girl who has never received a role.) Sure, there are going to be students who don’t appreciate their gifts….sure there is going to be arrogance….sure there is going to be entitlement issues. But underneath all of that is a human being who WANTS TO DO WELL. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Whether or not they’re re-proving themselves to the parents who don’t pay attention to them….or merely hoping for a lead so they can “finally get something of substance on their resume”…whatever the reason….the director of the approaching drama student WANTS them to succeed. Why? Because it is in the show’s and the student’s best interest.
  • Now take a student who has never done a show before. (Perhaps they’re a senior who has “always wanted to give it a shot”…or a “jock” who finds a studly role in the show appealing to their ego.) Or maybe…just maybe….it’s a student who has auditioned 5 times prior and has never been cast. All types are looking forward to facing a director with glaring eyes, and a strong opinion of them already. Well, I’m going to tell you something…..YOU’RE RIGHT! Those glaring eyes are filled with hope. That strong opinion of the type of person “you are” is about to be challenged by the type of person “you could be.” I promise you (on a stack of Bibles) that the director WANTS YOU TO SUCCEED. First and foremost, who doesn’t like an underdog! I cannot begin to tell you the number of times someone has flown under the radar and wow-ed me with an outstanding audition. I also love seeing “green actors” get their sea legs in a role and find that they have a passion for something they didn’t even know they had a talent for. And to those who keep trying after countless “failures”…to be granted a chance to finally do what you hope for, it’s thrilling. Why WOULDN’T a director what to give that gift to someone?

So, I don’t care who you are, if you want to audition for the musical, I want to impress upon you that every high school theatre director (if they’re worth a spit) wants you to succeed. This is why being a director is one of the most rewarding and heart-breaking jobs ever. Not every student will get that chance.

Directors are looking for the best fit between role and actor. PARENTS, READ ON. Directors don’t simply put the “best actor” in the “biggest role.” It doesn’t work like that. The actor needs to have what it takes to be able to fulfill the demands of the role. That includes chemistry with other actors, technique (in vocals, dance, etc.) and how a student takes direction. This is HUGE in high school theatre as directors are burdened with many issues regarding rehearsal space, school conflicts, budget, volunteers helping with set, costumes, etc. and many more! If a student is VERY proactive and works hard on their “job,” then a director can trust that with some creative tweaking, that job will get done. If the student’s approach suggests that they will be a liability (or at least, someone we’ll have to “deal” with all the time) then the attractiveness of their offering won’t be as golden. Parents, don’t storm into a rehearsal and pull your student out saying “we have to go, right now.” It’s creates a huge problem. While the play in your world may be another bullet on your list, for the production, yanking your kid out nullifies productivity in that rehearsal. I think parents sometimes forget that we high school directors (and the student actors) have a job to do too.

This is why I’m constantly nagging the students to make a good choices throughout rehearsals….clean up after themselves in the green room….be kind to others, preventing backstage drama….and being respectful to their fellow students and volunteer adults. Nobody wants to work with someone who thinks their proverbial “poop doesn’t stink.” Not in high school, not in college, not in the industry. I always saying (somewhat jokingly…but somewhat not) “It’s one of two choices: a good choice or a bad choice. What one are you looking to achieve?” Back to auditions….sheesh. See how I get side-tracked!

I want to clear up one last thing. In an audition, directors are looking for what you do RIGHT, rather than what you do WRONG. (Which is why if you mess up your words in your song…keep singing!) Mistakes are expected, so try not to focus on them. Instead, show us what you are capable of.  Edmvnd W. Golaski once said “While the actor’s ego may crave the largest role, getting a role that’s the right fit is probably more conducive to happiness during the production period. I would argue that it’s in your best interest to be yourself, show off what you do well, and trust that the directors will put you where you can shine.” I like that.

