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Archive for Creativity

WHO’S GOING TO STOP ME

In the late 1980’s I submitted scenes from A Lie of the Mind, by Sam Shepard, as our entry into the Texas UIL One Act Play Contest.  Lynn Murray, the State Director, called me to tell me the reading committee was split on the title and that he had to make the decision to approve or deny our selection.  He was an ex-college professor of mine and was known for his “sailor” vocabulary. His final ruling was, “If you want mount that piece of sh*t, go right ahead and mount it.”  A Lie of The Mind was named the AAAAA State Champion that year.  At last year’s Texas Educational Theatre Association Convention, Lynn Murray kindly told me it was the best UIL show he saw in his tenure as State Director.

I judged last year’s State AAAAAA contest and was one of the three panelists who awarded Houston Carnegie Vanguard High School’s scenes from Holy Day, by Andrew Bovell, the State Championship.  Now State Director, Luis Munoz, told me that Holy Day was his A Lie of the Mind.  There was much rumbling about Holy Day: parent protests, attorneys, threats of law suits, police escorted students at performances. A Lie of the Mind stirred some discussion and letters to newspapers, but we now live in the age of texting and immediate news and social media protesting.  My principal back in the 1980’s received numerous phone calls, letters, and newspaper interviews.  I remember him telling me, “We trust you and how you teach our kids. We are proud of our theatre program.  So what do I care what they are saying in Conservative, Texas.”

Should the Texas UIL One Act Play Contest censor play selection and play content?  Should high school students be protected from “mature” literature and not be allowed to speak the “mature” words written by a playwright?  My answer is no. Every administrator has to sign an agreement form to enter a contest: “The production does not offend the moral standards of our community and is is appropriate for presentation by the students of our school. “I have seen “mature” plays produced in small rural towns as well as large urban schools.  I have seen The Small World of Millie McIvor produced in a large AAAAAA school.  I have seen The Rimers of Eldritch, with its murder, rape, and bigotry cloaked in Christianity produced in small one A schools.  A good theatre director lays a foundation with its school and community to create art and not all art is pretty, thank God.  A good theatre director creates trust through clear communication and objectives.  A school must know and understand why a company is producing its selected title.  I recall casting a Jewish student in the role of Shylock. That sensitive decision did not happen without conversation with the parents of that child.  They disagreed with my choice of play selection, but allowed their child to play the role as a learning experience.  We all learned. A good director communicates with parents and administrators. I do not ask our librarian what books to put in our library. I do not ask the English Department what literature they are teaching.

Theatre is didactic and outside institutions have no right determining what is appropriate for a particular community.  We hear the same argument in politics where many believe the federal government should stay out of state decisions.  I believe the state should stay out of local decisions.  I served as a clinician for several UIL productions this year.  Directors have been told to eliminate all curse words and many directors were told to clean up plot driven relationships. I’m sorry, but Eddie has to be hot for Catherine in A View From the Bridge.  I’m sorry, but Brian and Mark are in a Gay relationship in The Shadow Box.  Can high school kids handle discussing incest?  Can high school kids handle discussing Gay issues?  I am sad to say that in my career I have had to deal with more than one student who was sexual abused by a family member.  As an openly Gay man, I wish a teacher had allowed me to talk about sexuality when I was 16 years old.  A Lie of the Mind deals with spousal abuse, alcoholism, and controversial use of the American flag.  I cannot think of a better way to stimulate discussion and allow actors and audience to define their values.

We teach the Google Generation.  You are naive if you think our high school students have not searched the nastiest thing you can imagine.  Every “mature” subject is at their fingertips.  Let teachers and directors safely provide platforms for discussion and adult supervision of their questions.  I wished Texas UIL had stood more firmly against threats of lawsuits.  There are attorneys who could argue in favor of freedom of speech.  There are attorneys who understand freedom of choice.

No matter how hard we try to protect our kids, they will get hurt. Theatre can provide a practice role to prepare them for those inevitable hurts.  I am thankful for my American freedoms.  The freedom to compete in UIL provided me with success and the foundation to believe in myself.  Competition is one of America’s greatest freedoms. UIL made me who I am today. We live daily watching a presiding president try and control the media.  We should not censor.  UIL taught me to believe in myself and take risks.  As a mature teacher and director I have learned to stop wondering if principals and society is going to let me…   UIL gave me the confidence to rather say, “Who is going to stop me from doing what I know is best for my students.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Kid Power”: Leadership for the New Year

I love the promise of a new year.  The holiday usually gives me some much-needed rest and I am full of energy and hope for the second semester.  I would have time to get prepared for the first few weeks back and I was always eager to start work on the next production.  Success for the new year means doing your best to anticipate the challenges that come with all that is the Spring Semester.  However, this doesn’t mean you do everything alone.  Certainly, having partner teachers is a plus but even if you are the lone wolf in the drama department you are not on your own.

