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Archive for Change

Looking Back and Looking Forward

As teachers, we’re accustomed to referring to two different calendars—-the traditional yearly calendar and our school calendar (which usually has every square filled using multiple colors of pens, some pencil marks, a few highlighted areas, some scratch-outs, various arrows pointing to additions that would no longer fit into the square for that particular date, and check marks by items that have been completed. It makes me tired just looking at it! The great thing about living with two calendars, however, is that while everyone else is celebrating the end of 2017, teachers are also able to look forward to the rest of the school year and the experiences it will bring (and to celebrate its end in May or June). This is also a great time to look back for a moment and reflect.

As I take a moment to look back, I find myself asking the following questions:

  1. What worked? To answer this question, take a moment to make a list of the things you’ve accomplished this year (or school year so far if you’re wearing your teacher “hat” at the moment). Don’t spend so much time looking forward that you don’t take the time to acknowledge the positive things that have already happened. Whether it’s in your personal or professional life, what new things have you learned that will now make life easier or happier? Which goals have you accomplished? How has your life been impacted in a positive way? How have you impacted others in a positive way? What is better now than it was in 2016 (or before the 2017-18 school year started)? What (or who) has brought you joy?My “to do” lists are always filled—up and down the page, in the margins, front and back of the paper—-with all the tasks I need to complete. When I look back at one of these lists as I transfer the few items left on the old, scratched-out list to a new page so I can continue to list more tasks, my first thought is, “No wonder I’m so tired!”. That is quickly followed by the satisfaction that somehow I have been able to get those things done that at one time I felt were insurmountable. Take a moment to reflect on the good. It will remind you of your purpose.
  2. What didn’t work? This one can be painful, but we need to reflect on what didn’t work if we want to learn and grow. Over two decades ago, I directed the Teahouse of the August Moon, John Patrick’s Pulitzer award winning play. I’ve always remembered Sakini’s words from his opening monologue, “Pain make man think, thought make man wise, wisdom make life endurable”. Recalling failures is not a time to merely complain or indulge in self-pity. This is a time of honest and sometime uncomfortable reflection. What things did you experience that made your life more difficult or impacted you in a negative way? Which goals did you not accomplish and how could you have done things differently? How did you impact others in a negative way and how were you impacted by others in a negative way? What is not as good as it was before this year started? What or who has stolen your joy? Think about what didn’t work. Resolve to learn from it and change it rather than repeat it.
  3. What/whom do you have to be thankful for/to? Gratitude is good for the soul. It takes the focus off yourself on places it on things and people who had a positive impact. It also makes us realize how truly blessed we are. I had a principal whose mantra was, “Many hands make the work light”. Most theatre departments have only one theatre teacher. It can be a bit lonely and stressful. But there are usually those who are willing to help along the way. Let them know that you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Sometimes, we don’t even realize how good we have it until a change occurs. Our school experienced a lot of changes this year with a new principal and a new director of fine arts. Both ladies who previously held these positions were exemplary. I am so blessed that both gentlemen who currently hold these positions are also exemplary. Change brought about uncertainty and fear, but I am so thankful that I continue to be supported as a teacher and director of theatre at my school by an amazing administrative team. Realize what and who you have and let them know that you appreciate them.

So now, it’s time to look forward, and I’m asking myself the following questions:

  1. What do I want to accomplish? How can I have a positive impact? Where/how can I continue to learn so I can continue to grow as a person, teacher, mother, wife, grandmother, etc…? What is going to truly bring me joy and what do I need to do to achieve it? Winning at contest is great, but it should not be the only goal. It shouldn’t even be the primary goal. Is that sometimes hard to remember? Absolutely! The goal is to tell the story in the best way possible. That’s all your truly have control over. Only you know where your students started the year and the trials and tribulations you’ve overcome as a group. There’s much to be celebrated if we’re willing to look past the trophies and medals.
  2. How can I learn from the mistakes I’ve made in the past? Do I need to re-evaluate my goals? What can I change? Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we can’t change others. And sometimes, the change is to remove yourself or someone else from the situation. The only person you can control is you. Don’t allow others to steal your joy. Sometimes that means it is time to look for another teaching position because you no longer see yourself as being a good fit for your current position (or the school is no longer a good fit for you). Sometimes that means that casting changes need to occur. Sometimes it means we need to change the way we do things. Make changes when they’re needed. Learn from mistakes and move forward. As long as your pain makes you think and your thought makes you wise, it will lead to wisdom that will make life more endurable. (Thank you, Sakini and John Patrick!)
  3. Who do I need to surround myself with? Who are the people that I know I’ll be thanking at the end of the year for making my life easier, better, and happier? Who is going to bring joy to my life and the lives of the people I love and care about? How can I bring joy to the people I come in contact with each day? As Mark Twain once said, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with”. Who will you choose to divide your joy with?

