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Archive for Coaching

It’s Audition Time Again

I have a love/hate relationship with auditions.  As a director, I’m excited to see the growth of my students’ auditioning skills from their previous auditions.  I’m optimistic that new jewels are about to be discovered, and that those diamonds-in-the-rough from the previous year are now sparkling and ready to “wow” me. Watching students enter the audition process with excitement, hope, and determination is something that I absolutely love.  I hate, however, the eventual task of making those difficult (and many times hair-splitting) decisions, breaking hearts, and disappointing kids. Unfortunately, it’s part of the process if your students are truly invested in your program.

With the beginning of another school year, many directors are currently going through the audition process.  Below are a few tips that have worked for me.

  1. The CALENDAR. Have a calendar with dates of rehearsals, performances, contests, and any other dates that your company members will be required to attend.  It’s important to be very specific concerning the expectations you have of your students’ time. This will, hopefully, eliminate conflicts in the future. It will also give you leverage later should a student ask to miss a required event due to a conflict that was not previously approved.

 

  1. The CONTRACT. A contract listing your rehearsal, performance, and contest expectations, along with information concerning the dates you require students to attend these events (attach calendar mentioned in #1) should be distributed at auditions.  Have students read the contract and allow them to communicate any questions they may have. Contracts should be signed by both the student and a parent. There should be a statement indicating that the parent and the student both understand and agree to your expectations and the student will be available on all dates indicated as a required event.

 

  1. The AUDITION FORM. I include a section for students to list their other activities (job, school activities, church activities, private lessons, etc…) on the audition form. Have students list all possible activities they will be involved with during the rehearsal process and through the run of the show (including advancement dates for contest and any rehearsals to accompany advancement). They should include dates/times for these activities.  It’s important that you get an idea how busy the student is and with which activities they are involved.  It’s best to know that a student has conflicts prior to casting them.  Sometimes, you can work through the issues and the student can still participate, but if the student is going to have to make choices, it’s best for them and for you to know that now.

 

  1. The PROCESS. It’s important to consider many things when perusing scripts: your talent pool, your audience, your community, your budget, and the literary merit of the material you’re considering just to name a few. Finding “the one” is often a time-consuming process.  If more than one script could be “the one”, consider auditioning multiple scripts to get an idea of which is the best.  During the audition process, include a brief interview with each of the students who receive a call-back (and, if time allows, during regular auditions). If you haven’t already discussed possible conflicts from the audition form with each student, the interview process is a great time to have that discussion. Interviews can be done during lunch and before or after school on non-audition days if desired. Also, consider using various audition techniques in your assessment of auditions.  A cold reading of the chosen script can be useful, but not all students cold-read well.  Warm-ups and improv activities can be valuable in discovering who is quick-witted, creative, or willing to get out of their comfort zone.  Having students memorize a brief monologue or scene for call-backs is yet another way to access a student’s abilities. Pantomime activities are a great way to observe a student’s use of physicality when acting.  When multiple assessments are used, a director can consider how each student uses the body, voice, imagination, and script.  This will give you a much better picture of the actor you are casting.  Crew members should also have an audition and interview process.

 

  1. The “TALK”. I give “the talk” prior to the start of auditions and at the conclusion of each audition session.  The “talk” at the beginning of the audition session will include information concerning what I’m looking for in auditions.  I also give each student a list of characters with character descriptions, a synopsis of the play, and the calendar/contract/audition form. I want the students to have all the information they need to be successful and to understand the expectations of them. At the end of each audition session, and especially on the final day of regular auditions and call-back auditions, I conclude with another “talk”.  I explain to the students that I have to make very difficult decisions, and not everyone will get what they want.  I ask that they look at me and really hear the following words, “I’m talking to you”.   So many of them truly believe they’ve aced their audition, and there’s no way you can’t choose them. They need to understand that rejection is a part of the process.  If you get the part you want, that probably means someone else (or several people) have not gotten what they wanted.  It happens.  It’s disappointing, and it is alright to be disappointed.  It’s NOT alright to be angry, bitter, or disruptive to the production process if you’re disappointed.  During the production process, we teach theatre, but we also teach “life”.  Teaching them how to handle disappointment and triumph is part of what we do.  I tell my students, “You’re always auditioning” in hopes that this will encourage them to reflect before reacting negatively. Help them learn that you love them enough to hold them accountable for their behavior.