Since leaving the classroom, I have become more aware of the most powerful partnership I had as a teacher.  That partnership is what I now refer to as “Kid Power”.  I truly miss “Kid Power”.  Frequently, I think to myself how many of my tasks in my current administrative role would be so much better if I had students sharing their skills, planning ideas, and most of all, using their physical power. From offering suggestions on projects, planning and organizing, and setting up sets or building, students are the power behind any successful program.

Students have so much to offer and can certainly use their skills to assist in making your classroom instruction and productions run smoothly.  Now that you have had a semester to build relationships, it is time to challenge your students with opportunities to own their learning and take on more responsibility. January is the time to engage your students and develop their “Kid Power”. A new year is the right time to empower students to become leaders.

“Leadership is the wise use of power. Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it.” -Warren Bennis, scholar, author, and pioneer in leadership studies

You really can’t be a leader without having power, which most dictionaries define as “the ability to act.”

You know that with class and productions your plate will be full for the second semester.  Now is the time to grow your own leaders and transform your students into partners in learning by embracing their power. One way for students to embrace their power is by feeling a strong sense of self-efficacy—a strong belief that they can accomplish their goals. William Glasser calls this quality the “power within.” Developing “Kid Power” in the classroom means helping students embrace their ability to own their part in learning.  So many students have learned, through school, that they are passive receivers of knowledge and theatre is a fantastic venue to promote learning as an action.  Letting students know that learning is something done, not something done to you and they need to take action and decide how they want to learn is necessary to take your classes to the next level. Setting up differentiated lessons where students have choices on how they will demonstrate mastery of skills is a great way to offer opportunities for students to harness their power.

Teaching students about learning strategies can also strengthen self-efficacy. This is different from teaching skills. Being able to start a car with a key in the ignition is a skill, but if you lose your car keys, you need strategies. “Kid Power” helps students gain the capacity to tackle unforeseen problems by emphasizing comprehension.  Students are empowered to categorize information, identify patterns and problem solve in theatre without a teacher always telling the “rule” in advance. For the second semester, challenge your students to solve problems without spelling everything out.  It will be messy and if you are a control freak, like me, it can be hard to watch, but when you watch them develop and begin to work together and collaboratively use their creativity, you will find they will surprise you with exciting ideas and innovative techniques.

If you are concerned that your classes may not be ready for the responsibility I suggest, it is important to note that Glasser suggests that 95 percent of classroom management issues occur as a result of students trying to fulfill a need for power. When we share power with our students, it doesn’t mean that we “have less power” —but it can mean we’ve created more possibilities for learning and leadership. You have already laid the groundwork for “Kid Power” by building relationships with students.  As you head into the next semester, continue to explore your students’ self-interests, hopes, and dreams, and be better prepared to more explicitly connect lessons to them.

Another way to shift your classroom to “Kid Power” is to provide opportunities for students to teach others. Teaching others not only requires students to reread and return to learned material but it also enhances self-confidence and provides good modeling for peers. I often used the “jigsaw” concept—in which students become experts and teach each other about a topic in small groups.  I usually required students to provide an original visual or performance to teach their assigned material. Small groups of students can teach short lessons to other small groups, who then reverse roles.  Another strategy asks individual students to prepare short fill-in-the-blank statements and then exchange them, keeping in mind that their statements need to be carefully designed so that their peers can use context clues to complete them.

The classroom is not the only place where students can exercise their power. I know most of us trust a student to be a stage manager or perhaps you trust and give power freely to that light board technician kid who knows the board like the back of his hand but, I want to challenge you to embrace “Kid Power” for the entire company.
Your students can help get the word out about your productions.  I always asked my best students to bring at least two new students to the audition for the next show. I asked them to listen for great readers and speakers in their English classes or great presenters in other classes.  They would often get excited about finding someone to bring to an audition that would ultimately get cast.  They took great pride in their recruiting skills and casting eye and the students they brought were so happy to find theatre and become part of the team.

