Oscars: John Legend’s and Common’s performance of ‘Glory’ was incredible

It was an amazing inclusion of the Pettus Bridge as the scenic design element. Floor lighting topped the dramatic ethos wonderfully.

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John Legend and Common gave an incredibly powerful performance of the song “Glory” from the movie “Selma.”

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Letting the Show Go for My Cast’s Safety

We have been performing this show that shows the effects of bullying for a week now, not including the Previews to the Faculty a month ago. Last week the Freshmen class and then the Sophomore class sat, rowdily, talkative lay, throughout the performances. During the Talkback there was very little audience participation and no sniffles during the highest emotional point of the show. Their behavior was just so uncultured, so untrained for a theatrical experience, they didn’t know how to just sit in a comfortable dark room and let themselves connect to the moment. I even asked the students in my Theatre I classes, “Do you still do to see a play during middle school?” The collective response from the students who went to middle schools in this county was that they had not seen a play since second or third grade. No wonder!!!

As a result, my Cast had to steel themselves extra hard because they did not have the benefit of knowing that when they walked out on that stage that the audience was already rooting for their success. The stage, normally a tomb of comfort and safety for a performer, became a mine field. No longer that sanctuary of emotion and discovery, because at any moment, a voice would shout out from the darkness past the Fourth Wall…. , well, semi-darkness due to the behavior… a Cast Member’s real name, bringing them momentarily out of character. Poor audience etiquette even allowed for singing along to a song original to the show, thus, the lyrics weren’t really known, just to be disruptive… or was it to be noticed? Really? At this age?

I no longer felt like my Cast was protected. They had been working on this show since June of this now-November school year. This wasn’t the audience they deserved. And I noticed a pattern, that the pockets of rowdiness came, of course, from the back of the House where, it appeared, a teacher was not standing sentinel near them.

As a result, I put in the extra after school hours to faster train my students to operate the Tech side of the show. When my Stage Manager could call the cues and I didn’t have to run the Light Board, I was available to leave the Production side of the show and go manage the Operational side.

What I discovered as I directed my Ushers behind me was a wall of students tiding towards the theater’s doors. Not an adult teacher in sight. As these lovely, large, 16-year-olds kept folding in I felt very alone, very unsupported. There were no Administrators in the Lobby with me. There were no additional teachers who had heeded my call for chaperones weeks and multiple days earlier. Just me.

A few heeled, proper-postured humans began weaving heir way through the swarm of adolescents. I allowed the few to usher their own ducklings in to the space. Of course, this began the confusion from the back of both “yeah, we’re going in” and “hey, how come they’re going in and we’re not”!

Thus, I could sense emotions rising and trouble stirring. And, of course, only my own body in a doorway to be available to prevent it. I even spotted a couple of kids who had snuck in with a shepherded class, slipped through a side door, and had then run down the side hallway and opened a locked door I had “barred entry” to with a very large yellow note directing all traffic to “enter via front doors”. Tough sign, eh?

As such. I steeled myself, as I’d been asking my Cast to do, pushed aside my Teacher Hat that just wanted “all children to be able to experience the Theatre”, put on my Director one, and SHUT DOWN THE SHOW.

I took my little 5’2″ arms and my very big, firm-yet-kind voice, and began directing all those teenagers back to their classes. Back to the teachers who were banking on a free class period on MY back and my kids’ hard work.

Once I got the swarm moving AS they grumbled, I closed and locked the Lobby doors behind me, and asked the six teachers who had made it in and settled their classes to go ahead and go. We would “try it again” another time. As THEY were halfway cleared from the House, two of our Assistant Principals showed up and lamented in my exasperated earshot, “Oh now we’re gonna get chewed out because all these kids are in the halls!”

At that moment, I knew my decision had been the right one.

I turned and shepherded my Crew, Cast, and die hard Chaperones backstage again, sat them down to “sit tight” and “standby in case…” while I went to get yelled at. Marched bravely up to my Principal’s office, thoroughly prepared for a tongue-lashing. And boy did she ever LET ME HAVE IT!!! A hug, that is. She explained, while embracing me tightly so I wouldn’t let go that she heard what was happening over the walkie-talkies.

Agape, I childishly asked, “So I’m not in trouble?” To which she quickly assured me I wasn’t and understood that I did what I had to do.