BEFORE THE AUDITION

  • PICKING THE RIGHT SONG: We are looking for a song choice that suits your voice and shows off the dynamics of what you can offer in range and personality. Remember, this offering is no less storytelling than your acting audition, so make sure it’s a song you “perform” well. If a director has set up rules to follow (aka: do not sing something from the musical, an up-tempo, etc.) then FOLLOW THEM! Do not challenge the director before you even open your mouth by bending the rules. There are a million songs out there…find one that satisfies the requirements and makes you look good. If all else fails, choose a simpler song that you KNOW you can sing well. Avoid songs that are tremendously overdone.
  • THE SCRIPT: Some high schools make sides or scripts available to students before auditions. You absolutely need to acquaint yourself with the show. Read through the show, find scenes that interest you and rehearse them. Make solid choices in character / approach that you can bring into auditions with you. Nothing too solid. If the director wants you to try something completely different…be flexible enough to change it up. I recall my callback for Mr. Salt in Willy Wonka, the director wanted me to read him as a bustling oil tycoon. I donned a rip-off Yosemite Sam and turned the character into a southern tornado. I got cast in the part and was never asked again to approach that “type” of character. I believe the director was testing me.  Unless the director requires you to memorize something, don’t bother. Know the scene well…but don’t add another stress to your plate. I guarantee you the “worth” of you having the scene memorized will not be weighed in your favor as much as you’d hope it would. Directors don’t care about that at this stage of the game.
  • DANCE CALL: If you are considering a career in performing…get into a dance class. Bottom line. Even if you’re not a “dancer,” any sort of movement will take the edge off a dance call. (Trust me…I’m not a dancer.) But, if you are unaccustomed to dancing / dance calls…my advice is to come prepared. (Bottle of water, towel, comfortable/move-able clothes, appropriate footwear.) Prepare yourself to do your very best. (Even if your very best is the best dancer’s very worst!)

THE DAY OF THE AUDITION

  • CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR: It so funny to me that a student can be so conscientious about what their boyfriend / girlfriend is doing behind their backs…but they have absolutely no sense of object permanence when they sit in a room during an audition. A director can see you rolling your eyes. A director can see you making a comment under your breath. A director can see you isolate yourself from others. Make it a point to be outgoing, enthusiastic (about everything and everyone.) Be kind. Be helpful. Be proactive. Be welcoming. Be encouraging. Be supportive. Nobody…nobody wants to work with the alternative. If you have a hard time adopting these traits…then your social personae is telling you that the impression you’re leaving is not as important as your status at the school. A director sees that too.
  • THE AUDITION FORM:  Someone once said “be illustrative, not exhaustive” when filling out your form. (Especially when detailing your experience and relevant skills.) Please come prepared to write down all of your conflicts. (Everything…that means talking to your parents and making sure orthodontist appointments don’t surprise anyone!) Good rule of thumb: “when in doubt, put it down.” Be honest and clear. Misunderstandings always create confusion…and you never want to purposely leave something off or lie.
  • IN GENERAL: Usually auditions are held after school. Try to go about you day normally. (I know, I know…easier said than done!) But, seriously, working yourself up into a tizzy ain’t gonna do you no good…so eat a good breakfast, work hard in class, eat a healthy lunch and then approach the auditions with a collected mind. Avoid pre-audition gossip and do your best to think about your audition instead of focusing on others.