I would often prepare a 1 page audition announcement flyer for them to hand out with the following information to help new recruits:

  1. Title of the Show
  2. Performance Dates
  3. Important Details (Special performance times or requirements)
  4. Production Team Positions Open
  5. Kind of Audition (Musical or Play)
  6. Audition Dates
  7. What to Prepare
  8. What Type of Performers are Needed (Age, Gender, and Special Skills)
  9. Brief Synopsis

It is important to remember that “Kid Power” doesn’t mean Seniority.  Seniority has its place but “Kid Power” is about building leadership skills for all students and helping students own their department.  When you create opportunities for all students to make an impact in production you build commitment and you see less students abandoning the process mid-stream.  Students see their power as immediate and know that you trust them with responsibilities.  Certainly we are good at assigning leadership roles for certain students but the task of “Kid Power” comes in finding opportunities for all.

All students can cast the play.  This is a wonderful activity at auditions to help students understand the responsibility and difficulty of casting.  I required that all actors and technicians interested in participation in the play submit their cast list in writing as the last activity before I dismissed them from the audition.  This is something they did not discuss with others and many struggled with the task but it helped them understand the responsibility of a director.

All students can lead warm-ups.  Have your stage manager model leading a 10 minute vocal and physical warm-up for the company.  Then have them create a calendar that allows for every student to have at least 1 rehearsal where they lead the company in warm-ups.  This 10 minutes at the start of every rehearsal allows for you to have time to get set up and problem solve before each rehearsal.  Students can repeat traditional warm-ups or introduce new warm-ups to the company that might just become traditions. Have students plan for end of rehearsal reflection activities.  Each student should have a rehearsal they are responsible for running reflections.  If you are like me and use a “source wall” (See Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints) when doing table work for a production, students can rotate responsibility for updating items on the wall and presenting to the group.

All students can offer suggestions for improvement and by creating an open communication system, students can offer suggestions for what scenes they may need to work on more.  Developing an appropriate way to share ideas, students can help problem solve difficult scene changes, costume issues or blocking concerns.

All students can develop and deliver your 3-5-7-9.  On a 3×5 card, have students write your department’s mission and goals in 7 sentences.  They should practice delivering this message in less than 90 seconds as an elevator speech to promote what your department or production is all about.  This 3-5-7-9 technique can be used to recruit students to the program or invite folks to come see your latest play. You can also use this strategy with Twitter by having students use 140 characters to tweet about the show or the program.

It is important to note that “Kid Power” does not mean you don’t make decisions.  It is important to establish that student leadership is respected in your department but you are there to guide them and ensure their safety to prepare them to promote what is best for all students.

Using “Kid Power” doesn’t mean there won’t be teachable moments, times when you will need to intervene and hit the re-set button or that you will not need to re-direct students who make poor choices or choose to use their “power” for ill.  However, the benefits of embracing “Kid Power” or student leadership far outweigh the risks and students are more prepared for post- graduation because of their experiences.  Here are some of the ways embracing student leadership in theatre can better prepare your students:

  • Having their abilities recognized by others is empowering, and the work students do in a leadership role is likely to be recognized and help them gain confidence.
  • Public speaking plays a major role in many careers today. You teach your students to speak with confidence and poise to diverse groups about your department’s mission and goals (running warm-ups, reflections, critiques, planning, 3-5-7-9, etc.). Diplomacy skills and persuasion tactics are applicable to almost any career.
  • Student leaders aren’t only responsible for themselves – they also have extended responsibilities that affect a wide range of people. Leaders of a group must not only make sure that tasks get done, but that all members of the department are performing to the best of their abilities. If someone doesn’t follow through on a task, leaders make sure that, ultimately, the task is completed. This responsibility can be a lesson on how to hold others accountable.
  • A play is the ultimate collaborative project. Student leaders must learn to establish priorities and compromise when necessary. Success occurs when the integrity of the production is maintained and everyone involved feels valued and empowered. This form of negotiation is invaluable for helping any group meet its goals, including professional teams in the workforce.
  • A strong leader is one whose management skills become second nature. Leaders must oversee operational tasks, make budgets, prioritize workloads, build consensus and perform other executive duties as necessary. Students will likely make mistakes, but learning how to handle them now, through play production and with you as a safety net, can better prepare them for college or the workforce.
  • Student leaders have many obligations to meet while maintaining a full course load and attending to other personal responsibilities. It will take some creative problem-solving to get everything done and keep life in balance. Leadership experiences allow students to hone multitasking abilities that future job and life responsibility demands.
  • College recruiters and employers recognize the responsibilities that student leaders take on, and they respect the initiative it shows to be a leader a play production. With leadership experience on their resume, they are more likely to get the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager. A student leadership role is also a great talking point during interviews.