Don’t forget that you, too, will be auditioning during the student audition process.  Students come into auditions evaluating you, your program, & your choice of script. They’re considering, “Do I want to spend my time being a part of this process?”, “Does this director seem like someone I want to work with?”, and “Do I really want to be in this particular play?”.  Be organized. Be engaging.  Be excited.  Students want to make sure that the commitment of their time, talent, and efforts is well placed. The audition process will help them make that decision.  Best wishes with your auditions this year, and remember—-you, and they, are always auditioning!

Perseverance

In the past few weeks, I have had the fortunate opportunity to clinic sixteen shows in different parts of Texas.  I always leave feeling challenged, inspired, and blessed.  This past weekend, I returned with a huge appreciation for the life lessons we teach students while working on a production.  We teach students about perseverance, commitment, and the strength we gain when working with others.

As I have worked with each director, I recognize the toll the long hours and stress put on each of us.  Preparing for the competition season, working within a budget, lesson planning, teaching, grading etc. (not to mention having a family) is draining on all of us.  With the earlier contest dates, we are all scrambling to re-adjust our schedules to be prepared for that first contest.  Even with the best-laid plans, unexpected delays seem to pop up.  I know many of you have had additional, unforeseen complications with obtaining production rights, commitments (or should I say non-commitments) from students, and the flu season.

About the time I am at the end of my stress level and ready to throw in the towel, I am reminded of the invaluable lessons we are teaching our students as we press through all of the obstacles to prepare our production.   When students see us continuing to work hard, staying positive, working around all hurdles, they are learning life lessons.  These are the lessons a student cannot learn from a book, they learn from example and their own experience.  This is why we continue to pick up our bootstraps and keep moving forward.

In the past couple of weeks, I know of three productions that have had to start all over.  All three companies had created their super-objective and commanding image, prepared their scripts, begun costuming, designed a set, gathered props, etc.   Their students had already memorized their lines, were blocking and developing a character.  Then, because of some unexpected obstacle, the current production had to be halted.  I am afraid in today’s society, too many people would give up and quit – but not theatre teachers.  We know how to look at the worst of situations and turn them into the best possible scenario.  What a gift we give our students.

We all could tell stories about companies who pulled together to overcome complications – stories about changing productions with few rehearsals left before a contest or opening night, students who failed to commit, administration that stopped a show or concept, unfortunate accidents or sicknesses.  This list could go on and on.   Very few times can we name the times a company quit because of these unfortunate incidents.  Instead, we have watched as directors and students pulled together to produce quality theatre.  More importantly, we have watched as directors taught young adults how to persevere in life.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  We cannot quit in the face of adversity,

As I watched a group of young actors enthusiastically welcome a production change due to the lack of commitment from some of their classmates and peers, I stood in awe.  I never heard one complain.  I never heard one say they could not do it or that it could not be done.  I watched these students embrace the challenge with a contagious eagerness.  Those students are the ones who will survive in life.  They are the ones who will succeed in their endeavors because they did not quit when it was difficult.  They backed up, re-evaluated the situation and embraced a solution.

As theatre teachers, we begin modeling how to persist through adversity early in the production process. When we begin designing a set and have to adapt our vision with the reality of the space, contest or our budget, we are modeling perseverance.   When we find the need to recast the lead actor, we are demonstrating how to work through adversity.   Students watch us face an obstacle, re-evaluate and develop a solution through all aspects of the production process.  I realize now, that every time we adjust our plan of action to meet the needs or restrictions at the moment, we are modeling life lessons to our students.  What a gift we give our students every day without even realizing it.

As you continue preparing for your competition season, don’t disregard the little lessons you are teaching everyday.  Every time you stay positive in the face of adversity, your students are watching you.  Every time you refuse to give up or quit and, instead, continue to work hard, re-evaluate and keep going, you are modeling the lessons in life that make people succeed.   Those lessons are more important than any administrative evaluation or trophy you can win.

 

 

 

Letting Go

I am a control freak.  “Hi, my name is Renee and I am a control freak.”  (Admitting the problem is the first step, right?)  I am sure my husband is excited to read that I am confessing this flaw.  Actually, until now,  I thought I was only a control freak when directing a show.   I am such a perfectionist and I have a hard time letting go. I want the show to be perfect, so I control so many aspects of it.