I returned to my Cast and Crew with a bounce in my step and a determination to work even harder for this Principal. I gave the students instruction for additional rehearsal tutoring pairings, set a crew to CLEAN the costume and prop room, and thanked my very diligent Chaperones for their time. We made the most of our time, in our protected space, and are even more ready for our final show for the Seniors (and some invited Junior teachers) on Friday.

Considering the phone calls from those colleagues who NEVER call me after work hours, I thoroughly trust to see a much greater adult support system at my lobby doors the next show.

Good.

Because my students deserve it.

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Wonderfully Frustrating

The bridging interim between my teaching day and my pre/post-production workday is sometimes met with a glass of vino. Whilst the preference is for grapes from countries south of the Equator, such as Argentina or New Zealand, a Spanish red or a Sonoma Chardonnay sometimes finds themselves in the mix. A single glass will do it. Often with one indulgent piece of dark chocolate paired with a few wonderful yoga twists or neck stretches is how I wind down and reflect from my teaching portion of the day.

In particular, days like this. It was a frustrating day to get through the process, but the end result was one of those “what keeps me going” things that keep me in this procession.

This third week of school, public school Theatre class, we still don’t have our final class counts. The poor Guidance Office is doing their utmost to catch up and slot students into their proper and credit-necessary classes. Meantime, it’s difficult for teachers to really begin teaching because we know we are going to be receiving and losing students for the first four weeks. We need to NOT teach exam-worthy curriculum so we can keep up with paperwork for the Data Processor, stop instruction to accept a new student into the class randomly throughout the class period, run all fire/tornado/Code Color drills (think Columbine and Sandy Hook). there’s dealing with students getting used to Dress Code, cell phone, and clear plastic bag policies and having to counsel them at this stage rather than send them to the crazy-busy Administration for written disciplinary action.

Most core curriculum teachers are taking this time to review the school handbook and review coursework from the previous year, such as Geometry classes spend the first month reviewing Algebra I rules as it’s not the American education system’s custom to require a child to prepare for their studies over the Summer and stay atop their own learning gains. (Oh how I miss Asia.)

This is not my case. All of my Theatre I’s have never been in a THEATER before much less a Theatre class. Watched pleeeenty of TV and movies and YouTube clips. Alas, theatre, in and of itself, and what makes it work, are completely foreign to them.

What an INCREDIBLY WONDERFUL CHALLENGE!!! These teenagers are so lucky to I have me. <<>> They will soon come to have a glimpse but, as it always goes, they’ll never REALLY know until they go for that job interview or scholarship ceremony and have to speak publicly.

Meantime, I’m a glutton for punishment. And I love it. It’s insatiable the feeling I get when moving my masses (and at 42 in a class, I do mean masses) into body concentric laughter as they discover things about themselves and their boundaries and their willingness or courage meter. I adore leading them out of their comfort zones and into visibly stronger, ballsier, human beings. I thrive on pushing pushing pushing the too-cerebral kids into “just letting go”. As a cerebral kid, I sure wish this had been done sooner for me. I’d have learned how to relax myself and lower my blood pressure a lot sooner in life. Okay, perhaps it wouldn’t have been my college Valedictorian, but perhaps there’s a few more bits of college I would’ve appreciated because , seriously, not a single person in my adult world gives a rats patootie what my college GPA was.

But with the pretty comes the ugly. It’s the yin and the yang. When I made the choice this year to forgo the “grace period” to EASE my students into the acting, active part of the class and get them on their feet and on the stage on Day One, I was unaware of how much more physical energy it would take from ME. I have to demonstrate and do eeeeeeeeverything. My kids lack such courage and wherewithal that I may as we’ll be teaching elementary schoolers.

This is frustrating for me because I am having to be so “on stage” and so visible. Partially because they need the example but also because they’re so vain and uncomfortable with “being silly” that I need to keep their focus on me, off of themselves, and, most importantly, off of OTHERS!!! If I didn’t, bullying, teasing, and disciplinary disruptions would have occurred.and, ugh, it’s too early in the year for that.

So, tome will tell if this change has been a smart one for my curriculum. I sure hope so. Otherwise, all these sore muscles and achy throat will have been for nought.

And ain’t nobody got time for dat.

(((Sips wine like Kermit sips tea.)))

How Do You Organize Your Department… and Avoid Burnout?

