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Author Archive for Patty MacMullen

To Every Thing There Is a Season

If there is one thing that is constant in life, it is change. We all know it’s going to happen, and yet we carry on as if things will always remain the same. Sometimes, we embrace change. It can come as a relief and be a very positive thing. But sometimes, we struggle with change. It upsets the world in which we live and brings about that terrible fear of the unknown. About the only thing we can control is how we respond to change. As Bob Dylan says, “…you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changing”.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing the pain of going through a lot of changes at work. We recently lost our headmaster, and only last week I found out my principal was also leaving. To top it off, my closest friend at school (who is also our Fine Arts Director) is moving to California. “Change” doesn’t feel good right now. These are not changes that I’m excited about. I love these people and don’t want to see them go. I realize, however, that the only thing I can control now is how I respond to these impending changes. I am excited for each of these wonderful people as they travel to their new schools and begin new chapters of their lives. It’s also time for me to open a new chapter of my life as well. It’s time to swim.

For the past six years, I’ve had the privilege of being a one act play clinician and adjudicator. I’m always impressed with the tenacity of one act play directors and students. They attend each clinic and contest seeking to improve, and they return to their schools, eager to make the changes needed to strengthen their shows and become better storytellers. The point of the clinics and contests is to grow, to continue to work hard and to effect positive change in a production. Directors and their students have to swim or sink, and I’ve witnessed many times the commitment to just keep swimming no matter how many obstacles are encountered. I’ve seen Facebook posts about directors experiencing frustrating and sometimes even devastating setbacks. I’ve witnessed directors encouraging and supporting one another and also act in ways to comfort and display incredible love to their students. I’ve observed companies demonstrate class, dignity, and good sportsmanship after the disappointment of not advancing or the heartbreak of disqualification. You don’t hear this enough, but thank you, directors, for choosing to swim when you’re faced with the sink or swim choice. What you do for your students each year is so very valuable. You are teaching them not only a love for theatre, but also lessons in life. As your students watch you, they learn how to adapt when faced with difficult situations, be resourceful, deal with stress, accept wins and mourn losses, collaborate, find joy, and heal heartache. Yes, the play you choose may resonate with your students, but directors are the navigators of not only the story you tell on stage, but also the story you create with your students. The story of your one act play 2017 company journey will be one that students will remember long after plaques and medals are gathering dust on a shelf. Never underestimate the impact that can have on a young life or that they can have on you. Before long, they will graduate and be off to their next life adventure. Life will change.

I’m not usually an overly-sentimental or wistful person. I know my current feelings have a lot to do with the upcoming changes at my school, but there is a far greater reason for my melancholy. I received word this past weekend that one of my former students passed away on Saturday. She graduated in 2005, making her around the age of 29 or 30. Kaye was our backstage wonder. I would hear her name called frequently when actors needed help. “Kaye, my button came off of my shirt”, “Kaye, I think I split my pants”, “Kaye, do you know where my prop is”, “Kaye….”. The guys in the cast would randomly call her name at times, playfully teasing her just to see if she would come to the rescue, and she would faithfully come to their aid, just in case they really needed help. I have such fond memories of a smiling girl with a small sewing kit, a stopwatch, a mini flashlight, and a small first aid kit stashed away in a fanny pack and ready to go in case she had to jump into action. The passing of a young person is hard to swallow. We just assume we’re going to outlive our theatre kids. Kaye is the age of two of my own children and was a classmate of theirs. Although I haven’t seen her in years, we remained a part of each other’s lives through Facebook. And it was on Facebook, within hours of learning of Kaye’s passing that one of my other friends posted a link to Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth singing the song For Good from the fabulous musical Wicked. I thought to myself, “Don’t click on that link. Do not listen to that song right now”, and then found myself clicking, and sobbing, as Stephen Schwartz ‘s amazingly appropriate lyrics were masterfully sung. I’m going to post them below. It may remind you of someone who has changed you for good. Let it remind us as teachers to leave our handprints on the hearts of those we’re blessed to touch each day. Change is out of our control. How we choose to respond to it isn’t. Lisa, Joy, and Kaye, this is for you…

“I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…” (Stephen Schwartz)

An October Treat

Happy October!  It’s hard to believe that most schools have already completed the first quarter of the school year.  Time flies when you’re busy with your students!  I do have great news that may help you to save time and get organized as you head into the remainder of your school year.  I am pleased to announce the newest teacher resource available from Maestro Theatre Publications, LLC. Introducing Package #12 on our online store:  The Production Process Guidebook: Tips and Tools for Creating the “Total Package” Production.