DURING AUDITIONS

  • SINGING: I’m a big believer of telling a story in your song. Understand what the character is feeling in the song, and become that character. Personally, I don’t mind if you read your lyrics off of a piece of paper…but in a professional audition, you’re going to want to have that thing memorized. You will most likely not get a chance to sing the whole song. (Most directors put a limitation on offerings…mostly because of time.) If there is a part of the song you want the directors to hear…make sure you include that part.
    • THE VOCAL DIRECTOR is looking for the following: VOCAL QUALITY, MUSICIANSHIP, TECHNICAL DETAILS (pitch, dynamics, etc.) and are you ACTING THE SONG. The director is looking at a bigger “package.” Does your voice and body language suit the song you’re singing? Are you entertaining? Overall, please remember this….we know this is probably NOT going to be your BEST offering. So have fun!
    • THINGS THAT EFFECT YOUR VOCAL AUDITION – There are a million factors that will effect your audition. Ex: Are you just getting over a cold? Did you just flunk your science test? Did you get into a fight with your boyfriend/girlfriend? All of these things will creep into your audition. If you can remember: NOBODY EXPECTS PERFECTION…then you’ll do okay. If you do run into “trouble” and forget your words…my recommendation is JUST KEEP SINGING. Say any word in the world…it doesn’t matter….but don’t stop. You know the notes….sing them. Sing any words that come to your head. One of two things will happen. The director will realize what’s going on…ask you to stop…and allow you to start again. OR, the director will let you finish…and RESPECT the fact that you didn’t give up. I KNOW I WOULD! Never say die in a vocal audition. REMEMBER…the director WANTS you to succeed!

  • ACTING – Listen very closely to the directions given by the director. The best way to do this is by looking them directly in the eyes and giving them all of your focus. This is hard to do sometimes, because you’re nervous, fidgety and attempting to find some sort of comfort by connecting with your friends/classmates. When the director talks…shut your mouth, look them in the eyes…and follow their directions as best you can. If you are unsure of something…ask.
    • WHAT IS THE DIRECTOR LOOKING FOR? They need to see if you can portray a character in such a way as to effectively tell the story. (This means they’ll be looking at character choices, relationship, reactions, and delivery.) Don’t allow words to get in your way. You’ve already read through the script, right? So you know what’s going on in the scene? If a word or two gets in your way…just GO ON! You know how they respond…so RESPOND! Students have this weird notion that they have to deliver every single word perfectly…and if they miss one….they’re out! Just focus on TELLING A STORY. Best way to practice this: At home, pick a scene from a musical. (Look at them all. Which ones WOULD be a good scene to use in an audition. Usually that’s the one the director will use!) Go through it a couple of times with your friends. Now….drop your scripts. Seriously. Put them down. Now, do the scene without the privilege of the lines. Make up the lines. Keep the same intention / goals / relationships, etc…but just get through the scene from beginning to end without the scripts. Afterwards…revisit the scene WITH the script. You will find that the discoveries you make when you’re NOT buried in words are usually MORE FUN to watch. Apply them. Practice makes perfect. Some of the best auditions I’ve seen in high school were ones delivered by those who worked on their scene work BEFORE auditions. Just sayin’.
    • TAKING DIRECTION: I guarantee you at some point the director will give you instruction. Again, 90% of the time, they’re testing you. They are not so interested in the final outcome so much as they are the journey you take to get there. Listen…focus…take chances…and perform!
    • TAKE CHANCES: This is tricky. I’m not telling you to light your shirt on fire and call it an “acting choice.” There are good choices and bad choices…remember? What I’m saying is, make a FUN choice that helps tell the story. People want to be entertained. Why deny them of that honor in auditions. Have FUN! But make sure that whatever choice you make….supports the scene.
    • START THE SCENE WITH ACTION! This is huge for me. Never start a scene with the first line of the scene. Why? Because everyone else will. That’s why! Trust me. Start with a moment of action (pantomime even) that sets the stage for the first line. Also…end with action. The script is just words. WORDS, WORDS, WORDS!
    • LOOK THEM IN THE EYES: Chances are you won’t be paired with a scene partner of your choice. In any case, when you are performing, LOOK THEM IN THE EYES. It’s a little detail, but I’m surprised at how many people DON’T DO IT. If you are buried in the script…or in a distant land somewhere spouting words into the empty universe….you’ll never connect, and ultimately it’s empty and void of an entertainment value. Instead, force your energy upon your scene partner by talking to them and making eye contact. They will do one of two things: 1.) Take that energy and run with it, offering it back, thereby creating a cool back-and-forth pulse to the scene. 2.) Or, fight against it. If this happens…and sometimes it does…I promise you it makes YOU look good. Just remain persistent and let the little bugger flop in the boat like a helpless fish. (Somewhat insensitive…but so is fishing.)
    • SAY THANK YOU: A simple thank you is enough. No need to walk over and shake the director’s hand (unless they offer it.) Just look them in the eye…say thank you….and be gone.
    • DON’T STOP BELIEVING: No matter how the scene is going…keep going. If you struggle to find a heartbeat in a scene…keep going. If you flub a line…or your scene partner loses his/her spot in the script….keep going. Never, never, never stop and ask to start again. Never apologize for your offering. Never mutter how bad you thought you did as you leave the stage. Bad, bad, bad monkey!!! No, no, no. Head held high! Stiff upper lip! Act that scene….and if it sucks….well, then….suck wonderfully!!!! Just don’t stop.