Entering my third year at this school, my longest tenure yet, I have some new goals towards advancing the Department. Be it for myself to build on my own Programme or to, more realistically, build up the students’ interest in and responsibility for their own success, both would, I believe, produce viable results that would go beyond whichever Director is helping them. It’s no secret to anyone that I desire to teach overseas again, or even move away from “classroom” Educational Theatre specifically. Whichever Path I choose to follow, however, the end result will be the same for my current students; those entering the Freshmen class this year will have a different Theatre Teacher than the one the have today.

This is no reason for their Programme to collapse and have to rebuild from scratch however! A Programme is about the students, and preparing them for achievement, not building up the ego of the Director. Empowering by educating the students is my goal.

I am an alumnus of Up With People. An international touring cast, we didn’t stay in hotels, we lived with Host Families. The idea, the rather lovely idea actually, was to allow the young cast members (17-25) to be absorbed into that city/state/country’s culture directly by living amongst its citizens. As a result, part of our pre-production training included lessons in How to Be a Good House Guest. Resolutely, one of the most stringent admonishments was to “leave the place tidier than you found it.” (Insert here, a nod to my mother and grandmother who had already pre-taught this lesson, but you know how kids are…)

Thus, that is my goal with these students, to leave my Programme more tidy than how I found it.

Now, my predecessors didn’t leave “a mess”, in the traditional sense. However, the culture of these students to “wait until you’re told to do something” rather than the more initiative-taking types I’ve taught previously, led to both I and my Music Director colleague being restricted to bed rest by the end of the Mainstage show last year from exhaustion.

Our jobs are challenging, and Divine Exhaustion is expected, even anticipated, from a Closing Night and a job well done. But this is not what we experienced. There were actual medical issues that resulted from so very, very many of our Performing Arts students not knowing how to help get a show on its feet or even WHY they should want to be involved in the process.

As a result, we will do less shows this year and our Mainstage will be one that involves a more mature Lighting Design and zero Set. Bare stage. Modern, teenager costumes. And I will spend those additional hours gained from not having to source a volunteer Set Designer and Carpenter, and beg/borrow/steal paint and brushes, and spend more time fundraising for costumes than I spend with the cast developing honest characters and enjoying their high school Theatre experience (!) instead on educating them on:
The process
The possibilities

The culture of students I work with currently are ones that don’t have freedoms at home that offer them opportunities to be independent and grow that soft job skill. If they work a job, it’s not for individual spending cash, it’s to actually help with the family finances or to even work, without pay, so as to keep another family member’s business afloat. Public transportation is a joke in this community with busses and a single,unreliable train that both run ONCE a HOUR. As such, the opportunities our area Performing Arts Center offers for free classes, workshops, and shows become unattainable for these students who would have a two-hour commute, both ways, in order to get to the venue that is merely six (6) miles away. (Side note to enlighten on the case of Haves and Have Nots, the performing arts school is directly across a small side street from this venue.)

In contrast, we hear stories of how J-Lo took her subway train, The Six, to get to her dance classes. Hers is not an atypical story for a New York kid. Her opportunity for independence has grown her into a mogul. Parallel that with my former students in Hong Kong who were given their own Octopus Card by age ten. With the freedom to run the city via it’s ever-present transportation coupled with a cultural mindset that you are responsible for the advanced education of yourself, the vast majority of those graduates are all studying from a dorm room in another country. Our students are barely allowed the freedom to attend a college outside of the county, much less the state or country.

I went to my Administrator recently with a supercharged curriculum that would allow me more hands on, interactive teaching rather than written responses for me to grade and respond to later in the abstract. Interactive instruction is a forte of mine. A mere single point from earning the coveted title of “Highly Effective”, my Administrator, as well, is aware of my strengths. However, when I asked if I would have his support in parent conferences that led to excuses about why a student was failing because they weren’t completing the online assignments, he looked beaten up,too. A fellow educator, he recognizes the millennial need for computer skills as well. Alas, with our non-independent demographic, the idea of our on-campus computer lab, free wifi, and multiple public library computer labs, he could not support enforcing that our students “step up” and find a way to make it happen due to the at-home obstacles. A double loss for our students.

As such, here are the samplings of Jobs my students will be offered to help grow the Department and Programme for a future far beyond my presence there, as well as offering them soft job skills for their own futures.

I wrote to them:
Some ideas of what Department Duties need doing (but not all. What needs do YOU see?) These are the year-long assignments, not per show.
Warm-ups Captain
Props Master/Mistress
Costume Master/Mistress
Script Librarian
Publicity Director
Marketing Director
House Manager
House Music Manager
Dramaturg
Auditions Captain
Director of Development
Dance Captain
Crew Chief
Showbill Writer
Etc etc etc

What are some other student jobs you’ve created to help your Programme grow and flourish?