This new resource combines our 100 plus years of experience as theatre directors. Many, Renee, Rick, and I collaborated to develop a product that I wish I had the pleasure of owning earlier in my career! It is a production process guidebook with tips to optimize show selection, organize effective rehearsals, and coordinate performances. The publication provides tips, strategies, and practical advice on how to create a unified production that can make a smooth transition from a home performance to a touring production.  This is a great resource for directors of UIL one act play, TAPPS one act play, thespians productions or contests, or any other travel productions/competitions. Even if you are preparing to take your show on the road to your local elementary school for your children’s theatre production, this resource will get you organized and is packed with time-saving information. It’s also a useful tool for directors who never leave their home stage.

The production process guidebook models how you can create your own customized production resource for all of your productions and is designed to provide a structure for organizing and executing a well-run production. From selecting a script, to the rehearsal period, and even traveling the production, this resource offers tips and templates for directors to utilize in production and rely on while traveling.  It is a practical system that provides support and focus to your play production.

Below is a peek at the table of contents:

Table of Contents Table of Contents

 

The Production Process Guidebook: Tips and Tools for Creating the “Total Package” Production will be available as package #12 in our online store.

Also new to our online store is package #13, which includes BOTH The Production Process Guidebook: Tips and Tools for Creating the “Total Package” Production and Sight Lines – The First Year Blogs at a reduced bundle price, making the purchase of both of our newest resources more affordable!

You may order your copy of Package #12, The Production Process Guidebook: Tips and Tools for Creating the “Total Package” Production or Package #13, Sight Lines—The First Year Blogs AND The Production Process Guidebook: Tips and Tools for Creating the “Total Package” Production  by going to our online store at http://maestrotheatre.com/store. Best wishes on a great school year!

 

So, Your Child Wants to Major in Theatre?  

It’s that time of year again. Many seniors are going through the process of making very two important decisions. The selection of a university and the commitment to a major can be both exciting and stressful for students, but I’ve found that it’s every bit as agonizing for the parents of these young people. After all, most parents will be making a huge monetary investment in their children’s college educations and future careers. They want to feel confident that their money is well spent, and to be honest, many of them are not so sure that will be the case when they hear the words, “Mom, Dad, I am going to major in theatre!”.

In their defense, most people are not aware of the impact of a good arts education and the range of skills a strong program will develop in a student of theatre. Just take a look at Wells Fargo’s current “Teen Day” campaign which features today’s “actor” and “ballerina” abandoning their individual art forms to become tomorrow’s “botanist” and “engineer”. The ad paints the arts as a passing fancy, nothing more than a hobby to be pursued before a student learns about important fields of study. It sends a message to young people and their parents:  the arts are to be practiced when you’re a child, but once you grow up, you need to find a “real” career. I recently spoke with mothers of two of my seniors, both of whom are planning to major in theatre. One mother was completely comfortable with the idea of her son’s intended major. She also has a daughter entering her sophomore year of college as a theatre major. The other mother was concerned. After researching the average salary of a working actor, she was distressed to learn that her son would potentially be making a salary below the poverty level. She had also, however, dug deeper and found a plethora of information supporting an arts education. Our conversation inspired me to do a little research of my own, and what I found made me laugh, made me cry, and took me for a walk down memory lane. But more about that later…

Our discussion about this topic continued when I received an email from my student’s mother last week. She had found a blog titled “10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success by Tom Vander Well. The following is a link to his blog: https://tomvanderwell.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/10-ways-being-a-theatre-major-prepared-me-for-success/ . I encourage you to read it. It presents an outstanding case for the pursuit of a degree in Theatre and how it impacted his career (which doesn’t happen to be in the world of theatre). When I saw the title of the blog, I decided I wanted to make my own list before reading his. I actually wrote a total of twelve ways I believed majoring in theatre would prepare a student for success, and then began comparing my list to his. I was astonished at how similar they are. The wording may have been different, but we came to basically the same conclusions. You might want to try it for yourself by making a list of your own prior to reading my list or his blog.

12 Ways Being a Theatre Major Will Prepare You for Success

  1. Collaboration
  2. Professionalism
  3. Passion/Enthusiasm
  4. Work Ethic
  5. Self-confidence
  6. Communication Skills
  7. Empathy
  8. Creativity
  9. Problem Solving
  10. Flexibility/Adaptability
  11. Resourcefulness
  12. Ability to multi-task in a fast paced environment

After making my list and reading Mr. Vander Well’s blog, I thought back to a book I read last summer, Creative Schools by Dr. Ken Robinson. He discussed how in 2008, IBM had published a survey of characteristics their leaders needed most in their teams. Two priorities emerged: adaptability to change and creativity in generating new ideas. Leaders who were surveyed had commented that these qualities were lacking in otherwise highly qualified graduates. Both of those skills made my list of twelve qualities. Mr. Vander Well also had several qualities listed that involved both creativity and adaptability. Yet these qualities aren’t measured on all those standardized tests that are given each year, leaving the impression that they’re not particularly valued. They are, in fact, qualities that are stigmatized or marginalized in some classroom settings, and yet these very important skills are learned and practiced daily by theatre students in classrooms across the nation.