  • DANCING – Listen very carefully to the instructions given by the choreographer. Make SURE you have had enough water to drink before the auditions. (That includes you, wafer-thin Tyra Bank wanna-bees who eat only celery every other Tuesday.) You will most likely be tested on how you follow direction, technique, application, interpretation, and energy. (Also, are you focused and driven? Or sloppy and distracted?) My suggestion (and I don’t dance that much) is to do you best. Focus….and do your best.
    • Something technical to think about. A choreographer tends to stand in front of the group to give instruction. Most choreographers are right-handed…which means they will turn over their right-shoulder to give instruction and watch as you execute the moves. It would behoove you to stand toward the front and stage right. Just sayin’. You’ll be noticed more. (Nobody ever got noticed standing in the back. That’s why us good old fashioned Lutherans sit in the back pews. It’s the closest to the coffee in the narthax and we most likely won’t run into the head of the church committee-of-the-month.)
    • FOCUS – In on of the dance classes I helped team-teach, one of my students challenged me to Dance, Dance Revolution. I failed miserably. It was NOT pretty. I remember the same game at my brother-in-law’s house. Empty house…game system all to myself…and I’ll tell you what, I did about 100 times better than I did in class. Why? Because I didn’t have distractions. I focused. You can do it! Final word on this….have fun. Choreographers want to work with people who WANT to work hard…and have fun. If you exhibit neither of these traits….it’ll be a HUGE up-hill battle. If you screw up…keep going. The only time I think you should ever leave a stage during an audition is if you are going to PUKE, PEE or FAINT. Then, by all means, exit stage right.
  • CALLBACKS – Remember this, unless otherwise stated, callbacks are NOTHING MORE than another audition. What does that mean? It means the director needs to see more of you. That’s all. It’s not a right of passage. It’s not a green flag so you can advance to the next level. This isn’t American Idol. You’re not going to Vegas baby. (You’re already here!) Tighten your belt, strap on your helmet and gear up for more of what you just went through. It’s JUST another audition. Directors may give you something specific to work on. My suggestion is to focus on that and give it your best shot. DO NOT focus on who’s reading for who…and who did / didn’t get a callback….blah, blah, blah. See, you’re back acting like a typical high school student. You’re above that.