This week, I have come to the realization that my husband might be right.  I have seen where I micromanage in other areas.  Mainly, I have learned that I have a hard time letting go when I am not sure of the end result.  I guess that is why most of us control situations, so we can control the outcome.  I think I sometimes “hold tight to the reins”  when I am insecure.  If I control the situation, no one will know that I am unsure of my skill.  Silly, this is when I should let go more and learn from those I am teaching.  This leads me to what I have discovered about myself in the first week of teaching in my new school.

I am going explain my situation modeling the  “Unfortunately/Fortunately” game.  (This activity can be found on page 184 of 100+ Activities & Games for the Body, Voice, and Imagination.)

  • Fortunately, I have been blessed with a department of students who are very self-sufficient.
  • Unfortunately, I have started the school year implementing all of my ideas, warm-ups, and structure without considering the success these students have had with the procedures they already have in place.
  • Unfortunately, they have been accepting of my new ideas and have jumped on board with me.
  • Unfortunately, I am taking away their sense of ownership and their incredible fortitude.
  • Fortunately, I have a friend who reminded me that students need to be empowered to reach their full potential.

I am blessed to be in a department with students who are willing to meet me where I am.  They have been respectful, willing, and adaptable.    I need to enter next week with a fresh attitude – willing to let go of some control.  My job is to empower students to be productive on their own, not micromanage their every move.  Thank goodness I am realizing this after week one and not at week thirty-six.

How will I begin empowering the students I have?    First, I have to stop trying to control every aspect of our department.   From experience, I know that when the right kids are given responsibility and goals, they aspire beyond my expectations.  This gives them a sense of achievement.  What better skill does a student need when walking out into the world after graduation.

While researching this idea, I found a great blog by Celina Brennan (who is actually an elementary school teacher, but I think most of what she says applies to high school kids, too.)   Her blog can be found at http://www.wholechildeducation.org/blog/empower-students-5-powerful-strategies.  In this blog, I found some great ideas to begin letting go and letting students continue to develop and strengthen their own potential.

I am going to engage conversation with my students encouraging them to reflect and assess. I want them to reflect on the last couple of years and what they have done that works and what they have done that does not work.  Not only will this help us develop a strategy to continue or maybe strengthen what they were doing, but also to give them some closure on the past.  I want them to know that closure does not mean all things in the past were bad, it means that one era is over and another is beginning.  This will help them discover their own strengths and analyze their weaknesses.  I hope this will also model how, throughout the year, we need to do some reflection and assessment with each project our department tackles.

I am restructuring my lesson plans with my advanced theatre students – both acting classes and  tech classes.  I am going to allow them time to teach me what they know.  Maybe it is good I started with my own ideas and expectations so they know I can take control, but I think I need to allow them time to express their knowledge.  We all know the best learning comes from teaching.

This process will assist my new students in developing goals for themselves, the class, and/or the department.  Instead of forcing my routines and ideas on them, I am going to take a step back and listen to what they want to accomplish.  I hope this will open up conversation that will inspire them to achieve more than any of us thought possible.   I believe in the philosophy that together we discover so much more than we do individually.   It is time I put this into practice.

In the speech and debate world, I always encouraged students to take ownership in their performances and develop their own process for meeting their goals.  I would say,  “I am not in that room with you, you need to figure it out.”  For some reason, I find this more difficult with theatre.   This is where my micromanaging comes to play.  I feel I must control the outcome because it is MY production; but as my friend reminded me, ultimately, it is their show.  It is time I incorporate my speech and debate philosophy to my  approach with educational theatre.

Do not get me wrong.  I believe students need guidance.  I believe they need boundaries.  They need a coach that allows them to aspire to greatness, one who will encourage, protect, and assist them along the way.  I know that I can provide those things.  I also know I have knowledge that they do not have and experiences they have not had which can help guide them along their journey.  I am fortunate that I have inherited students with some pretty strong skills.  It is evident in the current strength of the officers, thespian troupe, my advanced students and throughout the department.  It is my job to allow them to continue to test their wings and not handicap them with my need to micromanage.