I wanted to put the list I compiled to the test, asking my former theatre students for feedback. I posted the following on Facebook: “I’m interested to hear your take on how (if at all) having a theatre education and/or participation in theatre productions has helped you in your career/job.” Many of these students did not pursue the arts after high school, but there are a few artists in the group. Among the participants are an attorney, a nurse, businessmen and businesswomen, a sales representative, a real estate agent and former Chairwoman of the Contractors Safety Network at ExxonMobil, a customer service representative, an artist, an actor, an opera singer, an IT Specialist, an elementary teacher, a high school teacher, an adjunct faculty member and field supervisor for a Texas university, an airline transport pilot and owner of a Gyrocopter business, a jewelry store owner and designer, a long-term care provider relations advocate, a computer technician, and a stay-at-home mom. Reconnecting with them while reading their reactions filled my heart with many beautiful memories and filled my eyes with a few happy tears. Although some of the responders are just a few years younger than I am, they’ll always be my “kids”. And they reiterated what I already knew. Some of their reactions utilized words lifted straight from my list or straight from Tom Vander Well’s list; lists they’d never seen before. Here is a condensed version of their individual responses:

“From being involved in theatre, I learned the comfort of being in front of a crowd, the ease of mingling with and talking to people, and honestly, it helped make interviews a breeze. It gave me so much confidence.”

“Working with set design and makeup gave me the experience I needed to become a successful artist.”

“Being involved in theatre helped to enhance my verbal and written communication. It gave me a confidence I don’t think I’d have otherwise.”

“I was very unsure of myself, and I was incredibly afraid of failure. I was able to overcome those things. Along with my parents and family, I credit theatre with shaping me into the person I am.”

“Thanks to my involvement with theatre, I had no fear when I chaired the Contractors Safety Network at ExxonMobil and stood weekly in front of 400 managers, all men, all old enough to be my dad!  I was prepared and confident every single time. It has carried over into all aspects of my adult life.”

“Theatre gave me the confidence to speak in front of large audiences. It showed me the value of being prepared as well as how to continue rolling with things when things don’t go as planned.”

“It taught me to speak loudly, confidently, and clearly. Theatre teaches body awareness and nonverbal communication skills and how to work as a team member. It teaches how leadership and partnership aren’t too far from each other. One of my favorite things theatre teaches is when you help others in your ensemble, you are really helping yourself. You also learn to be flexible. Things won’t always go as planned.”

“It made me feel comfortable to talk to people. And now I’m a nurse and have to talk to people every day.”

“Theatre helped me in my professional life more than most subjects. I majored in business, and I excelled at presentations. In fact, I was offered a great job my last semester of college because of one of my presentations. I was also offered a promotion after a great presentation. Theatre and UIL competitions were key in my professional and personal success.”

“It helped me be more comfortable in my skin.”

“I had no idea how fun it would be! Theatre helped me become more confident and expressive. Now that I’m a teacher, I get in front of my students and act every day! I found the niche I’d been looking for since middle school. I definitely think ALL students could benefit from speech/theatre.”

“I was also involved in band and choir throughout middle and high school, but that can’t compare to the lessons I learned from theatre. Theatre gave me a backbone and a platform to be a more confident me. It was my safe place, my home, where I fit best.”

“Theatre was the first place I felt safe being vulnerable. It was the first place I had to truly trust in the group. We supported each other. It helped me to learn to interact with people who were very different from me. I gained an amazing base of life skills I use every single day as an adult.”

“I loved improvisation. It helped me to think on my feet, create an idea quickly and completely, and learn how to read an audience, all skills I use when working with my clients as a computer technician. I was also in band, and I still love music, but I don’t play my clarinet anymore. I still use the theatre lessons I learned daily! As an added bonus, theatre opens a world of literature up and gave even this avid reader more material to explore!”

“I would definitely say that my flair for performance, fostered on stage in high school, proves useful for litigation in law.”

“Out of all my childhood experiences, I remember having a great family apart from my real family.”

“I became an elementary teacher and having that theatrical background helped me unleash my creative side.”