Happy New Year! and best wishes for a “Kid Power”-ed semester.  Your leadership and extra effort with your students means they are not only becoming well rounded theatrical professionals but they are also honing skills and techniques that empower them to be successful in learning and in life.  Enjoy the partnership with your students and celebrate the promise of new beginnings!

 

 

Building Your “Standard of Performance”

standard-of-performance

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Post, Texas to work with the fabulously talented team of Leslie and Tim Tatum and their dedicated theatre students.  As I waited in the Dallas airport for my connecting flight to Lubbock, I reviewed my Rasaboxes workshop plan and scrolled through Facebook admiring the posts of theatre directors across Texas.  Each director proudly displayed their season posters and shared their excitement about the year ahead.  Seeing the posters reminded me of a Fine Arts Director I once worked under who commented in a theatre director staff meeting that he “knew our shows were good” because he had “seen our posters”.   I won’t even begin to tell you the frustration that boils up thinking about the fact that he never actually saw the shows, just the posters, but the memory made me think about how this time of year is filled with promise and how quickly we begin to realize the weight of actually producing the shows we have committed to for our season ahead.

As directors, we know that to make our plans for productions a reality we must start well in advance and often what we have exuberantly planned over the summer is derailed by a variety of factors like students moving in or out, facility issues, administrative changes, calendar conflicts or budgetary constraints.  Through all the obstacles that may come their way, good directors remain focused on the purpose of production and adapt to make sure “the show goes on”.bill-walsh

Recently, I was asked by my superintendent to read a book called The Score Takes Care of Itself by the former coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Bill Walsh.

First of all, I assumed this was a sports book and was not at all interested in reading it so I put it off until the weekend before our book study discussion was scheduled. That weekend, I made an appointment to get new tires put on my car and began reading this book while I waited in the lobby of Discount Tire Company.  For any single folks reading this blog, let me tell you that I discovered a rather effective tactic for catching the eyes of men.  Go hang out at a Discount Tire Company and read a book about football.  I had more men look my way and start conversations in that 45 minutes than I ever had when I was actually looking to meet men!  But in all seriousness, this book is not actually about the game of football.  In the book, Bill Walsh uses his experiences in football to outline a leadership strategy and sets out specific standards for team success. The whole time I read the book, I translated the “football team” references to theatre casts and crews, theatre classes and production teams.  For Bill Walsh, an intense focus on details cemented the foundation for excellence in his team’s performance and the more I read the book, the more I realized that the successes my students experienced over the years were aligned with what Walsh describes as “The Standard of Performance”.

Thinking back on the times I would describe as successful in my teaching and directing, I believe that with each season and the challenges that came with each production, I built a belief system about the purpose of productions and an understanding that whatever happened I would strive to reach a certain standard with each show.  That standard incorporated an intentional academic connection to each show in order to support cross-curricular objectives.  Whether the show highlighted a period or event in history, a literary or artistic movement or showcased a societal issue, I tried to ensure that students were able to finish the production with an understanding of the lessons of the show and that they were aware of applications of those lessons to their own life and the lives of others.

Additionally, I developed a standard of ensemble in all productions.  Regardless of the level of production value that ultimately was showcased in a performance, all students were encouraged to participate in all aspects of production during a season.  Ensuring students valued the literature (efforts of a playwright), technical aspects (design work and technical execution of set, costumes, lights, sound, media and stage management), directing and dramaturgy, theatre as a business (house management, box office, advertisement, budget, production organization) and performance (actors, dancers, singers, acrobats) components of the show was a priority.  Empowering students to work as a team of theatre professionals to establish ownership of their successes and failures also became a standard goal in all productions.

Teaching real world application, life skills and personal character connections through the audition, rehearsal, performance and travel process was also a standard of performance that became a focus.  All students involved in theatre were held to a high standard of behavior and attitude.  Commitment, respect, integrity, confidence, responsibility, sportsmanship, honesty, courtesy and perseverance were a part of lessons taught and expectations held in all we did. Each year this standard developed and was expanded to elevate the department and was evidenced in our productions. A tradition of excellence is not something that happens to you, it is something you must make happen.  It is something that you cannot will to happen through your hard work alone.  You must engage your students in the discovery and execution of your “Standard of Performance”.  You must build it together.