As 2017 comes to a close and we welcome 2018 and all the wonderful experiences that will be coming our way, I’d like to take this moment to say thank you to each of you who have purchased our curriculum, liked our Facebook page, attended a workshop, recommended our publications to other theatre educators, or in any way supported Maestro Theatre Publications, LLC.  May your 2018 be filled with happiness and success. May you and your students create many moments that will turn into precious memories. Most importantly, may be surrounded by love and by many wonderful people with whom you can divide your joy. Happy New year!

Return to Directing, Plot and Actors

I saw many beautiful shows this past UIL OAP season.   I saw beautiful set designs, intriguing concepts, incredible movement, spectacular special effects, etc.  I definitely saw some stunning plays, visuals that will stay with me for many years, but I did not always understand the story being told.   I fear we, as directors (and I am talking to myself),  are focusing on spectacle and not a protagonist’s journey.  With the removal of many set limitations, the focus has shifted away from the story.  I want to see a show that moves me, inspires me, makes me laugh, not one that makes me wonder how that director did that effect or accomplished that design; those things should compliment the story, not drive it.   I cannot tell you how many times an audience member has said to me,  “Can you tell me what that play was about?”   Isn’t that our job – to tell the story?   

As I watched contest plays, I realized I am not the only director who has lost focus.  So many shows this year were beautiful, cool, and imaginative.  While this creates a visually stunning show,  this focus sometimes takes away from the playwright’s story.  This trend has caused me to revisit Aristotle’s Poetics.  Aristotle gives us six elements of a play:  plot, character, theme, language, rhythm and spectacle.  Many of us are putting too much focus on the spectacle and not enough focus on the other five elements.  The spectacle is driving the show and not the protagonist’s journey.  Our attention has been on the vision we can put on the stage while the actual story has taken a backseat.  Instead of spending energy discovering the best way to cover up the gray or add a special effect to “WOW” an audience, energy and time should be spent on directing the plot and coaching the actor.  

When I first began directing, I knew nothing.  I was an elementary education major asked to direct the OAP.  I am competitive, so I began watching and learning from the best.  What I could not learn from them in a short two-hour clinic, I figured out on my own.  I analyzed characters with my students using real life experiences from myself and others.  I created stage pictures that I thought were pretty and told the story.  I focused on a character’s movement (blocking) because I knew that created interest for an audience.  I made sure I could hear my actors on stage but did not let them sacrifice honesty for volume.  I did everything I could to create the illusion of that playwright’s world with believable character choices.  Back then, the last element I considered was spectacle.

Through the years, I have learned so much more about directing.  I have met and analyzed many directors.   I have read books.  I have attended training.  I have trained others.  I definitely have a whole lot more knowledge than I did twenty years ago.  I am a much better director than I was before, but I have to honestly admit that I have gotten caught up in directing the spectacle and not the protagonist’s journey.  

Why do we spend so much time on the directing component of the contest and not more time on the acting?    First of all, spectacle is being rewarded in competition.  A show that is heavy on spectacle is advancing over a well-acted show – even though the contest is an acting contest.   It is hard not to follow the trend that takes home the trophies.  I believe the other reason we focus on spectacle is because it is the element directors can most control.  With today’s teen spending the majority of their time in front of a screen, teaching them to recreate relationships through dialogue is a challenge.  Students do not know what face-to-face communication feels like in real life, so they have a difficult time communicating and living in the moment on stage.  Even though it is difficult to coach an actor to do something out of his or her comfort zone, that is where our focus should be.  Somehow we need to return to the balance of acting and directing in our shows.    Our first priority should be to direct the plot and coach the actors.  We need to remember that our concept or commanding image should compliment our story, not drive it.

I know this may sound as if I am bitter for not advancing.  I am not bitter, but I am disappointed in myself.  I did not push my students to explore their characters enough.  I spent way too much time directing the art and not the story.  So as I prepare for the next year, I am going to challenge myself to return to directing the story.  I love working on the spectacle, but I will not allow that to consume my preparation.  I am going to return to teaching students to be real, authentic and genuine within the world the playwright has given us.   I do not want the audience to leave talking about the show’s concept not knowing what the story was really about.  I want to direct a stunning show, but I want an audience to leave with more knowledge, being moved or entertained because they followed a character’s journey.

 

   

 

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)