Well, there you go. My “kids” confirmed what I knew all along. A theatre education is invaluable. I truly don’t believe you can put a price on what our students learn when studying theatre and participating in productions. So, your child wants to major in theatre?  I say, congratulations! I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. If your child loves theatre, he or she will find a way to make a living doing it. Lots of people have. I did, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Many thanks to my wonderful former students, my forever kiddos, for participating in my survey. I love and miss you all.

Check in and Connect

Where did summer go? Each year when I flip the calendar page from July to August, I think about just how quickly those summer days go! I have to admit I have a love/hate relationship with August. I hate that I haven’t done all of those things that were on the summer “to do” list I made in May. I know that my life is about to get very busy again, and it will be harder to make time for things I need to do at home or for myself. However, I also love August because it’s a time of new beginnings. New memories are about to be made, and that’s very exciting!
As we head into a new school year, communication is the topic that is on my mind. Communication is defined as the giving and exchanging of ideas and information. Synonyms include connection, conversation, and revelation. Prior to returning to school for in-service activities, Mandy, Rick, Renee and I were busy writing the next two Maestro resource materials. It was exciting to plan and begin the process of communicating more of the ideas and information we’ve learned in our combined 172 years of teaching experience! Stay tuned for the fall release of The Production Process Guidebook: Tips and Tools for Optimizing Show Selection, Rehearsals and Traveling Performances. Creating the next resource material was just the start of a whirlwind of communication. The beginning of a school year is filled with the revelation of new and important information! If you are a parent, you already know that you receive a lot of information the first week of school. You sign a huge stack of papers as your confirmation that you’ve read every word on them, and you complete the same information in the fill-in-the-blank forms over and over…and over. As teachers, we are given endless amounts of information during in-service and faculty meetings. We also create extensive amounts of information for parents and students. I’ve already completed several of the obligatory start-of-the-school-year handouts. As I’ve created each of these, I’ve kept the following in mind:

• Recognize that strong and clear communication is the language of leadership
• Realize that people may hear or read words, but they will feel the attitude with which they’re spoken or written
• Keep communications honest, open, and two-way
• Listen to understand others as they respond rather than just listening while thinking of how to reply
• Accept that communication is needed, even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable

It’s that time of year when you set the tone for your classroom and your production process. You are the leader, so clearly communicate your expectations to students and their parents. Create your syllabus, Rules and Consequences, audition forms, production contracts, etc…with very explicit information. Supply details as needed, including dates of rehearsals, performances, and contests. Most scheduling conflicts can be avoided or worked around if all parties have sufficient information from the beginning.

Communicating with parents, students, administrators, and my fellow faculty members is a regular and constant occurrence. What did we ever do before we had email??? Yes, it’s another thing with which I have a love/hate relationship. I hate that you can’t hear someone’s tone or see their facial expressions and body language when you communicate via email. On the other hand, emailing is quick and easy, so it’s transformed the way we communicate. I usually find myself focused on the task at hand—-the information or response I want to include in the email—because I’m usually in a rush. I have to remind myself that the person on the receiving end of my email can’t hear my tone. If my answer is short, my communication with the receiver could be interpreted as having an attitude of being “short” with them. People will feel your attitude, or sometimes even misunderstand it, as they hear and read your words. Take the time to consider this before responding.

It’s also important to keep your communications open, honest, and circular. People tend to respect a leader that gives them honest information, is open to feedback, and welcomes an exchange of ideas. Parents, students, administrators, and faculty members can be a tremendous resource to us if we are willing to allow them to participate in a discussion. Let them see that you are open to it. That doesn’t mean that you must respond to feedback in the way they would like. The important thing is that they know your door is open. I’ve served under nine different principals. I’ve completely trusted three of them. They were open, honest, and cared enough to listen to me and respond. Did I always get everything I wanted from them? No. Did I always feel valued? Yes. I don’t remember every discussion with them, but I remember the way they made me feel. They listened. They considered my request, my cause, and my viewpoint. They didn’t silence me. My voice was heard. Thank you Joy Young, Mike Null, and Carol Chapman.

Most importantly, I continue to remind myself that communication is necessary, even if it’s uncomfortable. Calling a parent about a student’s bad behavior or failing grade isn’t exactly a happy occasion, but it’s necessary. Talking to a colleague about their students’ misuse or abuse of the auditorium is uncomfortable. Discussing a scheduling conflict with a coach or other director when you share students can lead to a feelings of frustration if one or both people involved in the discussion are not cooperative. Remember that you need to be a professional. Take the emotion out of the moment and work to solve the problem if possible. Never place a student in the middle of a conflict. They need to learn through their teachers how to appropriately communicate and problem solve. And if the other person won’t discuss and participate in problem solving with you, sometimes you have to go to the next person in the chain of command to ask for assistance. That’s not a sign of weakness. It’s the sign of a leader trying to solve a problem and work in the best interest of students.