Bill Walsh has some helpful guidelines for beginning the process of quantifying and implementing your own version of the “Standard of Performance”:

  1. Start with a comprehensive recognition of, reverence for, and identification of the specific actions and attitudes relevant to your team’s performance and production.” I love the idea of having your students create a list of the specific actions and attitudes that define what it means to be a member of your theatre department or a company member in your productions.  This is something that is not just words but actions and attitudes that can be seen and showcased as evidence of excellence.
  2. “Be clarion clear in communicating your expectation of high effort and execution of your Standard of Performance. “ Like water, even our most dedicated students will seek lower ground if left to their own inclinations.  As a director and teacher you must inspire your students to give extra effort and demand that they go upward and continuously improve, rather than settle for doing what comes easily.  You must challenge yourself to learn more so you are prepared to support them with tools and strategies that take them out of their comfort zone.
  3. “Let all know that you expect them to possess the highest level of expertise in their area of responsibility.” When I first read this I was struck by Bill Walsh’s use of “ALL”. I was guilty as a director of expecting certain students (especially technicians) to be the “expert” in lighting or sound or media.  Walsh’s statement challenges that habit and asks that the standard be high for all the members of the class or company.  Empowering students with the faith that you believe that they are capable of learning and becoming experts for whatever responsibility they are assigned to in production not only sets a standard but also establishes a goal for students that can be a model for life long learning.
  4. “Beyond standards and methodology, teach your belief, values and philosophy.” We all know that the strength of our theatre community comes from the lives that are brought together to create art.  These lives and how they function together is something that must be guided and strengthened through reinforcement of purpose and intent.  When I read this guideline an incident immediately came to mind.  I had been teaching for two years at a high school and thought things were going well.  Our productions were strong and my enrollment was high.  Parents praised the quality of the shows and my principal was happy.  However, one day I received a call from a mother who was in tears.  Her son had been selected as an understudy in the musical and he was diligently attending every rehearsal.  She reported that he was discouraged and was considering dropping the production, not because he did not get an on-stage role but because the person he was understudying for would make derogatory comments to him as he passed him in the wings and even turned to the wings in rehearsal and placed his fingers in the shape of an “L” on his forehead and directed it at his understudy.  I was shocked and called the whole company in that day not to rehearse but to talk about who we were and what we valued.  That day I learned about some issues I wasn’t aware we had.  I had made assumptions that the students understood our values and expectations but had not taken the time to teach them. Through collaborating with the students, we created a “Manifesto of Respect” for our theatre department.  We posted it on the callboard together and agreed to abide by it from that day forward.  Taking the time to teach our beliefs and values set the tone for growth in our department.  It also opened dialogue about our philosophy of production, roles in the theatre, what we believed about competition and our responsibility to each other.  This part of your “Standard of Performance” is absolutely critical to your success in creating meaningful art and supporting healthy student relationships.
  5. “Teach connection and extension” This ties in with number 4. In theatre, we must work as a team.  Our strength comes from the support we give each other.  Your talents elevate me.  Your successes challenge me to be better and your failures are something that we can learn from together.
  6. “Make the expectations that you demand in action and attitudes from your students the new reality of your department.” It all starts with you.  You provide the model for the new standard in your own actions and attitudes.  Be on time, be prepared, be focused and committed, be kind. Like our students, we are constantly learning and it is ok to make a shift in the way you may have done things in the past.  In fact, it may be just what you need to do to improve.  Students watch you and listen more than you think.  If you expect it from them, you must model those behaviors.  Model excellence and don’t fear making mistakes.   Sharing when you have failed or need to make a change is also establishing a “Standard of Performance”.  When they can see how you adapt and improve they will find confidence when they falter.  In teaching, we learn and in sharing that lesson we all benefit from not only the process of creating theatre but in sharing our efforts with others.

Whether you have set your “Standard of Performance”, are building on it or are starting from scratch, when you reinforce the standard you are setting up your students and your program for success.  As Bill Walsh says, when you have the whole team focusing on the standard “winning takes care of itself”.

I hope you will share your “Standard of Performance” with us at the Maestro Theatre Forum.  Our “Standard of Performance” is a commitment to sharing what works with others.  Through that sharing we all become stronger and our students reap the rewards.  Please share with us how you have built or continue to build your “Standard of Performance” as well as the discoveries you make throughout this season.

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