AFTER AUDITIONS

  • RELAX – Try to relax. You just been through battle. Remember there are many kids in there vying for the same part you want. In essence it is a competition. But, did you do your best? Did you take chances? Did you execute everything you had in you? If so…then you have absolutely nothing to worry about. If you don’t get cast, then it wasn’t because you didn’t do something. The goal for you as an actor in an audition is to walk out of that room with confidence in what you offered with no regrets. Another goal might be to make sure the director is thinking about YOU when the auditions are over. You’re unique…you’re special…you’re deserving…and you have EVERY BIT as much right to be considered for that role as the next guy. (And if you don’t think so out of the gate….there your #1 problem. Work on that self-esteem thing before auditioning next time.) The point is: The director is rooting for you. Most likely your parents, brothers / sisters are rooting for you. Your friends are rooting for you. God is rooting for you. Why in the world wouldn’t you be your #1 cheerleader. Have confidence in yourself! You can do it! And if it doesn’t work out, then next time you’ll do it. You need to generate a tough skin. The performance industry is the most rewarding industry out there…but it’s the toughest. It’s ruthless. And you need to be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off…and start all over again. If you’re unable or unwilling to do that…then don’t get into the performance industry.
  • ONCE THE CAST LIST IS POSTED:If it’s posted on a call board, then approach the cast list, take a gander and then walk away. I recommend celebrating or reacting with disappointment several….several steps away from the cast list. Make it an agenda item. An appointment. Check the list…then go away. If you linger it’ll be perceived that you WANT to see others’ reactions (good or bad.) If you react (positively or negatively) and linger, it’ll make the approach to the cast list just that much more difficult for others. Please, for your sake and the sake of your fellow classmates, just check it out…and step away. If it’s posted online or if you receive word regarding the cast list via email…then you have the opportunity to reacting in the comfort of your own home, snuggled up with your ladybug pillow pet. Anyway you want to react is fine, but I beg of you to refrain from engaging in rumor mill gossip as a result.
    • Please keep in mind three things:
      • 1.) Regardless of the role you received…there is always someone out there broken hearted that they didn’t get the role you got. So appreciate the opportunity.
      • 2.) If you got a leading role…be humble. Remember, with great power come great responsibility. Get ready for a lot of work. (And that work shouldn’t include beating down misconceptions of others saying that your arrogant.)
      • 3.) If you didn’t get cast…please remember, this was a VERY difficult decision. It’s NEVER personal. (Parents, I understand if you roll your eyes. The job of directing a high school production is something I’m very honored to do for the school. They trust me to put in place a fair system that will determine a cast. I, and most directors, take this responsibility VERY seriously because it is our passion. We want to see children flourish in the art of theatre, not suffer as a result. After every cast list is posted, I spend a good two-three weeks as a make-shift guidance counselor, talking with students who are disappointed and working through their auditions, having a collaboration regarding what they could be doing better for the next time.
      • FACEBOOK: Can I just say one thing. I’m a huge Facebooker…I have a Twitter, a Tumblr and every other en vogue app de jour. With that said…please remember, EVERYTHING you put on Facebook is read by everyone. If you’re happy…awesome. If you’re sad…that’s perfectly reasonable. But if you feel compelled to self-medicate yourself by posting the highlight or greatest regrets regarding the posting of a cast list over the world wide web in any format…ultimately your positing yourself to hurt someone. I have been on the back-handing side of things with regards to this, and I have witnessed first hand these types of postings totally disable a person’s joy in auditioning in the first place. Frankly, it’s the reason my wife cancelled her Facebook. Not because she was attacked…but for the same reason neither of us will ever chaperone a school dance: it’s paints students in such an ugly light. We see knee-jerk sides of their personalities that we wish we hadn’t. I ask you to think twice before posting, that’s all.
      • PARENT CONCERNS: I’d say 95% of the complaints I hear from parents as a result of their students not receiving roles they believe they deserve, are brought to my attention because they believe I’m not providing an opportunity for them (in the form of a leading role.) I hope they’ll look at the bigger picture and see that while I cannot give every student a leading role…what I can do is provide opportunities for them to GROW. (Whether it is in the form of an onstage role or a supportive dialogue with the director) so that at the next time, the student can effectively expand on those opportunities and re approach the next play/musical. If you’re a drama director at a high school level, I challenge you to keep that open-door policy after auditions. If a student falls into the background after an audition…seek them out. Have a dialogue with them. I view this as the most important part of my job. Shows come and go…as do classroom dynamics…but that personal coaching is what builds character, which should be paramount.

IF YOU’RE A STUDENT: I am very interested in your continued success as a performer. If you have a question (vague or specific) that I haven’t touched on in this post…please leave a comment. I promise to respond.

IF YOU’RE A HIGH SCHOOL DRAMA TEACHER / ADMINISTRATOR: Please let me know what you’re thoughts are on this topic. I’m also interested to hear what others think are the current challenges of drama programs in the school system as we approach this generation of students. (Especially in light of diminishing fine arts programs nationwide.)