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Her smile was my shiny, enamalized courage

a child grows into an artist

Yeah. This is why I still teach Theatre. Twelve years strong, through all the bumbles of Administration who don’t get “it” and being teased by *real subject* colleagues who don’t get “me”, I see this child’s desire, dream to
express, and quest to explore themselves fully in my classes every year. I thrive being a part of the journey that leads to a child’s higher self-esteem and fostering a person’ sinner joy.

How wonderful I had a mother like this one who paid attention, encouraged, and held her tears as she let me go to be free to fly from the nest all those years and tours ago. I was too excited, as a youngster, to be frightened enough of my journey ahead to turn around and look back at her as I boarded my first of many tour busses to come. Alas, her strong smile as she waved at me through my window seat was what I needed to go off and “do my thing.” Her smile was my strength. Her smile was my enamalized courage: shiny and resilient.

Not all of my students have a parent like mine, one who fosters her child’s artistic dreams. Possibly because the parent lives in fear of new things herself because she wasn’t given the type of childhood that allowed her to grow courage. And you do, have to GROW COURAGE in a child. Within teaching a little human discipline and safety, a parent’s additional, a most important responsibility when growing a child into an adult is to grow them some courage.
Courageous children are more willing to be part of the learning process. Courageous teens are less likely to allow themselves, nor their peers, to idly be bullied.
Courageous young adults are willing to choose careers that will change and help the world.
Courageous adults will form strong neighborhoods and social communities and keep our lives, thus economies and safety, strong.

In our classrooms we are required to post our rules on the wall. I keep mine positive, not being a fan of commandments for behavior in a Theatre class.
They are:
1) Try
2) Make mistakes
3) Be safe
These mere five words cover so much of the process that it takes to grow and encourage courage in our exploration work space. I’m charged up from a long summer’s REST (a first for me, the road warrior) and feeling a heartful surge of courage building rising up in me once again!

Happy Back to School

The classroom library

My shelves and cabinets have exploded. My classroom is NOT ready. Now covering seven folding tables are our eleven categories of books we keep in our theatre classroom.
Play scripts, bound
Play scripts, unbound
Children’s plays
Holiday plays
Books with multiple plays, classic
Books with multiple plays, contemporary
Black plays (my demographic necessitates)
Musicals and librettos
Monologue and scene source books
Acting instruction
Theatre history
Playwrights
Theatre/Drama texts
Production process and stage management
Set design and construction
Lighting design and programming
Costume design and construction
Makeup/hair/wig application and history
Film/TV/radio resources and history
And, of course,
The Bard gets his own section.

It’s a tedious task to get these all re-sorted and re-shelved. Alas, it’s worth it to kick the school year off sanely for future productivity.

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Neighborly networking

Have just learned that my two upstairs neighbors are the Sound and the A/V a Engineers for one of our local five-star resorts. Could this BE anymore convenient way to work together in the industry? Cooperative resourcing is what makes any industry more productive, true enough. But the necessity of it in the Production world can sometime be a bit overwhelming. Everyone has their own gigs they’re trying to line up every three days to three months to three years. The energy it takes to CONstantly be on the hustler game, for these wages, truly explains the need for passion in this industry. Half-hearted desired will only result in not landing a continued contract.

And in this world where everyone is focused and passionate about something, our tolerance is a lot higher. Both for each other and about the world as a whole. We, as mirrors and shapers of our society, “get” the multiple layers a population needs to be understood by in order to develop an actual culture. So often this is dismissed by corporate types as being “progressive”, “extravagant”, or, more currently, “extra”. Alas, all these labels don’t diminish the realty that said corporate types, once they made their financial fountains flow, that they don’t prefer to go home to a gray, concrete building with bare walls. They don’t listen to silence. They don’t relax to a window view of concrete pavement blocks. They don’t romance their spouses by simply standing and looking at each other. They don’t cook at home and eat the same meal each evening. They don’t entertain their clients by sitting them on an uncomfortable slab with only more concrete squares to look at.

Indeed not.

And the sooner corporate mastheads begin financing the correct politicians who will empower schools and non-profits to shift the mindset back to incorporating Art lessons, and stop forcing the idea that “everyone should go to college”, then the freer our future generations will be to study the Arts and make viable careers out of enriching our lifestyles overall.

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