So, today, I am beginning my journey of letting go by coaching, not micromanaging,  some already talented and responsible young adults.  I welcome this new challenge in my life.  Maybe, I will try this at home, too.

Using One Word to Kick Off the New School Year and Add a New Dimension to Productions

book

This summer, our administrative team was challenged to read One Word that Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton, and Jimmy Page.  In 1999, these authors discovered a better way to become their best and live a life of impact. Instead of creating endless goals and resolutions, they found one word that would be their driving force for the year. No goals. No wish lists. Just one word. You can access a video explaining the concept as well as resources and how to purchase the book at getoneword.com.

The book boasts that your life will become more rewarding and exciting than ever once you find your one word. One Word is supposed to create clarity, focus, power, and passion for your year. The concept behind One Word is that it impacts all six dimensions of your life – mental, physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and financial. The idea is that once you find your word, you live it, and you share it.

One of my colleagues swears by this book and has used One Word for the last 3 years.  She chose the word “Pause” the first year to remember that she needed to take time to reflect and appreciate as she went through her year.  The second year she chose the word “Keep” to focus herself on keeping the things she loved close and to keep going on the path she had planned.  This last year she chose the word “Fierce” and used it to encourage bold, fearless choices to move herself forward.

Although I could tell my colleague was passionate about how using One Word had shaped her life and promoted meaningful change, I have to admit that I was not excited about reading this book. I certainly expected a cheesy, idealistic, feel good book that would quickly find its way sandwiched between many other books I have been required to read and have never referenced or used for action in my life. When I received it, I was happy to see it would be an easy read and I started it immediately to get it out of the way. However, as I read the book, I found that the concept really seemed to be a simple way to approach goal setting and echoed some of the same ideas I have embraced for play production.

The concept is similar to the idea of a commanding image for a production and as I read I realized One Word could translate not only as a tool for teachers to use personally but also for students to use.  Students can define their word as it relates to their personal goals but One Word can also be used to set a goal for a whole class or compassiondepartment. Choosing one word could be a great way to kick off your year with your students.  Writing the word on notecards or posters and making a focus wall where all the words are displayed is a great way to have students establish ownership of the classroom or performance space.

Some campuses have written their words on rocks and placed them in front of the school or have written their one word on an object important to the team or group.

stones

You can have students design the word with colors and shapes to exemplify the word or even combine all the words chosen by your students to create a wordle at wordle.net. The One Word website even has a reflection activity for the end of the year to consider how the use of One Word impacted your students’choices made throughout the year.

Now, using One Word as a unifying activity for the start of the year is a cool idea but what really excited me about the concept was using it in production.  Certainly using it to unify the production company came to mind but, I am intrigued about using One Word as a character building activity. What if actors chose one word for their character as an extension of their word cloudsuper objective?  How would selecting one word, in character, change their focus, clarity, passion and power in performance? I am curious to see if selecting one word helps students who can get in their heads too much while trying to portray a role. What if the One Word concept could simplify the process for students who struggle to actively play their tactics in pursuit of their character’s objective? Could choosing one word for their character help them make mental, physical, emotional, relational and spiritual choices for their character in the play? I certainly think it could be a valuable tool in the production process and I encourage you to give it a try.

I hope this school year brings you clarity, focus, power and passion.  Your work inspires and engages students in ways that connect all their studies to the bigger picture of creative problem solving and synergized learning.  Embrace your one word and let it guide you through a successful year of discovery and growth.  Share your one word on the Maestro Theatre Publications, LLC Forum.  Good Year to you and Good Show!!!!

 

More Than a Job

“Why do you want to go back to theatre?”  This is the question I have been asked many times over the past few weeks as I leave my English teaching assignment to return to teaching theatre and directing again.   I usually answer with something like, “It’s my love,” or “I am a better theatre teacher than English teacher,” or sometimes “I can retire in a few years and why not finish out having fun.”  While these are true, they do not truly articulate why I continue to return to teaching theatre in the classroom and on the stage.