IF YOU’RE A PARENT: Please let me know your concerns as a parent of a “drama student.” I believe strongly in the classroom trinity: STUDENT, TEACHER and PARENT. Collectively they create harmony. (And anyone who has worked with me will tell you that without the direct support of the parents at Faith Lutheran…I wouldn’t be able to do what I do everyday.) I care greatly about your concerns, and would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, knowing that we all have the students’ best interest in mind.

I hope this was helpful.

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.

Pawn My Drama

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by erikball123

I’ve been into stupid little reality shows like Hardcore Pawn and Pawn Stars lately. I’m diggin’ on Storage Wars too, but that’s starting to get old, and scripted. I think what attracts me to such television silliness is the mystery behind people’s stories. What is in that storage unit that makes the risk of purchasing it at a premium so appealing. What mysterious chain of events brought Mr. Cecil Stickyfingers to the pawn store today to give up his prized possession. The suspense of actually seeing that the cardboard box holds dirty laundry instead of Uncle Billy’s gold coin collection is what builds the suspense for me. The let down after seeing Cecil find out that the autographed skull of Abraham Lincoln was really a knock off is what creates the storyline for me, I guess.

In general, my stomach ties itself in knots when I’m faced with confrontation. In the big picture, I find myself working very hard to move forward, with every project, every challenge and every journey. The speed bumps that slow me down are things I like to deal with quickly and quietly. I’m not a fighter. I get frustrated and hurt when people cannot see that all I want to do is create something positive…something good.

I’m also found out that I’m not sentimental. This realization surprised me. My wife said it simply “well, you’re not sentimental.” At the time I took it personally. Then I thought about it. She’s right. Tangible items in my life mean very little to me. It’s not that I don’t care about things…rather, I care VERY much about people, and feelings, and emotion…to the point to where the object doesn’t matter.

So, why do I find entertainment value in watching people fight and toil over objects? I suppose it has to do with the convenience of it all. Have you ever thought WHY people put “things” into storage? I’ll give you a few suggestions:

  1. To store for a future event / date / project.
  2. Because they don’t have room for said valuables in their homes.
  3. Because they want to hide it.
  4. Because they want to forget about it.

Pawning is different. People give up their valuables for money. A quick pay off to get them through today, so they can peacefully look forward to tomorrow. The tangible items doesn’t matter in the “now,” and the knowledge that later, when the dust settles, they can obtain that object back (if they pay the price) is appealing.

I find these concepts particularly interesting to me lately.

As you can see, it’s been about 10 months since my last post. I’ve been a smidge busy. I’ve been involved in a total of 6 theatrical productions this year (technically, and onstage), I taught full time, starting my own radio show and was recently hired into a professional acting gig. That’s just the work I’ve been involved in. It’s been a long year.

A long disheartening year.

Granted, I find value in every experience, good or bad, because I truly think you can learn from all, but this year was different. I’m losing faith in my fellow actor. Perhaps even, my fellow man. (Cue dramatic music.) The creative person (especially theatrical actors) by nature is extroverted. They are emotional, passionate people. I pride myself on being one of them. But, I cannot grasp the notion of sullying relationships and taking such a huge personal vested interest in a creative project that it voids out human nature and creative collaboration. These are fundamentals that I believe are staples in creating good theatre.

The state of theatre in Las Vegas is the opposite of what I think everyone believes. There is plenty of theatre to do here in the Valley. All types too. You can keep yourself pretty busy by hitching yourself to any of these proverbial horses. With that said, it’s really a small city. Getting my foot in the door here as a director / designer, etc. was relatively easy. (Pay your dues, be respectful, believe in your product and work hard…and you can too.) But, now that I’m here…I don’t know if I want to be.

I respect my fellow directors / actors. The modern day theatre company is VERY hard to manage. I applaud the theatre companies in town. (Some manage well, some do not…but they all manage.) With that said, I have found little joy in my work this year. There was several times where product or personal feelings stifled the creative process. Several times egos clogged the flow of communication and collaboration. The desire to be top dog or to have the “Best” award…fueled the focus and scope of the project. I found myself in the wake many times…because I don’t like conflict.