So, be proactive. Provide information before they ask for it. Give updates as needed. Listen. And have a wonderful school year!

What the World Needs Now

Peace and disharmony. Love and hate. The past three weeks I’ve seen evidence of all four. While on vacation in Maui and Kauai, I was blessed to experience beauty and tranquility—until I checked the news. First, I read about two separate shootings of young black men by police, followed by the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas. Since I’ve returned home, there’s been another attack in France, followed by today’s shooting deaths of three officers in Baton Rouge.

In a world that continues to be filled with hateful, random, and violent acts, my mind continues to go to the people I love and want to protect from harm. My family members, friends, and students-past and present-continue to fill my thoughts and heart. I wish I could place a protective bubble around all of them. I lift them up in my prayers.

As I contemplate the world we live in today, a much different world than the one I knew as a child, I realize how blessed I am to teach theatre. Through the art of acting, we as theatre directors are able to expose students to so many valuable life skills that are so desperately needed. How is it that we can build a theatre “family” out of a diverse group of students? I believe there are several reasons.

First, we expose students to the power of collaboration. Theatre students must work in concert to create a story for an audience. This requires patience, cooperation, a willingness to listen to others’ ideas and feedback, and the need to combine efforts with others for a common cause. In my thirty-four years of teaching, I’ve observed a plethora of middle and high school stereotypes unify to produce a show. It makes me smile to see athletes and nerds, popular kids and outcasts, students of different religions and ethnicities, AP students and the students who are struggling academically, all come together and form a bond. While each is different, through working together I think they come to realize that they are more alike than not. Stereotypes are shed, and the relationships of the company of actors and technicians begin to grow. They become a theatre family, and for some of them, this bond is the reason they come to school each day. It warms my heart. We could use more people with a collaborative spirit in the world today.

Theatre also assists students in building self-esteem. As students learn to be effective communicators, they gain self-confidence. We’ve all experienced students who’ve gone from painfully shy to socially interactive during a semester of theatre class or while working on a production. When students feel safe to give you the best they have to offer, amazing things happen—for the theatre company and for individual students. How can one love and appreciate others without esteem for oneself? It’s exciting to observe a student as he/she discovers the power of having a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. You know you’ve created a safe learning environment when the reluctant performer actually volunteers to present a class assignment before being asked!  We could use more people who feel safe and confident in the world today.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts theatre gives its students is empathy. When I directed Godspell at my current school, Hill Country Christian School of Austin, I cast a lovely young lady in the role of Judas. She’s spent her entire life going to church and worshipping God. During one of our discussions concerning the production, we talked about the complexity of the character. Judas loved Jesus, but he betrayed him. He felt so guilty afterwards that he committed suicide. But Judas could not be treated as the stereotypical “bad guy”. There was much more to him (or to “her” in our production) than that. My actress dove in and created a heartbreaking and haunting Judas. Her fall from grace and her betrayal of Jesus was all the more tragic because she had empathy for her character. She didn’t agree with the actions of Judas, and I know it probably pushed her out of her comfort zone a bit, but being the exceptional student actor that she is, she was able to approach the character of Judas with compassion and benevolence. We could use a lot more empathy in our world today. A little compassion and benevolence would go a long way, too.

In 2005, I cast a motley crew of players in a one act play production of Assassins. This was during the time when schools were allowed to perform “scenes from” a musical for UIL competition.  It was my first year at my new school, and the theatre students in my program were a diverse group. The young man I cast as Lee Harvey Oswald is Hispanic. Guisseppe Zangara was played by an actor whose parents had immigrated from Syria. The character of Emma Goldman was portrayed by an actress whose parents escaped Cuba, and one of my “All American Ensemble” members, who portrayed different American characters throughout our country’s presidential history, is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. There were many other diversities among the cast members as well, ranging from religion to socio-economics to age (freshmen through seniors were cast), to experience/no experience in theatre, etc. It was our first year together as a team. We advanced to the 4A state meet that year and the next two years as well, placing 3rd at the state 4A meet in 2007 with Arcadia. Our differences didn’t divide us. They enhanced us.

As we look toward another school year, please remember that what you do matters. You make a difference in the lives of young people. You have the power to change lives and effect the future in a positive way. You give your students the gift of collaboration (a love of working and uniting with others), self-esteem (a love of one’s self and abilities), and empathy (a love of and compassion for others).

“…And the greatest of these is love.”