As many of you know, I have resisted teaching theatre for many years.  Wait, I have never minded teaching theatre classes, I love teaching them. (Truthfully, I do not love teaching tech theatre, but I love the rest of it.)  Where else can I foster self-confidence and teach literature in a way a student “gets” it.  What  I have resisted is directing.  We all know the long hours directing a production involves and the toll it takes on our relationships.  We miss many events with friends, and sometimes family, because we have a show, or we have rehearsal, or we need to work on costumes, set, music cues, light cues, etc.  Over the past few years, I have tried to find other pastimes to enjoy; and in this quest, I have realized directing is the pastime, or hobby, I most love.  So, now instead of apologizing for being at rehearsal, I am going to compare it to playing golf, or painting, or wine-tasting.   When someone asks me what I do with my spare time, I am going to answer with “I teach theatre – that is my hobby.”

Hobbies are things that fulfill us, motivate us, make us happy.  Merriam-Webster defines a hobby as 1.  a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation,  2.  an interest or activity engaged in for pleasure.  I like the second definition much better.  Why must our hobby be outside of our regular occupation?  How much more rewarding is it if our hobby is our J-O-B.  I no longer want to dread going to work, I do not want to sit and wait for a final bell to ring.  I want to finish my career being engaged in activities that I find fun and fulfilling.  OK, maybe directing a production is not relaxing, but it will keep me excited and young at heart!

So, why theatre?  I love the creativity.  I love reading a script while I envision it coming to life on stage.  I love collaborating with students to produce the best product for that particular company.  This is why we can return to shows we have directed, because each show is different.  We cannot recreate the same show we did with other students, because it is a different group of creative energy.  I cannot think of anything that is more rewarding than watching the final night of a performance.  That is the only night I can really relax and enjoy the art unfolding on that stage.  That is magic for me.

I love how,  on a stage, students learn about themselves, other people, and the world around them.  Jacki Maenius, theatre director at Mason High School, and four time UIL State OAP champion, best described it, “In theatre, I think we [theatre teachers] send kids out into the world with a better perspective on humanity and THEIR purpose.”  We teach kids to be open-minded, to accept others as they are and not what we want them to be, and to look at the world through multiple perspectives.  We all know that literature opens a student up to seeing the world.  On the stage, students learn to dig deep into a playwright’s words and “chew” on them.  I know from teaching English, very few students do this in the classroom, but on the stage they thrive on digging deeper into the meaning of each word and action.

In my theatre class, I begin the year with activities to encourage self-discovery. So many students do not know how to look inward to uncover who they are.  I wish someone would have encouraged me to discover who I was when I was in high school.  Truthfully, it was not until I began teaching theatre that I began to analyze myself and started to grow as a person.  In my theatre classes, I begin the year talking about how students cannot become someone else on stage if they do not know who they are themselves.  To me, this is one of the biggest gifts a teacher can give a student – the freedom to discover their strengths, their weaknesses, and their dreams.  I love how we can do this in a theatre classroom and on a stage.  I cannot wait to begin this process with my new students and encourage them to be playwrights, writing their own stories, and seeing those on the stage through our Maestro Talk Theatre performances.

I know this sounds like some Utopia and I definitely know that is not the case.  I remember how I agonize over choosing a script, casting students, communicating with parents and administrators, preparing for opening night, and the long hours spent working on a production.  I also remember how difficult teaching technical theatre is for me.   Technical elements are not my friend.  But, I do know, sometimes the best learning happens when teacher and student are learning next to one another.  Truthfully, that is why I love directing; it is me and a group of students learning about that playwright’s intent, motivation, and lessons – together.  Nothing can replace that experience to me.  I have missed learning with students on a stage and I welcome that feeling with open-arms.

So, as I begin my twenty-eighth year of teaching, I am returning to joining students in an educational journey for all of us – in a classroom, a small scene shop and on stage.  I am nervous, excited, and at peace.  I feel like I am putting on old shoes that I loved but had misplaced.  Recently, an ex-student reminded me of a poem we used to say at the end of our rehearsals and before performances.  J.B. Priestly’s words best sums up the way most of us feel about our job/hobby/pastime/calling in life.


The Secret Dream
The hunger that can never be fulfilled
To come out of a late rehearsal and smell the lilacs
To have a play done as well as it can be done
By dear friends and tired colleagues
And not indifferently produced on all the stages of the world
Ah! Some of my friends will be onto it before you can say “knife”
To tell me that such a place cannot exist outside a daydream
But some of us,
As we go,
Hold to a notion quite different
For ours is the secret dream