Some people might view it as “not having any Balls.” Ah, Irony. I don’t view it as such. I just think there is a way that a collection of artists can generate something together without making it solely about them. I’m reading a book on one of my idols Tim Burton…and he talks about how he cannot work for an ego-driven machine. He has to allow the creativity to breathe and live….that’s where the joy comes from. I’ve worked very hard this year…but I’ve found very little joy.

I was sitting here tonight…my wife away to the Utah Shakespeare Festival with her book club…watching a rerun of Hardcore Pawn. While you won’t find me anywhere near the Detroit Michigan back streets…I sometimes wish I could bring the drama that breaks my spirit to the Pawn Shop. Cash it in…and maybe, just maybe, be back for it later, when I can deal with it.

Or, even better. I could rent a storage unit. Pile my frustration, my over sensitive nature…my paranoia….my dread that what I try to create through theatre is amounting to nothing…..pile it into a storage unit…get a sturdy padlock, and put it away. Perhaps never to be seen again. Maybe someday they’ll auction my unit off and I won’t ever have to worry about it again. That would be so nice.

I wonder if that would be the coward’s way. A friend told me that I should be very proud to be a drama teacher, and that it takes a special kind of person to do what I do. I appreciate that. But, I also think it takes a special kind of person to believe in WHAT they do. (And that goes for anything, not just theatre.) I suppose so long as I continue to believe in WHAT I do, then how in pans out in the short term doesn’t really matter. In the long term, I’m building on what I know, and propelling forward to create a better tomorrow.

Bill Cosby said “Yesterday is a ghost. Tomorrow is a dream. All you have is now.” I like that. Kinda supports my Super Pawn Drama idea. Perhaps I don’t need the inner-city Pawn shop…perhaps I can find a way to pawn my frustrations away so that “now” is what is the most important. Creatively, anyway. That makes sense to me.

I wonder…if Picasso knew that his paintings would be sold for millions, do you think he would have bought better brushes or worked in a different light? I don’t know. I do know he wasn’t focused on the future. His scope of work is unending.

I feel like I had an unending year. I’ve decided not to judge it…or cry over spilled milk…instead, I’ll pawn it away in my secret Pawn Shop….and focus on right now.

I’m not sure how much I’ll “get” for pawning it…but it’s more than I currently have.

Little People: Big Fight

Posted in THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by erikball123

So, check it out…I broke up my first fight as a teacher this weekend. Don’t be so proud of that Erik??? Are you kidding me? It’s a milestone. In fact, most teachers (granted, of the athletic dept. variety, mind you) would argue that you’re not really a teacher unless you’ve scuffled with a sophomore or stepped between Johnny and Billy during their noon-time quarrel over Betsy’s honor. I say this to you fight breaker-uppers: “this drama boy from Illinois can sock it to ’em like a skilled teacher-ninja, when push comes to shove.”

Okay…so it actually was merely a pushing match that I stepped in the middle of and merely held a student at bay long enough to cool them down. I don’t really have an impressive story, or a shattered pair of D&G glasses to show off. In fact, the scuffle ended with the student and I talking it out, and it turns out the boy (who wound up truly regretting the incident and apologized for it later) wound up being a pretty nice kids, down on his luck.

COME ON! Leave it to me to get the one “fight” that ends with a freakin’ hand shake! I mean…help me out here! Throw me a bone! Let me drag someone by the hair, or disarm a switch blade! Now that’s the action! Ah….dang it. Oh well…I suppose I should feel thankful that it wasn’t any worse than what it was and no one really got hurt. But I can’t shake that hour after the incident when I couldn’t settle down, doctoring  a sudden case of restless leg syndrome and wiping the adrenaline from my brow.

I wonder sometimes if I would be cut out to be a dean of students or a principal, and I think this particular answered the question: absolutely not. I see students as these little people who are trying hard to be big people, but can’t quite figure out why the real big people are treating them like little people, when in their opinions, the world should begin accepting them as big people. (Sounds like a reality show on TLC.) But students have lost the fundamentals, haven’t they?

In watching this generation of kids come up through the years, and meeting and greeting with their parents, I’m going to suggest something absurd. I think the issues with students today begin with the parents.

Big statement, I know. (I’m sure to win friends with this one!) But, seriously, how can a student be expected to respect anything if they don’t have to respect anything at home. (Their personal ground zero…their comfort zone.) I have the privilege of working in a private school, so I don’t have many opportunities to break up fights. (Like the caged, death match I easily settled.) I say one of my biggest challenges with students is wrestling the sense of entitlement out of their heads. No one DESERVES anything and when your parents are sending you to a private school at great cost, before you even enter the door, there is a certain sense of expectation. (You’d better get straight “A’s” for the money I’m paying.) So, these unreasonable expectations are being piled on the already burdened students by parents who don’t have the privilege of working with them every day. You know something….state standards aside….a “C” on a paper is considered “average.” And yet I’d argue that 90% of the students at my school expect their children to bring home “A’s” or nothing at all. Is that a warped level of expectation? Or is it the mind set of this generation, that ultimately shelves the personal education and expects a cookie-cutter finish line? Hmmm.

The school where I was at when the “fight club-like” assertive altercation took place was a public school with a strong outer-campus fence. It was a great school, mind you…but it felt sterile and automaton-ic. I wonder what this student’s situation is like. I can’t imagine it being exactly the same as some of the students I teach…but I suppose I’m just as entitled to think that way. My guess is that all students to some degree hold their futures in such a personal way (as they journey through their every day routines) that the unreasonable goals of their parents, teachers, etc. pale in comparison to the ones they hold for themselves. The actions they take as a result, are merely responses to a call to duty of sorts that keeps this sterile, everyday refreshing and approachable.

This student felt disrespected, and acted out. Afterward he was remorseful, for he saw that the overall outcome was more overwhelming than the moment, and that grounded him quickly.

It grounded me too.

I joke about the event because that’s my action. I find great relief in making others laugh, and when I’m scared or if I need to question my worth, or challenge my walk with Christ…I can at least settle in the safety net of what I know. That’s all anyone does: big people and little people.

I have a hard time writing detentions. “Stop chewing gum in class. Stop chewing gum in class. Stop chewing gum—-ah, here’s a detention. That’ll show him!” The temporary action doesn’t manage the problem. It’s an Alka-Seltzer. Takes care of the immediate heartburn…but it doesn’t solve the problem, especially if your prone to eating spicy food. Changing lives in the classroom is a challenge, and yet that’s what teachers are expected to do everyday. Teach, nurture, guide, protect, reward and serve.

I would hope that the goals of a parent for their student reflects the same goals the teacher holds for the student. A quick fix to any problem (at home or in the classroom) is as useful as breaking up a fight, or an Alka-Seltzer. Stops it…but doesn’t address the issue.

Hm. I wonder what the other students thought of me when they witnessed my breaking up that scuffle. “Dude, that teacher’s a stud.” Maybe not. “Don’t mess with him!” That’s right! Eh. Maybe….”Dang. Look away. Glad it’s not me.” We’re probably getting closer.

Do you suppose students who act out in class are ones that need attention? I wonder if they don’t need attention so much as they know that involuntary attention will be offered to them regardless through their classmate’s observations…and that in return aligns them, putting them in the same category in a defense against those who lead the class. An interesting thought…but I would hope that it wasn’t totally true. After all…I can handle one student…but if they gang up on me, I’ll see you in the water with the crocodile, Peter Pan.

Phew! What a weekend. Well, it’s back to night owl work. I have a lip sync to choreograph, and I need to sharpen my cat-like skillz (yes, with a “z”) in case a fight breaks out after they announce my group the winner.

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